==== ====WW2 Reenactment!edelweissmilitaria.com==== ====Walter Mathis and now, the National Historic Trust, operate the site, Villa Finale in San AntoniosKing William Historic District. For both local history and European artifacts, culture and art, thehouse is worth an afternoon tour.With much oral history, facts are scarce.The land that Villa Finale sits on was part of an original Spanish land grant to the Canary Islandpioneers. In the not too distant history, the land was arable agrarian land for The Alamo. TheMission de Bexar. Yes, that Alamo.The street that runs a few blocks east of Villa Finale is South Alamo. Runs in front of The Alamo,then follows a course that runs north-south, then east-west, then turns north-south again. Thelocal joke is that cattle paths were used to choose streets. In this case, though, it was a waterway.The strange twists and turns of the local topography was dictated water sources, both natural andmanmade.Walter Mathis would trace part of his family lineage back to the Canary Island pioneers, provingthat Villa Finale was destiny.Standing in the front, looking at the house itself, the style is mid-1850 Italianate. The stylized frontporch and tower were not added until the decade between 1895 and 1905.The fun part, for me, I heard two different salaried curators claim the house was built in 1863 and1873, and from the material, the accepted date was 1873, built by an Englishman named Norton.It was four square, just 4 rooms with a fireplace in each room, the typical quarried limestone withan unfinished surface. Mr. Norton had the front door shipped over from England, intact, a huge,carved door frame and door, with an imposing look. In a neighborhood that was largely - namedKing William - mercantile German class, he was the solo English holdout.Norton lost the house to foreclosure, and it changed hands two more times, with the last family inthe 1890s not leaving without a fight.During that time, the back section of the house, a large kitchen and cellar, was added.And we havent even stepped inside yet.There are two magnificent lions flanking the front walk. Walter Mathis was a Leo, but no, thosewere Victorian affectations, as were two ceremonial cannons. Mr. Mathis told tales about the earlydays when the neighborhood was rough, he would wake to find his cannons dragged across the
yard, resting against the fence, as they were really too heavy to lift over.Standing in the front yard, on the front walk, it is near-impossible to imagine that it was a seedy, or"bad," neighborhood. One of my clients, grew up maybe two miles south, as he was growing up,he was admonished to "Stay out of trouble, stay out of King William!" Looking a the stately treesand elegant mansions, its hard to believe.San Antonio has two primary industries, military and hospitality. At the end of World War One, thename for the district was changed, the King Wilhelm was none too popular. Returning troops werefrequently billeted in the grand mansions, and Villa Finale itself was cut up into 8 apartments.By the early 1960s, the neighborhood was in a sad state. In the ensuing interval, facts are sketchy,but Villa Finale had been a bawdy house, an illicit casino, a speakeasy, and a bordello. WalterMathis denied the bordello to his dying day, but I heard it from a sweet little old lady in theneighborhood. She was instructed never to walk on that side of the street - her parents were afraidshe would be pressed into service.In the mid-sixties, Mr. Mathis could tell his then-current home was in the path of the citys first bigfreeway project, 281. He moved his nascent arts and architecture collection into storage andbegan searching for a new home. The Villa Finale name was chosen because he wanted it to behis last home. It was.He bought the place in 1967, starting renovations immediately, but he lived downtown in a hoteluntil partway through the project.The "Fire & Casualty" insurance companies often did plats of the land. In one from 1894, VillaFinale had no porch and no tower, while both did show up in the 1905 plat. The porch and towerwere added were added in the interim, but not enough data surveys to be more exact. Theinsurance companies did the plats so there was a map for ingress for the volunteer firedepartments, in the event of fire.At the front porch, the Norton entrance is marveled, then guests are instructed to pull on booties,durable yet protective slippers to help preserve what Walter Mathis built. The ceiling on the frontporch is painted sky blue, and while it is patent folklore, the reason is to keep the mosquitoesaway. Allegedly.The entrance, the hall and entrance is marked by an overwhelming amount of art. It was his wishthat everything be left where he placed it. There are over 12,000 objects in the collection. For thelast few years of his life, a National Historic Trust person acted as a personal curator and carefullynoted most of the tales associated with the various collections.On December 8, 1941, Walter Mathis went over to Randolph Army Base and signed up as pilot.He went on to fly (purported) 96 mission over occupied Europe -WW2 - facts and myths.One of the most famous collections is the Napoleon Collection. Entering the hallway, then leadingto the first door on the right, careful not to touch anything, under the tower, there, is the beginningof the collection.
