Public improvements spurred a construction boom in Olmos Park

I live in Olmos Park Terrace in an HC Thorman house. As a builder he was known for his signature on these rock houses by surmounting all exterior door and window frames with a large five-sided stone in the center and smaller pentagons on each side – usually five wide, seven s it’s a big window. and three on a small.

This house was built in 1938, and I found a few other “signatures” as I updated. The best was when the original kitchen cabinets were removed about 15 years ago. On the floor, under the sink cabinet, I found (playing cards) – an ace, king, and queen of hearts spread out in a fan like a gambler would hold them; a green marble and a 1938 nickel laid out for someone to find! Hmm, was it the cabinetmaker or maybe the plumber who left them? Unfortunately the cards fell apart and I couldn’t save them, but I will always treasure the nickel and marble! I would like to know if this has been done in other houses in the neighborhood.

—Laura A. Thomas

Last Sunday’s column looked at what appears to be a plumber’s signature (“…S. Zettner/1933”) carved in stone at the Huebner-Onion Homestead at 6613 Bandera Road in Leon Valley.

Builder Herman Charles “HC” Thorman (1884-1954, covered here July 26, 2015) was already the developer of several other parts of San Antonio, large and small, grand and modest, by the time he turned his attention to this which is now Olmos Parc. After starting in the construction business in his native Ohio and California, he “entered the home building business in San Antonio in 1907,” says his entry into Southwest Texas, a business reference published in 1952. Thorman began here as a mason; thanks to a lucky oil investment, he made rapid progress in building houses.

A few years after his arrival, he already called himself “HC Thorman, the house builder” with an office at 426 Navarro St. “I’ll build you a house anyway (,) anywhere”, he said. he announced in the San Antonio Light, November 16, 1913, “and you pay as you can.” Come in and talk about it; it will cost you nothing. He started by building small white-framed houses, one at a time, and worked his way up to neighborhoods of a few streets each and eventually to entire subdivisions.

According to an infomercial in the real estate section of the San Antonio Light, on August 18, 1940, it was in 1903 that Thorman “built his first row of cottages on Devine Street, just off South Presa”, followed by other houses on Cincinnati Avenue and Highland Park, where he built on Highland Boulevard and Kayton, Rigsby, Drexel, and Peck Avenues. He first moved north with his Country Club project on Pershing, Allensworth, Carnahan and Thorman Place and went even more upscale with his first proper housing estate.

Thanks to the Olmos Dam, built from 1925 to 1928 to control floods (and discussed here on December 8, 2011 and May 23, 2015), Thorman purchased a “large property just west of the dam… as soon as it was learned (it) would be erected,” say Char Miller and Heywood T. Sanders in “Urban Texas: Politics and Development.” The new road built through the dam connected the existing suburbs of Alamo Heights and Laurel Heights, and would “make accessible (and profitable) land that had not previously been developed” for residential use.

First advertised as Park Hill Estates in 1926, the new Olmos Park Estates would form the nucleus of a new community (now part of the independent municipality of Olmos Park). It was designed to be an exclusive enclave, with large lots, masonry requirements and ornamental iron fencing, as stated in a restrictive covenant which also prohibited non-Caucasians and set a minimum price of $7,500 for any house to be built there, although most cost considerably more.

Founded in 1927, Olmos Park Terrace is the more down-to-earth, affordable cousin of its hillier, perhaps cooler, neighbor the Estates, home to the city’s “business elite,” according to Miller and Sanders. Construction on the more popular priced subdivision between McCullough and San Pedro avenues began in 1930, and homes sold slowly until the 1934 establishment of the Federal Housing Administration, or FHA, which offered mortgage-insured loans. the federal government that made buying a home more secure and affordable with lower down payments. The homes there — built at a rate of 20 to 30 a year during the 1930s — were all built to FHA specifications (to meet required housing standards) and represent the latest in design and home building,” Thorman told The Light on May 19. 1940, the year the neighborhood expanded with the addition of El Monte and was annexed by the city of San Antonio.

A comparison of two Thorman home advertisements in the August 11, 1935 San Antonio Express highlights the two neighborhoods of Olmos. At 125 Mandalay Drive (Estates), “a fine English fieldstone home”, buyers are offered four bedrooms, 2½ baths, a “glazed porch”, a breakfast room and “servants quarters with bath”. At 257 W. Hermosa Drive (Terrace), a “new stone cottage,” there are two bedrooms, one bathroom, and a screened-in porch, for a total monthly payment of $42.50 per month “on the terms of the FHA”. (If you have to ask for the price on Mandalay Drive, you probably can’t afford it. Many of the estates’ earliest residents moved from Monte Vista, at equal elevation.)

Thorman’s terrace houses were nice too; they and the states differed more in quantity than in quality. They tended to be single-story “bungalows” rather than the two-story “mansions” of the older neighborhood.

Now a historic district, the Thorman Houses in Terrace tend to be English-style cottages built of stone veneer over reinforced concrete, as described in the Office of Historic Preservation section of the City of San Antonio website.

It’s possible that Thorman would have been okay with the workers leaving playful signs of their presence on his property.

Five of his six siblings moved to Texas with him, his great-nephew Walter D. Thorman said in a November 23, 2005 interview, and three brothers worked for him – Bill as a carpenter and August and Walter (Sr .) as salespeople, so he literally fraternized with some of his workers. He also had long relationships with contractors, particularly electrician Milton Uhr and plumber John Albert. He’s been through ups and downs on his bike – “he’s gone bankrupt several times in his career,” the young Walter said, and once paid Uhr with property instead of cash.

Thorman’s style could be laid back, even for a recurring mogul. He drove second-hand cars to better communicate with the men who worked at the construction sites he visited, and “on Saturday afternoons HC would provide a keg of beer to his workers, and they would go to the park and drink”, his grandfather said the nephew. (Thorman has been married three times and divorced twice.) He looks like someone who might not mind a hidden hand of playing cards too much.

Were the tokens of these traders therefore a tradition or a unique piece? Readers who have made similar discoveries at other houses in Olmos Terrace or other houses built by Thorman can write to this column to share their experiences of finding treasures from another era.

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