INTERVIEW WITH: MAGGIE COUSINS
INTERVIEWER: KLRN (from a script)
SUBJECT: "Talking about Living Downtown" *
Well, I just, I grew up in the country and I l ove the country.
I grew up in Dallas, between Dallas and Richardson, Texas, which
is now the ci ty limits, but was then country. I lived in New York
City four years and I lived in apartments. And I've gotten very
fond of apartment living and I prefer apartments at my age, wni~h
is rather advanced at the present. I had houses. I had a house
in the country and at the beach, but I just, when I dec i ded to
retire, I decided I would get as much done for me by somebody else
There isn't any atmosphere in the suburbs. You know, people live
in large houses, have great manicured gardens, and they never go
outdoors. I never see them using their lawns for any purpose .
That's true of Texas, has been true of Texas, all my life. They
never did in Dallas. My father didn't like that kind of life so
that's why he bought a country house.
I don't know much about other parts of the country when it comes to
that sort of thing, but I think it is because the climate is so hot
in summer when the people are apt to be outdoors that it's very hard.
You know, you can't persuade people to have a picnic in Texas.
* Spaces indicate either comments or questions by TV interviewer .
Reader will have to guess at the question or comment.
Well, I wanted to live on the bank of the river, and there wasn't
anything on it that I could rent. It was very hard to find anything
to rent, when I came here in 1973. When I found that this building
had been rehabed already and, it had been an office building originally.
It had been made into suites for entertainment purposes during HemisFair.
Two rooms, a kitchen and a bath. And therefore, it was zoned for
residential living. So that now I have two kitchens, two baths, and
four rooms. My dear, dear designer (friend), Mr. William Pahlman, who
found the place for me and grew up in San Antonio, threw it together and
it's a marvelous floor plan. It's shaped like an "L" and I have a little
bed-sitting room and an outside entrance, which is really nice, you know,
for a guest--can make hi s own breakfast. That's what I insist on, too.
My dear, all conveniences. There aren't any domestic conveniences
downtown at all! There really isn't enough traffic I guess and I have
to face that fact. But you know there's tremendous interest in downtown
living. They're building condos allover the place but there i sn't
a grocery store of any kind. There just isn't a grocery store. Well,
there's one on South Presa which you ... it's a long cab ride. I don't
have a car. One reason I like to live downtown i s I don 't have a car.
I consider myself too old to dr ive. I intended to have a car when I
first came , and I couln't find a place to park. Living alone, you need
a place to park and you can't leave it in front of the building. So ,
I waited until they built a garage and then I was too old to drive. But
anyway , there are no grocery stores, and I have to go over to the Walgreen
Drugstore and get it; there's not any place to get milk . There's a
new little fruit store on Soledad which is absolutely a lifesaver because
while you can stock up on staples. I go to Waitz Model Market about
twice a month, but you have to have fresh fruit, milk, etc. There's a
fruit store down by the Court House on Soledad Street. It's very good,
a place to get apple s , oranges and a few tamales. But we don't have
any ... if I want to get. 'Since the big boom in building has come and
many of the old buildings have gone; when the new ones are built the
rents are too expensive for smalltime businesses like typewriter repair.
When I moved bere that was very important to me. There were three
repair shops within walking distance of a block. Now there are none.
I have to go out on San Pedro. You can hardly find an office supply
downtown. Joske ':5 used to have a gourmet shop and bakery; they took
it out, I don't know why because it was doi ng quite well. But there's
just no domestic services. I go to Kress's to get my shoe' heels fixed ...
it's unbelievable. Especially because there's no grocery store, because
King William Street, that area, has many young families with small children
and you know they have home life there in the big way and they don't
have any more grocery store than I do. I could go over there quite easily;
I could walk there. Mr. Butt, who lives in King William, has not built
a grocery store for us poor people. But I presume when all these big
condo projects are inhabited there will have to be a grocery store. I'll
be 95 years old. I've faced that.
I'd rather put up with the inconvenience and enjoy the things I enjoy
down here. This place is within walking distance of the public library,
which is important to me. The Bank, my Bank, and the Nix Hospital, the
St. Anthony Club, which is my club, one of my clubs. Now we have, now
I have, Club Gir~ud downtown which is very pleasant, more feminine,
sort of, so I can ... that way, I'm fine, but, that's what I looked at
when I went to move in here .
You have to weigh what you want. Of course, if I had a car, I wouldn't
have any inconveniences; if I could drive a car and have a place to park
a car; but there isn't, that's a major problem in downtown living .
