dancing with architecture: a First Day hike of Kreische's brewery in La Grange, Texas

Since we seem to be past our party-hardy-until-past-3am-and-then-puke-in-the-nieghbor's-yard phase of our lives, we've started a new tradition of going on a First Day Hike on New Year's Day. This year brought us to the Monument Hill/Kreische Brewery State Historic Sites just outside La Grange, Texas, about a one hour drive east out of Austin. This allowed us to enjoy a hike as well as some frontier German-Texas venacular with a splashy-dash of Art Deco.

Heinrich Kreische grew up in Germany and trained as an architect and brewmaster. He immigrated to Texas in the early 1830s. In 1849 he purchased 172 acres on a 200-ft bluff overlooking the Colorado River and La Grange. He built his house in two stage: the first stage consisting of a tiny two-story stone masonry structure for his early family and a second stage that significantly expanded his house for his wife and six children. His masonry skills were in demand in the county; he built some structures in town, including the second courthouse (now destroyed) and the first jail. In 1860, he employed his masonry skills to build a brewery down the lee side of the hill downstream from a small spring. One source (and another) suggests this was Texas' first commercial brewery. By 1879, Kreische had the third largest brewery in Texas. A friend of mine from the area and related to the Kreische's told me that the oldtimers said the beer tasted like the Shiner Bock of today. His beer was delivered as far away as Fort Worth and San Antonio.

The discovery of large-scale artesian water supplies in St Louis and in Texas resulted in the industrialization of beer production, putting many small breweries such as Kreische's out of business. Kreische's death in 1884 (he literally fell off the wagon) also sealed the death the brewery which closed for good in 1888.

Also on site is the burial tomb for casualties of the Dawson Massacre and the Black Bean Death Lottery, both post-independence scuffles with Mexico before Texas joined the United States.

visitors' center

Bluff Beer! (None left: I checked...)

The courthouse in La Grange that Kreische built.

Model of the downhill side of the brewery

Photo of the downhill side of the brewery

Part of the infrastructure he used to capture and use the spring. His brewery ingeniously operated off of the gravity flow of the water, including an evaporative cooling system.


photo of the up-hill side of the brewery; this is where the socializing and partying occurred after Kreische brewed a fresh batch  

Another photo of the front.

stable with guest room (see dormer).

tack hangers


The rear of the house.The white structure protruding in the foreground is a rainwater cistern topped with a sewing room.

View from the other side.

Note the white structure about the doorway and the different roofline at the top: this was the original homestead (the roof seen here was added later to integrate the original house with the expansion).

Inside the original house.

Inside the original house.

Looking from the addition into the original house.

Detail of the joinery.

Looking into the cistern.

The second floor of the original house.

Looking out the front door of the addition.

The white structure in the foreground is part of the original house.

Front of the entire house.

The entire front of the house. Kreische designed the new facade to symmetrically incorporate the original structure on the right. It may be hard to see, but the facade finish is different on the original structure (scored plaster) as compared to the rest of the house (rough limestone). According to the National  Register nomination form, Kreische intended to finish the entire front of the facade with plaster. 

When you turn around from the photo above, this is the view of the Colorado River.

The Art Deco monument.


is Wright the wrong man for Bandera?

There's a wee bit of controversy in Bandera, Texas, and it concerns Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Flying L Guest Ranch outside of Bandera sports some modest but nifty mid-century modern architecture that uniquely accommodated visitors flying in to partake of the dude ranch. The Texas Historical Commission recently unveiled a historical marker that proudly proclaims that none other than Frank Lloyd Wright designed the original spread--a pilot's lounge and nine villas--back in 1946.

But did he?

Frankophiles have questioned the assertion, pointing out that there's no direct evidence to support Wright's involvement. And now the Historical Commission is revisiting the issue.

Texas Architect Magazine weighed in on the issue ("That's Not Wright"), noting that San Antonio architects Harvey P. Smith and DeHaven Pitts of the firm Smith, Pitts & MacPherson were the architects. Wright historian Wiliam Storrer (who quite frankly--and unhelpfully-- comes across as a crank in an interview with the San Antonio paper) has also noted the project not being a Wright (the owners and the Historical Commission come across as cranks as well, essentially saying "Prove to us it's not a Wright."). The Wright Foundation has found no record in Wright's archives of him designing buidlings in Bandera County. 

Wright or not, it's kind of a big deal. The ranch received funds from the county to establish a Wright museum in the pilot's lounge. And having Wright-designed buidlings can be a tourist draw. It's also embarrassing to the Historical Commission: What were they looking at when they vetted the landmark proposal? 

The owners and the county are convinved the buildings are Wright's because they look Wrightian and because local newspaper articles published two decades after construction attribute the buildings to Wright--extremely tenuous support for Wright's involvement. A Life magazine article about the ranch published right after the ranch opened unusually makes no mention of Wright. While the buildings look somewhat Wrightian, many architects were influenced by Wright and incorporated his style into their work. The chair of the Bandera County Historical Commission dismisses the claims that Wright didn't design the buildings with "Experts are wrong all the time."

I've actually been out to the ranch a couple times for business purposes, well before this controversy. At that point, the Wright connection was a rumor. Seeing the structures today with more architecturally informed eyes, these are not Wrights. As Storrer impolitely yelped "Why would anyone with a first grade education call that quonset hut a work by Frank Lloyd Wright?" It takes more than a first grade education to come to this conclusion, but anyone who knows anything about Wright's work would have quickly decided that these aren't Wrights.

photo from Flying L

photo from Flying L

photo from Flying L

pilots' lounge, photo from Flying L

pilots' lounge, San Antonio Express News



lawrence halprin show at the national building museum in washington dc

Heritage Park in Fort Worth (source)

Lawrence Halprin, he of the beautifully Brutalist Heritage Park in Fort Worth, has a retrospective at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C. through April 16, 2017. Halprin also designed the entry sequence to Yosemite Falls, the FDR Memorial in DC, the Haas Promenade in Jerusalem, and urban concrete parks in Portland,  Denver, and Seattle. The exhibit features 50 photographs of Halprin's work.

And while pecking this out, I thought to myself "Howz come museums don't have virtual tours of their shows?" Well lo and behold, one exists for this exhibit!

You can see additional photos of Heritage Park--currently shuttered for a hoped-for restoration--toward the bottom of our post here of last year's visit to Fort Worth.

Thanks to the ever-informative Dezeen for the tip!

Skyline Park, Denver, Colorado (source)

Freeway Park, Seattle, Washington (source)