(The Luna City Volunteer Fire Department will figure in an upcoming volume of the Chronicles of Luna City … so a little background is in order.)

The Luna City Volunteer Fire Department is Luna City’s oldest and most venerable civic establishment, established in 1878, beating out the Masonic Lodge by a matter of eight months, and the Catholic parish of Saints Margaret and Anthony by a full year. Arthur Wells McAllister designed a building intended to serve as a fire house at the south-east corner of Town Square. The building, now a retail space for several antique and crafters, was the firehouse for thirty years. The distinctive twin double-door entrances meant to facilitate a pair of horse-drawn hose and pumper wagons are still evident in the façade.

Arthur Wells McAllister, being a forward-thinking city planner, naturally made accommodation for every civic service and improvement required by the last quarter of the 19th century. In the days when cooking, heating, and lighting a home depended on wood or coal fires, oil lamps or candles, domestic fires were an all-too-frequent occurrence, and an organized fire-fighting company of some kind was a civic necessity secondary only to a law-enforcement function. A busy man himself, Arthur Wells McAllister presented the task of organizing a fire company to another founding member of Luna City, Madison R. Bodie. Bodie, who had originally been a ranch foreman at Captain Herbert Kling Wyler’s Lazy W, had saved his wages and investment share into a business providing patent cattle feed, grain and hay to his former employer and other local ranchers. A native of San Antonio, Madison Bodie had been an active member of Milam Steam Fire Company #1, and thus had the ideal experience to take on organizing a new civic volunteer firefighting company.

Madison Bodie soon had recruited thirty fit and enthusiastic male volunteers, and attracted the generous support of town merchants. A pair of horse-drawn steam-powered pumps was purchased from the Waterous Engine Works Company, of St. Paul, Minnesota. For many years, community celebrations featured a race between Engine #1 and Engine #2 around the perimeter of Town Square. The two engines faced their first serious fire-fighting challenge in extinguishing a fire at the mansion of Morgan Sheffield – like Arthur McAllister and Madison Bodie, a man who had expected more of Luna City’s prospects than were eventually delivered. Morgan Sheffield, who settled on a small tract of land along the river, slightly to the south of Luna City, had found a natural sulphur hot-spring in the course of building his home. He had entertained hopes of a hotel and curative spa on the site. Work had just barely begun on a bathhouse and hotel, when a lightning strike on the roof of his house during a summer thunderstorm set fire to the roof.

The volunteers, alerted by one of the workmen, raced to the scene, and were successful in extinguishing the fire. In gratitude and as a token of his esteem, Morgan Sheffield had a silver speaking trumpet engraved with the date, the emblem of the company, and presented to Fire Company Chief Bodie. The silver engraved speaking trumpet was a prized symbol of authority, and after it ceased to be a practical tool for directing firefighters, it was displayed in a special glass case in the firehouse.

Eventually, the original firehouse building proved too small and ill-placed to accommodate Luna City’s first fully-motorized ladder and pumper fire trucks, which were purchased in 1920 and 1922. The fire department moved to its present location on West Elm Street, although the present-day fire house is the third building on that site. The first building on the site had to be extensively expanded with the acquisition of larger vehicles in subsequent decades. Embarrassingly, the second firehouse burned to the ground on the 4th of July, 1939, while all vehicles and volunteers were attending to a massive fire in a hay-barn on the Wyler Ranch. Many relics dating from the early years of the LCVFD were lost in that fire, including the silver speaking trumpet, and other artifacts and memorabilia.

The present Luna City VFD building accommodates a multi-purpose fire engine, a tender and a ladder truck, a brush truck for fighting grass and brushfires, a command truck and the ambulance, living quarters for full-time fire fighters, medics. and volunteers on regular shift, a classroom, storage area and wash-rack. There are six full-time paid professional firefighters; the remainder of the eighty-strong force are volunteers; either reserve, in training status or junior members. Junior members must be of high school age, and participate in regular training sessions. They assist with fundraising and educational outreach to the local community, and are considered full-fledged members of the LCVFD after their 18th birthday. Training sessions are held weekly; Wednesday evenings from 6-9 PM.

A view of the courthouse designed for Town Square by Arthur Wells McAllister

A view of the courthouse designed for Town Square by Arthur Wells McAllister

The Cattleman Hotel – Luna City
(From Texas Highways, 2005)

