The History of Aggie Park and the
San Antonio A&M Club
Long before there was an Aggie Park in San Antonio, there was a group of Former Students/A&M College of Texas. From the annals of history of the Former Students Association it is documented that "the Former Cadets at college organized the first local Alpha Phi Chapter or club in 1897." It was known as the "Sui Ross Chapter No. 2, APF". Through the years this number one club has had many distinctions, including sponsoring one of the first corps trips and hosting the only A&M-Varsity (now known as the University of Texas) football game that ended prematurely with one of the teams leaving the field in protest. In this case it was the Farmers who left the field in protest of unfavorable calls by the game officials (November 4, 1899).
The Texas A&M Alumni Association totally absorbed the Alpha Phi chapters in 1900. In 1919 the group's name was changed to The Association of Former Students. Annual dues of $1.00 were established. A year later the dues were doubled to $2.00 and in '21 they went to $5.00. In 1920 there were 1,404 members who paid $10,538 for the privilege of being identified with what is now affectionately referred to as AFS.
In San Antonio men continued to get together routinely, usually at a designated luncheon spot. The Robert E. Lee Hotel served as one of the first modern meeting locations. Unknown at this time is just when the club started their luncheons there, or for that fact, just when and why they moved to the Menger Hotel. There are references in various bulletins, letters, and faded memories of the old timers to these two hotels, and also the Blue Bonnet Hotel. We do know that in January ‘46 specific mention of the Robert E. Lee Hotel is made in a regular newsletter.
From the downtown hotel settings the first of a number of moves was made in November 1949. One of the many Sommers Drug Stores operated at the Southeast corner of Market and Dwyer Streets, on Military Plaza, across from the Bexar County Court House. In the basement was a cafeteria which had a special meeting room used by many various organizations. The San Antonio Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) met there one day a week...Mondays belonged to the San Antonio A&M Club. The procedure was simple: go through the line, pay and take your tray to the back room.
The prize for the man with the fewest misses: four tickets to the next A&M home game. The other rules were simple enough: A&M must be selected (although the Aggies have been outscored on occasion, they have never lost a game); the winner must be in attendance the next Monday to claim his prize; and for his outstanding knowledge of college football and his ability to pick so many winners, he got to grade the guess sheets for the following week. In case of an absent winner, the next best guesser was announced, and he got to claim the prizes. Ties resulted in a flip of the coin or a compromised split of the tickets.
Even during the current football season the guessing game continues with only minor variations in those original rules. Of course, the price has increased. It now costs a buck to play and it is optional. Proceeds continue to be used to purchase the prize tickets, for it not uncommon for those four tickets to cost well over $100. Now, to avoid ties amongst the best guessers, a tie-breaker system has been installed. Participants need to indicate the point spread on one game...usually the A&M game. If there is more than one winner, the tickets go to the person closest to the actual game score differential.)
Our tenure at Sommer's might well have lasted longer, except the drug chain closed that location and with it the cafeteria in January 1961. In search of another spot to accommodate the routine of the club, the executive committee selected the Tower Life Building's cafeteria. For over two years the club met at that second floor location, in its small extra room.
On June 10, 1963, we moved from downtown to recognize the great number of men who objected to going to downtown just for lunch. "Too much hassle"; "expensive parking"; "takes too much time" were among the many objections. Our venture to suburbia took us to the Southeast corner of San Pedro Avenue and Oblate Drive to DeWinne’s Belgium Inn. We had arrived! No more cafeteria lines; we were to get free parking and table service in their private dining room.
Two years later, we did not move, but the restaurant changed ownership becoming La Fonda. We continued to meet at this same location with the same food; fun and fellowship, until the end of August '65.
At that time we did move. To Tai Shan, 2611 Broadway, where an oriental flavor was added. For the next nine months we met there. We headed to the Northeast corner of San Pedro and Rector Drive where the Night Hawk chain had opened their new facility: The Top Chop't Steak House with its separate entrance to its private meeting room in the rear. It was a neat, new facility for us.
