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"Hindsights" by Michael Barr

Looking back at:
Getting Social at Pampell's
in Kerrville

Michael Barr
Humans need to be part of a community. In the 20th Century, before the internet and Facebook, folks in small Texas towns got social at the local café, barber shop, beauty parlor, post office or church. One of the community hotspots in Kerrville was a place called Pampell's.

J. L. Pampell came to Kerrville from Brenham in 1890 as the express manager for the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad. A few years later he opened a fruit and vegetable stand on the northeast corner of Water Street and Tchoupitoulas Street. After World War I Tchoupitoulas Street became Sidney Baker.

In 1900 Kerrville was a small town of 1,500 people. "There was no paving in town," Pampell told a reporter. "On rainy days when we walked down Water Street we clung to the high picket fences to keep out of the mud."

In 1901 Pampell sold his fruit and vegetable business and bought the 1895 Gregory Hotel across Water Street. Pampell converted the first floor into a store that sold drugs, ice cream and candy. He converted the second floor into a 450 seat auditorium and opera house.
Kerrvill eTX -  Pampell's
Photo by Michael Barr, May 2016
Pampell's Opera House featured traveling vaudeville acts. Vaudeville refers to a theatrical genre made up of live acts grouped together on a common bill.

On March 2, 1902 Pampell's Opera House booked its first act, a musician named Samuel Siegel, billed as the world's greatest mandolin player. In those days every act was the "world's greatest" something or other. Poet and lecturer Edmund Vance Cooke followed Siegel. Hugh Morrison and his Columbia Comedy Company closed out the week.

Other early acts included the Great Santanelli - Master Hypnotist and Laugh Producer and the Singing Rooney Boys. Actress Billie Burke performed at Pampell's. Later she played Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz.

Vaudeville reached its zenith in 1910. After that movies became wildly popular and vaudeville disappeared.

By 1920 Pampell's Opera House was exclusively a movie theater. The movies were 2-reelers, and they were pretty beat up by the time they arrived in the Texas Hill Country.

There was no electricity, so audiences watched in silence while the projectionist cranked the reels by hand.

Downstairs in the drug store and candy shop, a bar and a dozen built-in barstools occupied one side of the room. J. L Pampell bought a massive soda fountain at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair and installed it behind the bar.

The Opera House was about the only place in Kerrville for large gatherings. From 1902 to 1920 Tivy High School used Pampell's upstairs auditorium for its graduation ceremonies.

For a time J. L. Pampell's made and bottled his own soft drinks in the basement. In 1916 he acquired the Coca Cola franchise.

Pampell's stopped showing movies after the Acadia Theater opened in 1928. That same year J. L. Pampell added the brick façade to the building and removed the second floor leaving nothing but the inside balcony that is still there today.

Pampell's was the local RCA Record dealer. Jimmy Rodgers was RCA's biggest selling artist in late 1920s. Rodgers lived just around the corner on Earl Garrett Street and often hung out at Pampell's. If you bought a Jimmie Rodgers' record at Pampell's, there was a good chance the Singing Brakeman himself would autograph it for you if you waited around long enough.

In the 1950s it was not unusual for working people all over Kerrville to close up shop at midmorning to have coffee or a coke at Pampell's.

The sad part is that not everyone was included. Blacks wanted to be a part of the community too, but they weren't allowed inside Pampell's until the 1960s.

J. L. Pampell operated the drug store and candy shop until his death in 1958. His son Milton ran the store until his death in 1974. After that the business went into decline.

Today Pampell's is quiet and dark, but standing inside I can't help but feel that the old place is just resting for the moment, waiting for the coffee to brew and the political arguments to begin.
Kerrvill eTX -  Pampell's Sports Bar & Grill
Photo by Michael Barr, May 2016
Kerrvill eTX -  Pampell's architectural detail
Photo by Michael Barr, May 2016
© Michael Barr
"Hindsights" September 15, 2018 Column

"Historic old Pampells comes to life again in downtown," Kerrville Mountain Sun, June 15, 1989.
"Pampells Long a Downtown Trademark," Kerrville Daily Times, September 24, 1989.
Joe Herring Jr., Kerrville Stories (Kerrville: Herring Printing Company,2012).
"Pampell's evolved over the years," Kerrville Daily Times, April 28, 1991.
"Local Family traces history to Native American ancestors," Kerrville Daily Times, February 14, 2000.

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  • Related Topic:
    Kerrville, Texas
    Texas Hill Country
    Texas Stores
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    "Hindsights" by Michael Barr

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