It is the small simple things of life that bring us peace.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Along the same line

After writing two posts moaning about the loss of the downtown Sears store I thought I was done with the subject, but it is not to be.  This time it is a different building, but this time it has a bittersweet end. 

This morning my memory was jogged by an article on the web site of the San Antonio Express News that the demolition of the downtown Joske's store was completed.  If you are from Texas and are a Baby Boomer then you know about Joske's.  Anytime anyone mentions the name "Joske's" everyone always sighs and stands quietly for a moment...I'm serious, no kidding.  The memory of Joske's is almost sacred around here especially the downtown store.

I will not go into the history of Joske's as I want to keep this short; I will attach some links at the end of the post for further reading if you are interested.  Julius Joske had come to San Antonio in 1869 and started a dry goods business.  He closed the business and returned to Germany in 1873 to bring his wife and children to America.  He re-opened his store, J. Joske Dry Goods on Alamo Plaza in 1874; it has been there ever since.  The family owned the business until 1929 and Joske's continued under different parent companies until 1987 when Dillard's bought the stores and changed the name to Dillard's. 

The downtown store that holds such special memories for local people had been expanded over the years to a size of 5 floors and over 500,000 square feet in size.  Joske's also offered 20 acres of parking, although I don't remember that!  What I do remember is that it was the ultimate department store offering everything you could want in a beautiful setting.  When I was 5 we lived here for a few months and my mother brought me down to see the Fantasy Land display that took up an entire floor; it was marvelous although I remember only bits and pieces.  When we returned to San Antonio 8 years later Joske's was often the first place to go to shop for those special outfits a teenage girl needed (the basement was their "Bargain Basement" and they had wonderful deals!).  My mother bought her Elna sewing machine from Joske's, too.  As a bride-to-be a gift box with "Joske's of Texas" meant that there was a treasure inside; I didn't register silver, china, and crystal patterns, but this was the place to register if you were a bride. Even as a young woman I remember coming downtown and shopping at Joske's with a toddler and baby in a stroller.  In the years of my tenure downtown I would often walk the ten or more blocks to Joske's and the mall to browse or shop; one time I hauled a twin size comforter set back to work with me in heels, business suit, in the Texas noon time heat sweating and swearing silently all the way. There were large display windows on three sides of the store that were always creatively and smartly decorated, how I missed those after Dillard's took over.  I'm sure there was more to the store that I never noticed, but I have enough treasured memories that I can sigh when the name is mentioned!

The original building at this site had been completed in 1888 and was designed by local architects James Wahrenberger and Albert Felix Beckman.  There would be numerous expansions as Joske's acquired surrounding properties.  Architects Alfred Giles and Henri Guindon would also contribute their designs to a subsequent expansion.  The current day façade had been part of the 1939 remodeling and is referred to as being in the Art Deco style although the Rose Window motifs are definitely not Art Deco to me. I have to remind myself that each time Joske's expanded they destroyed businesses and homes to do so and that the building was basically a completely modern building as a result of each renovation.

So, here's the bittersweet ending.  The downtown store has sat vacant for 6 years although it is attached to the modern Rivercenter Mall (Dillard's had only used 2 floors of the store).  After civic leaders (thankfully) nixed several plans to build a high-rise hotel on top of the store the plan was agreed upon to re-work the space into a more useable retail facility.  A while back the chain link fence went up around the building and work began; I cringed every time I went by.  The article this morning (click the link) has pictures of what they have done so far and I was amazed. They took off the roof and basically gutted the interior. 

I was a little sad, too, but overjoyed to read the caption under several pictures that stated, 

"Longleaf pine joists removed from the old Joske's construction site in Rivercenter Mall are set in piles on Thursday, July 17, 2014. The wood, harvested from near Lake Charles, La. in the early 1880s, will be used in (sic) as flooring in the Bexar County Courthouse renovation".

Another caption states that these joists were laid vertically in the floor construction. I had also read a while back that the doors and other features were being safeguarded, but no mention is made of them here. It will be interesting to see if the doors or anything else will make its way back into the new space. 

So, sadly, Joske's is gone and so is the old store as well as the store of my early years.  Progress comes and you have to move on.  I'm just thankful that there is an active preservation movement here so we are able to preserve many buildings, but darn it, I hate to loose this old friend.

This postcard depicts Joske's before the 1909 expansion.  At this time the store was known as Joske Brothers Department Store.  Note St. Joseph Church visible to the right, it is still a functioning church today, surrounded by the mall.
Further reading:'s (note that this link may not let you read the article, if so just Google "Joske's" and it will appear and you can access it)

references to Joske's can also be found in
Fisher, L. F. (1996). Saving San Antonio: The Precarious Preservation of a Heritage. Texas Tech University Press.


  1. Wow this brought back some memories! I only recall going into the store once, but I always enjoyed walking by when I was in downtown. It was famous even up in my neck of the woods!

    1. I didn't mention it in my post, but Joske's did expand into other areas both before and after they were bought out. They were a Texas icon!

  2. What a beautiful store! I have nothing to compare that to here. Five floors? That's larger than most stores in this area still.

    1. They don't make them like that anymore, do they? It was sad when Dillard's downsized the store.