Beginning June 6, 1966, the club began meeting there. And so it was that during the next six years, Monday noons were spent in this area. In '71 we had moved to the Zuider Zee Restaurant, 6851 San Pedro, but did not stay there long. Back across the street to La Fonda (again) until July '72. That is when we headed west to The Turtle Creek Country Club, which was 'the' place to meet at that time. Many other organizations were doing the same thing then, too. Attendance was picking up what with the increased capacities. We were well over 60 for a regular luncheon. The country club remodeled during the summer of '77 and we had to take up a temporary location, that being Wyatt's Cafeteria at Babcock Road and Loop 410. However, as soon as we could return, we did so. And there we stayed for another four plus years...until February '81.
Then our last move occurred. It had long been questioned why the San Antonio A&M Club did not meet at Aggie Park. The responses had varied: first it was the lack of air conditioning. Then it was this and then it was that. The extremes of fluctuating attendance made it difficult discussing details with any caterer. Finally, we were able to get one that wasn't afraid of those crazy numbers: during football season when the game pictures are shown, the number jumped significantly. During the off season, just who might show up was quite something else. Of course, the completion of the park and building facilities coupled with an enhanced road system in the city lent strongly to the selection of Aggie Park.
But meeting weekly at noon has never been enough. Some men could never make that scene. Others chose not to do so. Besides there were lots of things that should be done, if the meetings were held away from the locations indicated previously. For one thing, the club needed to hold a fundraiser. Annual dues never have cared for the expense of posting the club news. In the thirties those messages were delivered weekly via penny postal cards. That communication has now expanded to the Alamo Aggie which is printed and distributed routinely throughout the year.
Just which person(s) get the credit for those early fundraisers has not been accurately identified. We can trace the chicken bar-b-ques to 1927. It is important to keep perspective on the planning necessary to have a party of this magnitude then. Simply stated, there just weren't many places available from which to purchase the chickens. Arrangements had to be made months in advance with someone who had a poultry farm, who would contract to raise the baby chicks to the proper size. The birds then had to be killed and cleaned...and cooked. Chick Brandt contracted this work for any number of years. Someone finally put a pencil to the operation and determined that there were other, more economical means of handling that exercise. The San Antonio A&M Club then got out of the chicken raising business.
The Head Chef for years was Hugh Wharton. His committee was a dedicated bunch of men who took great pride in their work. They took the task of cleaning and cooking chickens very seriously. From that group of cooks came a separate, unnamed group, who conducted their own parties, always at one of their homes. The menu was always the same: whatever was to be served or had been served the big bar-b-ques. Their expenses were always handled in the same manner: Dutch treat. If on the chance that the math did not come out even, the credit or debit would be carried over until the next year.
All good cooks know that good food needs good seasoning. It was more than just rumored that Mrs. Watkins, who ran a small, family restaurant, had a secret poultry seasoning second to none. Hugh and his staff contracted for her to mix up big batches of this salt based product for their use. She did so in a barrel churn and even though the ingredients and portions remain a secret to this day, the same arrangements still can be made with Mrs. Watkins' daughter. Just check the current phone book for the number and address of "Watkins Quality Products." Bread? Sure! Always baked by Robert's Bakery (Hackberry and East Commerce Streets.)
And wash it all down? Beer, of course. During prohibition it was home brew. Later the affair became the darling of the two local breweries: Pearl and Lone Star. Each wanted to be the one chosen for the evening, for to be sure, a large amount of their product was consumed. Disposable containers had yet to be provided the guests, so Meyer's Pottery prepared any number of beer mugs, appropriately marked for the occasion. Samples of their handiwork remain in the display cases at Aggie Park as part of our memorabilia. For fifty cents each, you could have almost all of these you wanted, and the club's profit went to bigger and better things.
All of this activity took place at Henry Weir's dairy. Weir was not a graduate of The Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas. But a more ardent supporter was not known locally. Once the bar-b-que date was set, Weir would hitch the horses to a moving machine and go back and forth over the land to get the stubble as low as possible. All of that for his going rent: $5.00 for the affair date.
After the grass and weeds were cut, the pit could be dug and the fire area prepared. Wire served as the grate. There were no benches, but tall saw horses served as the bases for stand up tables. Once the great meal had been consumed, the same platforms served for the location of the evening's entertainment: dice. A more friendly game (?) could never be found. Club members and their guests were all treated alike: if you could get to a table, you could participate. All you had to have was folding money.
House rules: the house got a 10% drag out of each winner's action. That was the backbone of the fund raiser. Once the night was over, the table tops, frames and saw horses were stored for next year.