There's no place to park .
If I knew, I would be rich. Everybody, nobody knows . Not just San
Antonio . This problem, it's just the whole U.S . One of my ideas when
I came down here, when I retired, I thought I have to have some kind of
project . I thought that San Antonio had done such a wonderful job with
the downtown area; I mean , the river is a gorgeous idea and it's so wellhandled,
etc., but when I got here the buildings that, the tall buildings
in San Antonio were 75% vacant above the first floor; this was a Chamber
of Commerce figure, and I thought if I show people that they can live
downtown they'll get interested in it, but Texas people are very hard to
change; but sooner or later, this generation will be interested in it .
Well, you'd absolutely love it . It's just wonderful " It's just where
it all is. I have women friends who haven't been downtown in ten years ,
they say proudly . I say, you gotta be crazy . . • and I've been unusually
happy in the city because when I first came I used to just walk up and
down the Riverwalk . Sat down at Kangaroo Court one day and had a drink
and Bob, the owner, came out and talked to me and from then on it became
my place. I met all the young people that work downtown and the people
that have the dreams and hopes and ideas and I was able to be in and
listen to all their plans and most of them have come through with a lot
of them. The wonderful young people who are downtown.
Anyway, I don't know whether or not I proved to the rest of the U.S . they
could live downtown or not. But, every city in the country has this
problem. -great big empty buildings with plumbing, electricity already
attached, the streets, etc., so then that building, apartment houses ten
miles from Loop 4l0--why?
The river is one thing . Most cities, after 6:00 p.m. are just like
wastelands--there 's nobody on the streets; nobody in the horrible parking
lots, there isn't anything. Here, there is a lively life on the streets
downtown at night. Most of them are tourists, I have to say that, but,
and they're attracted by the river and it is pleasant, shops , restaurants .
This is a city park and the city keeps it spotless and they keep i.t
manned with Rangers so that they don't have any incidents down there .
People down there are enjoying themselves, that's all. It's not ugly;
it's an innocent place . I'm not afraid. I don't believe, well, we
couldn't afford to have anything happen to it, but that's a major improvement
over almost any other city I know . They're all trying to find a
river they can run through their town . You hear that all the time from
I've watched them build that building, the InterFirst Building, and it's
just fantastic, wonderful at nite; they light it differently on different
occasions. Something witty about it, unusually interesting . I watched
the Hyatt go up and sort of got my view, but I like the look of it, too,
because it's kind of attractive, I think. I don't particularly like
that red sign they have which comes into my study window at night, but
it is up off the street . All the signage down here is carefully controlled
by the Riverwalk Commission so that they're not tacky signs. They have
to go along with a planned arrangement but that 's way above the ground so
I guess they can do what they want . I watch people up there going swimming .
I never get bored . If I ever get bored, all I have to do is look out the
window, and I can see the Smith Young Tower at night which is my favorite
building . And then, it's a romantic place . You see couples, late at night,
couples going home, singing to each other and one night I saw a barge with
a man and a girl seated at a table, you know, it had candelabra and she
was in evening clothes, he was in a dinner jacket, and they were just
floating down the river . And they had a gUitarist . Next day, Conrad True
called me up and said, "He proposed and she accepted!" And also, somebody
got married on the river one night . So , it is a wonderful little . ..
Well, I think the traffic is necessary. I think it'd be nice if they got
rid of the big boxcar t rucks on Commerce Street. No excuse for them going
through Commerce Street . There's sometimes a big one, you can hardly see
the end of it . I don't see any reason for that . The biggest problem we
have are the buses . The buses are absolutely necessary and the VIA system
is a wonderful system and I use it consistently . One of the reasons I
wanted to come here--I knew they had a good traffic sys tem . But Houston
COUSINS 7 .
Street is just a bus stop, the whole length of it , and the shops there
don't receive any profit; these people don't shop there, they're just
going home. Something has to be worked out about that for the down~
town's not going to really make it because the traffic down here, in
the afternoons from 3:00 p.m . to 6:00 p.m . is just murder . Buses just
lined up, like a train in the park, you know . In the Mercado District
clear up and the sidewalks are just covered with people and with the
usual day free for fast food and everybody is permanently attached to
something from a fast food joint . San Antonio is gaudy but not neat .
Charles .•.• said, he was so rfght. That' s a major problem about the
quality of excellence in a city; they really have to and I think that a
lot of, certainly a lot of city fathers etc" they all try to think of
something. When they first began to rev up the traffic system, the YIA
system, they thought of having a bus station and shuttles to it; that 's
what I think will have to be done . It' s one of the hest bus systems in
the U.S. I heard this man from the Department of the Interior say that
and it's very, very well handled and the drivers are wonderful--much
better than the cab situation .
