Downtown Victoria in the 1940s

A view of Victoria's Main Street in the 1940s.

The former Victoria Bank & Trust Company building on Main Street now houses the offices of Workforce Solutions of the Golden Crescent, which are outfitted with cubicles and an upstairs computer lab. But step inside the lobby and you'll still see a colorful 12-by-38-foot mural depicting Victoria's history, painted in 1954 by Wimberley artist Buck Winn, along with dozens of cattle brands from some of Victoria's most prominent ranchers, collected in 1960 to celebrate the building's expansion.

As Victoria has grown and expanded, its historic downtown has seen many changes. Local historians with Victoria Preservation Inc. have documented some of these changes in the Advocate in recent years, providing a fascinating look at some of the buildings and features that used to define downtown Victoria. And even in buildings like the Bank & Trust that have undergone changes, hints of Victoria's history remain.

By the 1950s, the city had five downtown movie theaters — the Uptown, El Rancho, the Rita, the Queen/Princess/Venus and the Victoria Theater — along with three drive-in theaters to the north. The Uptown Theater was outfitted with its own generator and air-conditioning system and considered a "refined example of art deco architecture," with a black water fountain in the lobby and black commodes and sinks in the restrooms. El Rancho featured walls adorned with paintings of undulating seaweed. The lights on the marquees of these theaters used to light up the plaza at night.

Walking down the block of Constitution Street facing De Leon Plaza in those days, you'd pass the Victoria National Bank, Victoria Cafeteria, Waffle Shop, Rita and Uptown.

Keep going to the end of Constitution and you'd reach Pleasure Island swimming pool, now the site of Club Westerner. Pleasure Island opened in 1927 as an entertainment resort with a pool and dance pavilion. Cadets were bused in from Aloe and Foster Fields during World War II and high school dances were held at the resort in the 1950s and '60s.

Victoria was home to a dozen auto dealerships in the '50s, half of which were downtown. Atzenhoffer's, for instance, used to sell Chevrolets and Buicks at the corner of Santa Rosa and Bridge streets. Other dealerships sold Dodges, Hudsons, Pontiacs, Plymouths, Cadillacs and Chryslers. Drivers could pump up their vehicles at filling stations staffed by attendants wearing "billed caps and snazzy uniforms." Three of these stations sat at the intersection of Main and Goodwin alone.

City government in those days was housed in the 1900 City Hall designed by Jules Leffland, a brick building with a clocktower and scrollwork around the perimeter of a "handsome mansard roof." The building lasted 65 years.

In earlier years, the city's 100-foot-tall standpipe sat in De Leon Plaza on the site of the current bandstand. The standpipe drew untreated water directly from the Guadalupe River for the public water supply. The tower occasionally overflowed, drawing kids who ran to the plaza to play in the water. Occasionally, catfish and snakes would fly right out the top. The standpipe went out of use by 1923.

Adding to the hustle and bustle were the Southern Pacific Railroad and Missouri Pacific Railroad depots, which sat at either end of Santa Rosa Street, filling the street with commerce after Victoria and Rosenberg were linked by rail in 1882. Passenger trains ran through Victoria until 1953, and the Southern Pacific depot remained in use until 1979.

Times have changed, but fortunately, many of downtown's historic buildings, from churches to homes to the 1892 County Courthouse, have been preserved and can still be admired and used today.

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Mark Rosenberg reports on local, regional and breaking news for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at mrosenberg@vicad.com or 361-574-1264 or on Twitter at @markrosenberg32. To support local journalism at the Advocate through Report for America, go to VictoriaAdvocate.com/report.

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