Henry Weir, the dairy owner-operator, needed finances. His arrangements at the Alamo National Bank are unknown (and are not relevant to this story), other than the fact that the bank took his property as collateral for that loan. But Weir also was willing to see that the San Antonio A&M Club had a place to hold its annual bar-b-ques. He indicated a willingness to sell 3.3 acres to the club if they could raise the $1,000 asking price and get the release of the collateral from the bank.
Unquestionably, the most significant detail in the establishment of Aggie Park happened when ten men, tried and true, with visions for future generations agreed to sign their names on what it would take to accomplish this purchase. With legal counsel leading the way, it was determined that the club needed to become incorporated. So, application to the Secretary of State-Texas was made for a corporate charter for this non-profit club.
Those ten men whose actions have made the club unique and outstanding, and to whom all local Aggies owe an eternal debt of gratitude were
On February 14, 1946 the corporate charter was issued. The San Antonio A&M Club was now in position to move forward. And so they did. On March 1 Weir and his wife, Juanita sold the acreage: $460 as a cash down payment and a 5% note for the $500 balance, half due in six months; half not later than 18 months. Then in order to remove Weir from the transaction Dr. Fred Weston stepped forward and provided the financing necessary to have that note transferred to him.
On August 5, 1946 as recorded at the Bexar County Court House, that note was paid off by the club and Weston, too, was released from the deal.
In early 1953 construction of the initial phase of the current building was begun. Via the routes of beg, borrow, and stealing the building got put together and put up. The first function held was a Christmas party, December 1953.
On April 21, 1954, the official dedication of this most significant accomplishment occurred. (Note the date on the seal above the front door to the office area.)
Since that time there have been a number of building changes, the last of which was completed in 1993. One of the first things that happened after that was the second flooding of the building. But that got cleaned up by the men and women who know that this facility is really something special.
Through a series of changes necessitated by the tax laws, the San Antonio A&M Club Foundation became the owner of the property. Now, the rental income from this facility can be directed to the scholarship program and to those other areas at Texas A&M University. The non-profit charter's original 50 year life was extended to a perpetual life. Because of these changes the club's ad valorem tax position was cleared up and they were released by the Tax Assessor - Collector, Bexar County as of January 1, 1977.
Thus, the San Antonio A&M Club and San Antonio A&M Club Foundation became the organizations we now know in the 1990s. Perhaps the only alumni organization in America to do so. If not, then certainly the first in this part of the country. (Not even the Association of Former Students could make that statement in 1946 although they later did acquire the right to construct the Clayton Williams Alumni Center on a corner of the campus, through special legislation and lease arrangements.)
SAN ANTONIO A&M CLUB FACTS
- The San Antonio A&M Club was officially organized in 1921.
- The first President of the San Antonio A&M Club was C. C. "Polly" Krueger '12.
- In 1946, 3.3 acres of land, now known as Aggie Park, was purchased. Later that year, in 1946, the San Antonio A&M Club was sanctioned by the Association of Former Students-the first club to be chartered.
- The name "Aggie Park" described the original land and its functions. It was intended as a Memorial Park in honor of War veterans.
- Seven years after acquiring the land, in 1953, construction of the original club facility was begun. On April 21, 1954, the original building facility was dedicated during at the annual Muster Ceremony.
- In 1993, construction of the new facility, more than doubling the interior space, was begun. On April 21, 1994, the original facility celebrated a 40th year rededication in conjunction with the inaugural of the new facility. Over 700 Aggies were in attendance and heard Mr. A. W. "Head" Davis tell about a "Spirit can ne'er be told".
- On October 29, 1994, the entire Corps of Cadets marched on the Alamo Dome, a Corps first visit to the Alamo City. The San Antonio A&M Club hosted over 1500 Aggies to a pre-game party on October 28th, and more than 1700 to the tailgate party the next day.
- Our club is the only A&M Club which owns its own facility. We are also the only club which enjoys the distinction of not only having an Aggie Mothers Club, as part of our larger group, but also an Aggie Womens Club, as well. Our club facility has never had a lien placed on it. All monies borrowed by the club have been backed by the signatures of individuals or the Board.
- The C.C. "Polly" Krueger award is the Club’s highest award recognition. It was named for the club's first president, and has only been awarded 15 times since its inception in 1977.