Old West Saviors

Supersized in San Antonio

The “People’s Museum” expands with a new center to offer more of its collection to the public.


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Texans don’t call San Antonio’s Witte Museum the “people’s museum” to be folksy.

Unlike many museums that come into being with a nice endowment from a wealthy family, the Witte had far humbler beginnings.

While San Antonio saw itself as “thriving” in the 1920s, it lacked the kinds of cultural institutions that mark a great city. High school teacher Ellen Schulz was determined to change that.

She took her idea of a museum to community leaders, who asked her, “What is a museum?”

Schulz had her eye on H.P. Attwater’s natural history collection, up for sale in 1922. Help for her cause came from schoolchildren, who stood on street corners with cigar boxes, asking, “Spare a dime?”

Adults got in the act too, selling bluebonnets (the state flower) and cakes, and staging performances.

In all, they gathered $6,200 to buy the collection and install it at the Main Avenue High School in 1923.

But within a year, the “museum” proved so popular, it needed its own building. With the help of her friend and high school principal, Emma Gutzeit, Schulz convinced Mayor John Tobin to commit land in San Pedro Park and $25,000 in city funds to construct a two-story building. Ground broke on September 22, 1925.

Two days later,...

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