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"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

Checking In
With John Ostrow

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

John Ostrow was one of those guys who attracted attention wherever he went. He was charming, cosmopolitan and restless. He had already seen much of the world when he came to Fredericksburg to run a hotel in the early 20th century.

He was born in Bromberg, Prussia (today Bydgosczc, Poland) on May 27, 1878. The name Ostrow is probably Polish and Jewish.

Little is known about his early life although the opportunities that came his way as a young adult would indicate that his parents were people of some influence. An article in a San Antonio newspaper says he was "born into the hotel business."

At age 21 Ostrow joined the German Army. He served as a steward to Kaiser Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany - a job that probably didn't fall into his lap by accident. Ostrow was in charge of the food service aboard the Kaiser's ship.

The one blemish on his military record was a reprimand from Kaiser Wilhelm for missing church. Each Sunday morning there was a Lutheran church service aboard ship, and the Emperor insisted that everyone attend.

The Kaiser usually awarded medals to discharged staff members, but when Ostrow left the army the Kaiser gave him a Bible as a reminder that his religious life needed some attention.

After his discharge in 1902 Ostrow married Johanna Grebe from Hildesheim, Germany. The couple settled in China where Ostrow managed a hotel in Tsingtau, a German colony on the China coast about halfway between Shanghai and Beijing.

Both of Ostrow's children, Sylvia and Heinz, were born in China. One source claimed he owned the 2nd automobile on the Chinese mainland.

The Ostrow family returned to Germany in 1909, traveling by rail across Siberia and Russia.

Two years later John Ostrow came to the United States. The Galveston Daily News (March 24, 1911) listed "Johannes Ostrow" as a passenger on the German steamship Koln, docked at the port of Galveston. His reasons for leaving Germany are not clear, but some sources hint that he was disillusioned with the German authoritarian regime.

Ostrow got a job in Houston, and once established he sent to Europe for his family.

Three years later The Galveston Daily News broke the story that "Louis Dietz has sold his hotel building on North San Saba Street in this city (Fredericksburg) to John Ostrow of Houston."

Fredericksburg TX- Ostrow Hotel
Ostrow Hotel
courtesy Gillespie County Historical Sociey

The Dietz Hotel, later the Ostrow Hotel, was a 3-story building facing San Saba Street (today Main Street). It stood where the Fredericksburg Winery (the old Knopp and Metzger Department Store) now stands.

Newspapers described the new owner as "a hotel man of international experience and widely known by the traveling public." Soon his hotel was "famous throughout the south for its hospitality and table."


John Ostrow was a big part of the Hill Country social life. He was active in the Chamber of Commerce, the Sons of Herman and the American Red Cross. He loved the theater. He directed community plays performed at Peter's Hall.

His lively dinner conversations with good friend Robert Penniger, editor of the Fredericksburg Standard, covered art, current events and politics.

John Ostrow ran the hotel in Fredericksburg for 11 years. Then in 1926 he sold the business to T. G. Cordua "an experienced hotel man from San Antonio."

At the same time Ostrow paid $50,000 for the furnishings and a 14-year lease on the Jefferson Hotel at the corner of Houston and Jefferson Streets in San Antonio, 3 blocks from the Alamo.

In San Antonio he and his wife welcomed guests at their home on Patterson Avenue in Alamo Heights near Olmos Park. He directed plays, many in the German language, to entertain the sizeable German population in the Alamo City. After WWII he served as Deputy Tax Collector for Bexar County.

Even after John Ostrow moved to San Antonio, he never lost touch with Gillespie County. He came back often.

Late in life the old innkeeper told his friends that Fredericksburg was his home, and he wanted to be buried in Der Stadt Friedhof (City Cemetery). He checked in on October 21, 1959.

Fredericksburg TX - John Ostrow grave
John Ostrow grave
Michael Barr photo, 4-22

Sources:
Arrivals," Galveston Daily News, March 24, 1911.
"Purchase Fredericksburg Hotel," Galveston Daily News, December 6, 1914.
"Memories of Kaiser Are Sole Souvenirs of Ex-Steward Here," San Antonio Light, April 12, 1929.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" May 30, 2022 Column



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