A conversation with a former neighbor has revealed interesting facts about one of the neighborhood’s most enduring icons – the gazebo in the King William Park.
Ninety-year-old Walter Toxey was recently in San Antonio to help his daughter, Anne Toxey and her husband, Patrick McMillan, celebrate the 100th birthday of their beautiful home at 218 Washington Street.
The Craftsman-style house was built in 1915 by Gustav and Annie Giesecke. In 1951, Walter and Eleanor Toxey, son Walter, Jr. and daughter Eleanor became the owners of the house. Soon after moving into the neighborhood, Walter, a young attorney, noticed the deteriorating 1890-era gazebo on the grounds of the U.S. Arsenal near the Commander’s House. “I could see the bandstand through the trees just across the river,” said Walter. “It was obviously uncared for and it had a definite lean to it as if one side was sinking into the ground. I talked to officials at the Arsenal and they agreed that it had fallen into neglect and was no longer being used and definitely needed to be saved.”
“Next, I talked to Nellie Pancoast at 404 King William, who was president of the King William Area Conservation Association, and we both agreed that the bandstand would be ideally suited as a centerpiece for the King William Park.”
Although the U. S. Arsenal officials decided that they no longer wanted the gazebo, transferring ownership to the King William group proved to be very difficult. “As I was an attorney, I thought it would be a fairly simple matter but I had no idea what I was getting into,” said Walter. “It took months of letter writing to first one government office then another before finally getting everyone to sign off on the move. I even had to appear a couple of times before some sort of federal commissioner. Elsa Watson, Maria Pfeiffer’s mother, who lived across the street, not only typed all my letters, but was a tremendous help with the project.”
While the government was happy to have the gazebo moved from the arsenal grounds, they were not agreeable to financing it, so the King William Area Conservation Association raised the money to have it moved and installed in the park. Most everyone was
delighted to have this new addition to the park; everyone that is, except the neighborhood boys who had been using the park, for their baseball field.
In 1954, dedication of the gazebo was conducted by the Merry Knights of King William, a club started by neighborhood teenage boys in 1909, but evolving over the years into a men’s club. One of the founding members, Willard Berman, donated, in the name of the Merry Knights, an impressive solid brass eagle weather vane to mount on top of the gazebo. Werner Beckmann, another Merry Knight, delivered a touching dedicatory oration.
Unfortunately, the brass weather vane disappeared after a short time. Mr. Berman graciously replaced it with a duplicate only to have the second one stolen. The gazebo went without a top decoration for years until some inventive neighbors came up with the clever idea of using a round copper toilet float attached to a rod. Once installed and looking at it from the ground, it appeared as if it had been especially designed for just such a purpose. It remained the gazebo’s crown until a major restoration and rededication in 1987 when the weather vane you see today was installed.
The gazebo has become something of a local landmark and symbol of the spirit of King William for residents and visitors alike.
- Bill Cogburn