By Tara V. Kohlenberg and Mark Rahe —
I love the buildings in New Braunfels. I especially like the ones in downtown New Braunfels and Comaltown. Built over a period of 150 years, each building tells a story in every little detail of each window, porch, and roofline. They are a snapshot of the historical development of New Braunfels. Of course, I have my favorites, but then there are those that just break my heart because they look so sad.
The white house on the corner of Seguin Avenue and Garden Street is the perfect example of a heartbreaker. It has tragically deteriorated before our eyes. Even in its current state, it is captivating. So, what’s the story with this forlorn looking beauty?
For starters, it is known as the Blumberg House, so named because it was built by F.G. Blumberg, businessman and former mayor of New Braunfels, for his bride Bettina Scholl. Built about 1900, the Blumberg House is a typical example of the Queen Anne style Victorian house, generally built between 1880 and 1910. With its steep roof form, the cutaway bay window and asymmetrical placement of the rounded, wrapped porch, the house presents as a classic example of the Queen Anne style, even though there were a number of odd additions made to the house sometime after 1922 that do not necessarily fit the style.
The roof styles changed slightly over the span of the Queen Anne period. The pitch of the hip roof was initially very steep about 1885, becoming only slightly less so around 1895, as seen in the Blumberg House. After 1905, the pitch became much less steep, making the gable roof the more predominant feature. The Blumberg House’s steeply hipped roof and lower forward facing dominant cross gable, is common to over half of all Queen Anne-type houses. In addition, the Blumberg House’s overwhelming hip roof is ornamented with a cool decorative bay window dormer, topped with a simple pediment roof.
Another characteristic of the Queen Anne style is decorative detailing. The fanciful style seems to abhor flat, boring surfaces; therefore, they overly decorated absolutely everything, including the porch with its decorative trim spindlework suspended around the top. The repetitive pattern of wood lathe-turned sticks are called spindles because the design resembles wooden sewing thread spindles or “spools” used at the time. While the Blumberg House spindles are each the same, the simple knob-like beads, when designed in staggering patterns can resemble the notes found on a sheet of music. Spindlework has also been referred to as “gingerbread,” or Eastlake-style detailing, named for the 19th century English furniture maker Charles Eastlake. The porch columns and balustrade are composed of beautifully detailed period-styled turned wood. Even the cutaways at the front bay window and brackets at each porch column contain intricate wooden fret-sawn patterns.
By the time the Blumberg House was under construction, the railway was well established in New Braunfels, making possible delivery of all sorts of goods, including construction materials, ordered through catalogs. Decorative house ornamentation like spindlework was mass-produced and sold in pattern books with names like Anna Marie, The Lisa, The Mary Elizabeth. It’s likely the spindlework and possibly other ornamentation and turned wood constructs on the Blumberg House were sourced in this way.
Queen Anne s
tyling actually uses many other decorative devices to break up flat surfaces. They either do it spatially by the addition of bays, towers, overhangs or wall projections, or texturally by the use of varied wall materials with differing patterns and textures. Though the house does not have the tower structure so often identified with this style, the dominant feature of the Blumberg House is the asymmetrically placed cutaway bay window “cut away” from the overhang above it. The bay window provides the same function as inclusion of a tower, adding an intentional randomness. Likewise, the broadness of the hip roof plane that dominates the front of the house is broken by the elegantly proportioned dormer window noted previously. As for a textural contribution, they added chamfer-cornered horizontal bands of wood shingles that look like fish scales on the gables of this particular house.
So, just who is this F.G. Blumberg who owned such a magnificent home on the main thoroughfare of New Braunfels? Ferdinand Gustav Blumberg was the last of 11 children born to German immigrant farmers in Schumannsville, Texas, in 1879. He worked hard to move up in the world and had a lot of different kinds of jobs. He was listed as a dry goods salesman when he married Bettina Scholl in 1900. That is when their beautiful home was built on Seguin Street (changed to Avenue in 1926). By 1910 he was in the wholesale malt liquor business. He served as a director of the Chamber of Commerce and director of New Braunfels State Bank. He was listed as president of that same bank in 1920. Ferdinand was elected mayor in 1922 and 1924. In 1926, his fortunes began to change. He lost re-election in April of 1926, suffered financial misfortunes later in that year, and finally filed for bankruptcy. The bank sold off what was known as the Blumberg Building (the two-story building on Main Plaza now housing New Braunfels Coffee across from the courthouse) to satisfy debts.
About that same time, F.G. Blumberg left town. The beautiful Blumberg House passed to his wife, Bettina, in October of 1926. He married Elvira Tolle on February 14, 1927. Unfortunately, the notice of his divorce from Bettina was published four days later. Ferdinand went on to be a credit manager for car dealerships in San Antonio and Corpus Christi areas before returning to New Braunfels in the late 1930s to retire. Ferdinand died in 1952. His second wife, Vira, lived until 1981 on Tolle Street. He never produced heirs.
First wife Bettina maintained her residence in the Blumberg House until 1948 when she it sold to O.A. Stratemann Sr. It was utilized by the Stratemann family, as far as we could discern, as a rental property until a few years ago. The home has fallen into disrepair and was recently sold. I hope that magnificent example of Queen Anne architecture will go on living in New Braunfels for another 100 years.
Sources: A Field Guide to American Houses (1984, 2013), Virginia Savage McAlester; Sophienburg Museum & Archives.