Its worth noting that Mr. Mathis wanted a home filled with music. To that end, in the middle of thefront room, under that tower, there is a, forgive my bad German, "Bechstein-Weltz" reproducingpiano."Like a player piano?"Yes, and no. It is a German machine that looks like piano, has mechanical innards, and ran - runs- on an air compressor that Mr. Mathis located in the basement.Ive been told that the piano still runs, think of it as a steam-driven piano. The difference is that agreat composer or pianist would sit down and record a performance on a roll of paper, and thatwas played. Cabinet, far left, stage left, over in the corner, had scroll and rolls of paper for thepiano. Turn of the century iPod. The paper rolls were the mp3s.Asked what single object he would grab, if the house was on fire, Walter Mathis was proudest ofhis "genuine" Napoleon death mask. "One of six," is the party line.Apparently, there is a History Channel special about the cottage industry of Napoleon DeathMasks. Worthy of some attention. Seems like there might be more than just a half-dozen. Itsworth noting that this was one of the few originals, probably less than a dozen like it - provenancewith museum curators is tricky business.Napoleon was a favorite, and towards that end, Villa Finale is now part of the Franco-Bexar group,as there are more Napoleon memorabilia here than in most museums. As a military man, WalterMathis admired Napoleons tactics.The cabinets, the table-tops, the furniture itself, most, if not all, Empire-Revival. French, fromaround 1840. The "Egyptian" flavor is woven into the art, after all, Napoleon did "conquer" Egyptand some of the Pan-Arab world.Because I was being trained when the house was being restored, I got to see a few things off thewall, like a ceremonial sword and scabbard arrangement that hangs high, like an Xmas tree star,over one set of Napoleon lithographs."Sheer panic in the curators eyes when she pulled that one down; it really is held together withtwine."The windows now have UV coating the prevent fading. New paint, and everything has beencleaned and replaced in its original pace, per the behest and bequest.Most of the furniture in the front rooms has been recovered, by Mathis, with one exception, theresa green ottoman/footstool that is in the original material from the 1840s. Note the large mirror overthe mantle. Next room, more Napoleon collections, mirror over the mantle, odd military objects, acollections of dog figurines, various tokens, souvenirs, and my favorite, a pair of ivory-carvedtriptychs, which unfold and show Napoleons victories and his wife, which shows her greatestaccomplishment, marrying Napoleon."I hope you find the humor there," I add.
complete silver cladding. I cant tell, dont recall, if they are Russian Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox,or Greek Orthodox. One of them. All look about the same, to me. The sliver cladding was toprotect the icons from constant touching, part of that faiths belief.The floor of the library has the most unique persian rug Ive ever seen. While its background motifis sky blue, the language across the top of the rug is Farsi (Persian), and the images depict Adamand Eve getting expelled from the garden of Eden.Mr. Mathis was quite fond of religious art; however, he was not allied with any church, not after hisEpiscopal tore down a building that he wanted to save. Paved it for a church parking lot. He neverwent back.The dining room has a several notable collections. There is a huge amount of silver, two uprightwooden urns for place settings, as well as three separate chests, full. Theres a stand-up displaythat has a number of cow-creamers. My names Kramer, cow-Kramers, I like them. All silver.On his mothers side, he was related to the Bell Family, the great silver dynasty in San Antonio. Upon one shelf in the dining room theres a favorite piece, its a shell-shaped piece of silver with atiny model of a sailing ship, at the pinnacle. Its a gravy boat.The art hanging at one end of the dining table is Sybil and the Tarquin, the last of the paganroman emperors, and she was a seer.I like to point out that Im not known for my good tastes, and when I pass judgement, keep mytastes in mind. Frequently, I shouldnt be allowed to dress myself.The centerpiece setting is mismatch of color and culture. It is burgundy cut-glass, inlaid with semi-precious gems, gilt gold and silver with camels and lions. The story is, this is the very centerpiecethat rode through the Suez Canal, on its opening, with Queen Victoria, in her barge.Finally, theres selection of painting along one wall, and they include a rare Julian Onerdonck fromWilliamson County. In his era and to this day, he is still widely regarded as a premier TexasImpressionist painter.The mirror hanging in the dining room looks like the same frames as in the Napoleon Parlour andsitting rooms. The tale told, passed on to me in training, is that the mirrors were gifts. Mr. Mathiswas marching through recently liberated France, and he happened upon a bombed out mansion,owned by the towns mayor. Mathis was digging around in his pickets, scraping together a fewdollars, to pay for the mirrors, and the mayor begged Mathis to accept them as a gift for freeingtheir country from Fascist German oppression.The mirrors showed up in Houston, a few years later, with freight due. Unclear on what it was, Mr.Mathis reluctantly accepted the bill, and he was overjoyed to find his treasures - the people ofFrance remembered him. The last mirror was left un-re-silvered, possibly just for the telling of thetale.Out the dining room door, into the hallway, again, peek around the corner at the base of themagnificent stairwell, and theres the Violano Virtuoso. This was from the old Pearl Brewerys bar,