I thi nk the ki nd of growth that Dall as and Houston have is very fri ghtening,
but I don't know how you control growth . If we want jobs for people
and we have to face the fact, I don ' t know how you can, I don't think you
can control growth . For many years San Antonio didn 't grow and I think
that was largely because people didn't really want to , but now we have
immigrations of all kinds, that' s gOing to come anyway . I don't know
what they can do about that. I haven't got any theories about that .
The whole U.S. has always been growing and now we suddenly know allover
the U.S. that we have to do something to control it and we don't know what
to do. We've always been gaga .•.
Well, I think it' s important because you have • .• Your lives are always
made up of the past, present and future and without the past you just
don't have very much to look back on. And I think that San Antonio,
that's one mf its great charms, the fact that it has some extremely fine
18th century architecture and lots and lots of 19th century architecture
which I think gives it a quality that no other city in Texas has. The
San Antonio Conservation Society, which is 60 years old in May, founded
in 1924, and the women, they saved the river . They saved everything in
the city worth saving, always in trouble with the business community .
The men have not been willing to see ahead as the women have . They wanted
to pave that river over] I'm sure you've heard that story, everybody
that comes to San Antonio has heard it . Imagine what that would have
The women who were the founders of the Conservation Soci.ety were fra ntic
about the fact that they were going to pave it over and make a parking
lot out of it, the whole river, downtown . And Miss Emily Edwards who was
a teacher at an Art Institute decided to have a puppet show and present
i.t to the city fathers, called "The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg ," and
so that's what they did and the puppets mostly were the City Council , I
presume, because they all looked a lot li ke the people they were beseiging
and they suddenly attracted that kind of attention to it and they decided
not to pave it and that was long before the Riverwalk had been developed.
It was developed during the WPA period, World War II. But the architect
who designed it, designed a marvelous thing which lasts and lasts and
lasts. It's just a wonderful job. And I hope they'll make it much longer
sooner or later. We have wonderful old buildings here, and as for living
in an old building, I love it. If it could be made practical; I mean, if
you could get the kind of modern conveniences built into it that you need,
it just has more charm than living in a new house and I know because I
once built a modern house and I sold it and I subsequently bought an 18th
century saltbox cottage on the ocean and I know the difference. Imprint
of human life on a place makes it more interesting and more attractive .
I think that's good. I think that the new condos down on the river near
the Public Library is going to make use of an old building that's already
there and that melding together of old and new is to me ideal . I do think
that buildings that are restored and rehabed have to have a use in view
before they're done or they get to be bunches of little museums. They
have to have use, usage, before you really go into it . Nobody needs a
dozen museums . But they usually do get, tell us, or at least, and I
think they make the street much more attractive . I'd rather work in one
and live in one.
Well, I don't know how you can integrate the InterFirst building, but I
think it's a fascinating building and I think that's .•. you have to have
quality and style in modern architecture as well as some of the old architecture
. isn't really worth saving, you know , sometimes we have buildings
that are rehabilitated that really don't seem to me to be valuable enough,
but you have to think about something like that, too.
That's right, then you have to have somebody with enough knowhow and taste
to figure that out, the architects certainly should ha ve that.
(The Te xas Theatre building)
Well, I would have much preferred to keep the theatre there but, and I
think the river, which is very small and no~ very wide , can just be overpowered
if we build a skyscraper on every foot of it. We have to keep it
low; we have to keep it so that the sun gets to it and everything. We
can't • .. and there's a terrible tendency to just build one skyscraper after
another one .
I don't know how that .•. there must be some kind of rule about what they
build; that building, that Republic Bank Building, is very unusual looking .
I don't know how it will be when it's finished . /Co urse, we needed the Texas
Theatre for an auditorium because we don't have an auditorium . I think
the Conservation Society got into the fight a little t oo late; I think
they thought it wouldn' t happen; I think that's what they thought . I don't
think that saving the facade means anything. I think that's kinda tacky .
I really do. I can't beli eve they did that . I mean, I can't believe that
the O'Neill Ford office did that. I couldn't believe they were going to
tear i.t down but because I am old and arthritic and I am very fond of
entertainment and I've always been a season ticket holder to everything
that's possible, like SPA (Society for the Performing Arts) but thi s last
season I went out there twice and I had a terrible time getting to my seat
because they don't have any railings in that auditorium.
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