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Vanishing Victoria: The boulevard : Rio Grande Avenue between Navarro and Laurent

Jan. 28, 2012 at 10:04 p.m.
Updated Jan. 28, 2012 at 7:29 p.m.

Rio Grande Avenue, as seen in this undated photo, was once a  tree-lined boulevard.

By Gary Dunnam

I always smile when residents of Victoria refer to "the Boulevard." I arrived in 1971 and it was long gone.

I have tried in vain to find a decent photo of this stretch of Rio Grande in its heyday, but to no avail.

Rubin Frels was the first to speak of it. He remembered oleanders in the median.

Rubin has been a great resource for me. Having been born here in 1928, and paying attention to what has gone on around him, Rubin relates memories of a magnificent city, which reached its architectural zenith in the 1930s.

The evolution of this city began with the arrival of Martin de Leon in the fall of 1824.

Change has been a constant feature of our history.

Several years ago, I spoke with B.E. Leissner about the boulevard. I mentioned that someone had sworn that roses were planted its entire length.

The following response is verbatim: "The trees in the center were Arizona ash. Bordering on each side (now my memory fails a little) were either oleanders or ligustrums. Anyone who says different is just uninformed.

"I remember riding my bicycle in and out of them in a weaving pattern. Lester Giese was a country boy, but may remember.

"There was a rose garden but only at the entrance, which started set back a little way from the intersection of Laurent and Rio Grande.

"Laurent was under construction in the early '40s and my little brother and I made spending money on Saturdays pulling automobiles out of the mud with our Shetland ponies. You just had to give them a tug and you could get them to the intersecting streets that were gravel.

"There was a Grapette bottling company where Wienerschnitzel is now.

"The Patti Welder High School pep rallies on Thursday nights would start with a parade beginning at the Victoria Pharmacy and end at Patti Welder Stadium.

"They would march down the median to Laurent and turn right. A distance of eight or nine blocks. Just right on a fall evening.

"There was an old ramshackle building on the corner of Navarro and Rio Grande that was propped up on the west side with long poles to keep it from falling over and, next to that, was a vacant lot where Sally Rand set up her traveling 'exotic show.' I slipped in under the tent and got 'to see it all.'"

"The boulevard ended about 100 feet from the intersection of Rio Grande and Navarro. I shall always regret the rape of the boulevard. If you have any other questions, fire away. Those of us who were there are gradually vanishing."

I included the business about the paving of Laurent Street because there is more to the story than this.

B. E. related to me that he and his brother actually moved the traffic barriers at the entrance to Laurent Street so that motorists would unwittingly drive straight into the muddy bog where they would become mired, needing immediate attention.

In rode the valiant Leissner brothers on their trusty steeds. Once the boys had made enough spending money, they replaced the barricades and went downtown to the movies.

The mention of Sally Rand, the "exotic" fan dancer, takes me back to Rubin Frels. In order to perform her fanciful feathered flutterings, Ms. Rand required an electronic organ. The Frels family Hammond organ was dispatched to the site, and the show proceeded without a hitch.

I was told that George Filley played in the "orchestra" that accompanied her.

Thirty years later, Rubin Frels was in Fort Worth on business and saw that Sally Rand was performing at Casa Mañana. He bought a ticket, went backstage and met her. She remembered the kindness, and they laughed about it.

Others I have quizzed about the boulevard relate that it extended west of Navarro about to North De Leon Street.

I can only think that we should still have a boulevard today, and that it should be beautifully landscaped - to relieve some of the stress of driving in 21st century traffic.

Vanished From Victoria is written by Gary Dunnam and submitted by Victoria Preservation Inc.

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