the Buckhorn Saloon, from 1883. By the sixties, this unusual piece had made its way to WalterMathiss collection. Ive seen it work, more than once. It has two player-violins, and a player piano,all in a single case. Plays a waltz. Either disturbing, musically, or amusing, from a gadget point ofview. Wind up and listen to it play a waltz.Up the stairs, in the stairwell itself, the downstairs is primarily European while the upstairs startsthe Americas collections. The first is the art while climbing the stairs. Its from South America, acenturies old school, the combination of the Spanish masters and the local color shows up with theamount of gold gilt used, throughout. Some strange interpretations, too.Upstairs...Turn the corner and theres another piano, under a display - along the wall - of more SouthAmerican santos as well as relics gathered in Mexico. Starting in 1910, much of the Catholicchurchs hold on the land was released during revolution, and the relics eventually found thereway here. There was one intern, summer before the Villa Finale opened, all she did was polish thesilver that on top of the upstairs piano.From the hallway, its a left into the Periwinkle Room. The color is available from Lowes, just askfor Villa Finale Periwinkle.Among artworks and other items, there are two cases of note. Along one wall, theres a collectionof over 300 stick-pins. Walter Mathis got his first stick-pin from his grandmother, and that startedhis life-long obsession with collections and preservation.Walter Mathis, especially with his huge collection of religious artifacts, he wasnt a church-goer. Hewas until his downtown Episcopal Church tore down a historic structure, an old house, historichouse, to make way for a parking lot. He resigned and never went to another church. Neverlooked back, as they say.Theres a huge assortment of watches and timepieces, but more interesting, to me, is thecollection of shaving mugs. Started when he was fifteen, the mugs capture the essence of a timegone by. The mugs are displayed in a pair of custom-built cabinets that were designed to reflectthe architecture of his manse. As ephemeral data points, the mugs are marketing from a day goneby, and the shaving mugs differ from, like, a coffee cup, since there is a little shelf for a bar of soapand the shaving brush.One of the curators worked at a site in California, talked about the importance of the historicalvalue of the shaving mugs.Its a two-step into the Yellow Room. Artwork, a throne, stairs to the tower, and a set of columns,rescued from his home in Monte-Vista. Theres an odd collection of Staffordshire figures, and oneis more curious, looks like Ben Franklin but its labeled, "Geo. Washington."Staffordshire ceramics was likely produced by child labor.Shaving stands, sewing kits, Walter Mathis bemoaned the fact that he was a Victorian, born ahundred years too late.
Tucked against one wall, theres a set piece that is identical to one in Maximilians palace inMexico City. Another guide posited the connection - downstairs, Napoleon - upstairs, hisillegitimate son -The master of the house, Walter Mathis, in an apparent humorous display, he had a gold cherubwith its chubby little butt pointed towards the center of the room.The valences, over the windows, when the restorer was working, shed heard that the valenceswere from a plantation in Mississippi. Or near Houston, never got the straight story on that, butthey were removed for the new paint, and it turns out, it was bit of a puzzle to put them back on, asthey were different sizes.The sketch up on the wall is an Edouard Leon study of a Mounet (?) - best part of that? It was alady of substance, and that caused quite the scandal. A lady of substance wasnt supposed topose for a common artists works.Back into the hall, and its painter time. One of the most exquisite paintings is one of theOnerdonks of Prickly Pear in Bloom.Theres another painting, at the bottom, and its one of the few that was done while Onerdonk wasin studying in New York, mentioned in his letters. There are the usual amazing bluebonnetpaintings, too. What he was a famous for.Theres one painting, inscribed to Walter Mathiss mother, From a little friend, to a little friend, in alittle friendly way.Passing around the corner is another bedroom, theres a wooden-press. Flower press? Probably ablanket press, since theres was a strong tie with Rockport, and the Rockport Quilt Guild.The small bedroom has his parents wedding bed. It came from St. Louis, down the MississippiRiver, where it was loaded on another boat and delivered to Rockport. According to the myth, oneor more of his brothers and/or sisters was born in that bed.More interesting, though, is the array of the family tree, mother on the right side, father on the left,tracing back through the generations.In the front room, visible from the bedroom, has an array of Victorian memorabilia, Bristol Glass, apeacock, beaded purses, antique calling cards and Victorian card clips. There is a large carvedivory china boat, and an allegedly working Victrola, hand-crank type of record player.During the great flood of 2007, this room suffered water damage. Like many men of similarvintage, Mr. Mathis insisted on doing his own maintenance, and that suffered towards the end.Hence the water damage.Back in the hall, opposite from the piano, theres a large sideboard with a glass front. Its CenturyGlass, souvenir glass from the St. Louis worlds fair, circa, 1904. Another grandmother gift. Thecollection was embellished when the McNay (museum) asked to display it. Walter collected some
Down the stairs, its a narrow staircase, certainly not ADA-compliant, and potentially dangerous forthe loose carpets, there is the most magnificent collection of paintings and prints.The bulk of the collection, from what Ive gathered, came from the purchase of the Mary BonnerEstate. What I was told, Mary Bonner went to Paris to study painting, and one teacher told her thatshe dint have the strength to be a painter so she should look at print-making instead.Relying on her native San Antonio background, her prints of cowboys and similar Texas-themesbecame the toast of France.It happens. They love Texans. You do know, Texas is bigger than France?The Mary Bonner collection, alone it that back stairwell is enough to render the whole tripworthwhile.There are several sketches of the missions, again, later Mary Bonner works.The stairs unwind into the kitchen. This was a working kitchen. Rumor has it, the refrigerator stillhas frozen foods, left over from before the Historic Trust took over.Theres all kinds of flatware, cookware, Wedge Wood, and China. The story is, one plate was usedfor serving until Walter Mathis found out the value of the platter. Now on the wall.The woodwork itself was rescued and repurposed from the Sullivan House, another casualty inSan Antonios growth.Because it was a real, working kitchen, the spices that were "pretty," and had "eye-appeal," thosespices were displayed. The shuttered cupboard, now and office, held the unattractive spices.There are jars of pasta and candy, sweets and so forth, and they havent been changed, at leastnot yet. Probably wont be touched, looks fine, seems preserved.The chandelier in the kitchen, kind of a hideous pastiche of glazed, colored glass, wood andbrass? The story is, it was in the front room, originally. Walter Mathis had taken it to aconsignment shop, and some guy offered him $500, on the spot, for the chandelier. When queriedwhy, Walter was going to sell it for $50, these are 1969 Dollars, so that was a great deal of money,then the prospective buyer pointed out that the lamp, chandelier, was signed by Tiffany. A realTiffany Lamp.(Provenance on this is suspect, too. Very suspect.)It now hangs high overhead in the kitchen.Adjacent to the kitchen is the Butlers Pantry, with a full wet-bar, the wood work more of therescued cabinetry.Finally, the Pewter Room. At this point, Im out of energy, having talked for the better part of 45minutes or so, and quite tired. Pewter Room. Lots of pewter on the shelf, beer steins, and the
Rhine Maiden.Another gloriously hideous chandelier, actually, an antique Bier Garten. candelabra, from the oldcountry. Came from a German Saloon with German immigrants, perhaps a little before the VillaFinale was built. By the turn of the century, it wound up at the Buckhorn Saloon, open duringProhibition, to make its way to Walters back den. Ride of the Valkyries? Yes, that kind of RhineMaiden, cf., Wagners Ring Cycle, first and last opera. She was supposed to guard the gold in theRhine.The other bizarre piece is a very art nouveau lamp. The threesome. Kind of hard to tell, but lookslike two naked women intertwined with a single topless guy. Story was, he bought this as atabletop lamp, and at close to five or six feet tall, it doesnt really set well on a tabletop, but thatswhat it is now.Out the back door, onto the back porch. Its easy to see, while getting off the booties, where thenew stuff had been added on the original building. Underneath the back portion, a cellar wasadded.One of the owners, owned the Casino when it was located n downtown San Antonio, and whenthe Prohibition hit, moved his operation to his cellar. Unverified. Gambling operations, bawdyhouse, speakeasy, all by reputation, but not substantiating facts support the allegations.Once the booties are off, theres a small arc around the building Walter Mathiss ashes are interredunder a small flag, the small gatehouse and the big carriage house serves as onsite offices forsome, plus a bathroom and lockers for over-sized purses.The original plan for this section of the RiverWalk was to carve through the Villa Finale property,imminent domain and all. Mr. Mathis, as a civic leader and patron of the arts, fought city hall - andwon. Look a the aerial plat, and the rivers course bends around his property.There are three friezes, set in the southern wall, borders the property. Same artist as theCenotaph for the Alamo, downtown.The tour concludes in the wrought-iron gazebo, cupola. Walters niece was married there, in thespring of 1970, and the hose has been, like a museum, ever since.Family members have toured Villa Finale, and the most common comment, "Wow, just like he leftit, except now, everything is so clean...."As a labor of love, BexarCountyLine.com is homage to the visually rich tapestry of San Antonio,TX.Its town, the county, it all predates Colonial America, and this is a single attempt to catch theexciting and the mundane, all in one place.http://www.BexarCountyLine.com
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