Among the dozen notable late 19th Century Beaux-Arts style buildings lining Luna City’s historic Town Square is the Cattleman Hotel. Four stories tall, with a mansard-style roof which adds still another story, the exterior is a flamboyant combination of mellow rose-pink Texas granite, with architectural trimmings of imported Carrera marble; window and door surrounds balustrades and pediments creating a notable contrast. The frieze, cornice and projecting modillions were also of Carrera marble, with primary highlights picked out in gold. A large half-circular bay formed the main ground-floor double-door entrance, sheltered with an ornate cast-iron and glass canopy, and extended through the upper floors to the cornice as a series of stacked bay windows with narrow balustrades.
The Cattleman Hotel originally was named the Grand Palazzo Vittoria Hotel; designed and constructed with no expense spared in 1885 by one of Luna City’s original minor investors, an Italian gentleman and entrepreneur of means, Signor Afredo Vittorio di Barreca. At this time, Luna City’s investors had expected the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway would pass through Luna City; Arthur Wells McAllister, the engineer and surveyor who had laid out the town and designed much of the still-extant public buildings, had designed a particularly ornate railway station (which would have been constructed about where the Luna City Police Department and Volunteer Fire department garages are located now). Arthur Wells McAllister also expected Luna City to become the county seat, and accordingly planned a fabulously ornate courthouse to occupy Town Square instead of the pleasant square of oak trees, lawns and flowerbeds which adorn the space today. Signor di Barreca, therefore, designed and outfitted his enterprise in the full confidence that his palatial hotel would become the cynosure of local social life and a refuge for weary travelers; thirty-five guest rooms, including three suites, a gentleman’s smoking room on the second floor, a lavish bar with backbar, etched mirror, glass shelves and fittings made from imported Circassian walnut, a dining room capable of seating a hundred diners at a time, and a ballroom with a stage at one end, suitable for concerts and theatrical performances.
Signor di Barreca, already middle-aged and prosperous through his previous hotel properties in Italy and in the eastern US, was married to a young woman barely half his age, Filomena Gismondi, who had ambitions as an opera singer. Although quite beautiful, vivacious and charming, and with a pleasing singing voice, young Signora Gismodi had neither the drive or luck to continue performing professionally on the opera stage, and it is assumed, gratefully accepted an offer of marriage. Signor di Barreca was, however, indulgent of his young wife, and it is said, had the ballroom and stage included in the design of his establishment so that she could continue giving recitals and concerts.
Alas – as has been related elsewhere, the grand ambitions of all those who invested in the vision of Luna City as a traveler’s mecca, and county seat – were undone by love. Signor di Barreca, like Arthur Wells McAllister, was not unduly cast down by this misfortune, but zestfully turned his energies into carrying on his own vision of his hotel as a destination and show-place for winter visitors to Texas, refugees from the snow-clad north. In this he was successful for some two decades. Shortly after the turn of the last century, he invested in a motor-coach, which made daily journeys between the nearest railroad station in Karnesville and his hotel, emblazed with the name of the Grand Palazzo Vittoria Hotel, bearing visitors to and fro, while advertising his hotel. The di Barrecas were cosmopolitan in their tastes and travels, returning frequently to visit Europe and England during those years, the height of the so-called Belle Époque.
Signor and Signora di Barreca were the parents of one child, a son named after his father, born in 1896. The senior Signor di Barreca passed away while visiting his homeland in 1908, and his widow promptly remarried. The younger Signor Alfredo returned to Texas, and for several years managed the Grand Palazzo in much the same manner as his father had, although with much less ferocious energy. Upon the outbreak of the First World War, he sold the hotel to the then-owner of the Bodie Feed mill, Alexander Bodie, who was then waxing prosperous, and returned posthaste to Italy, where he enlisted in the Italian Army and perished in fighting on the Italio-Austrian front several years later.
Alexander Bodie tasked one of his younger sons, Curtis, with the management of the Grand Palazzo Vittoria. Almost his first act upon taking over was to change the name to “The Cattleman Hotel”, although faint traces of the original name may still be seen, where they were emblazoned in gold letters on the façade over the third-story bay window. Under that name, the hotel continued to prosper through the first three decades of the twentieth century, although not quite on the same flamboyant scale as previously. A number of the rooms were refitted to accommodate in-suite private bathrooms, during this period, although such renovations were halted by the ravages of the Depression, which hit South Texas as hard as anywhere else. Wartime shortages and gas rationing had an effect as well, although there was a slight recovery seen in the late 1940s. Still, postwar prosperity and renewed travel opportunities could not repair twenty years of dwindling demand. Many of the smaller rooms on upper floors were emptied of furnishings and closed off permanently.
The second and third-floor rooms continued in sporadic use, as well as the hotel bar and the ballroom – often used for special receptions, meetings and community events, such as a visit by then vice-President Johnson in 1961. But what demand there was for rooms and special events fell precipitously with the development of Mills Farm ten years later. Mills Farm and VPI had the lock on providing entertainment and hospitality venues; with the added benefit of offering an old-fashioned classic Texas experience updated with every modern convenience. In a modern sense, the Cattleman Hotel was extraneous to needs, and in the centennial year of 1976, Curtis Bodie sold the place to a consortium of the Luna City municipality and the Luna City Historical Association for what amounted to a token payment. It was thought possible for a time to use part of the place as a museum, and indeed, the old main lobby is used to this day as a display space for various local historic relics. According to long-time Luna City Historical Association member, Leticia McAllister, there is no truth to the rumor that Mills Farm’s parent company, Venue Properties, International, attempted to purchase the historic building outright and move it to the present Mills Farm Property – although that rumor was widely circulated at the time, and helped engender a considerable degree of local distrust towards Mills Farm – a distrust that continues to this day. The plan was, as MS McAllister avers in a recent interview with our reporter, presented as using the old grand hotel as an adjunct hotel facility for Mills Farm/VPI, but the terms offered were so insulting, they were rejected after brief and acrimonious consultation.
The municipality and the historical association are able to maintain the ballroom and dining room as an event venue, although the electrical system is not normally equal to the demands which modern-day celebrations put on it. The Historical Association maintains an office in one of the upper floor rooms, and the city government does so with another two rooms. Many of the remaining rooms are used as overflow storage by the city, the Luna City Independent School District and the Historical Association. The three suites are maintained, ready for rent to interested parties, although of late, this mostly means ghost hunters.
Yes – the Cattleman Hotel is widely reputed to be haunted; there are the customary moving lights behind the windows of long-uninhabited rooms, and docents who volunteer at the lobby-area museum often insist that they hear the sounds of male voices, and bottles and glassware rattling in the old bar … a room which is customarily locked. Guests in the three still-used suites have often insisted they detect the odor of pipe tobacco and cigars in the hallway adjacent to the old smoking salon on the second floor – also a room long emptied and locked. There are said to be three main ghosts in the old hotel. None can actually be tied to real people with certainty through historical records – although not from the want of trying on the part of folklorists and ghost-hunters. The first is said to be that of a woman guest – well-bred and traveling alone (possibly to meet her lover?) who killed herself with poison in a guest room on the second floor sometime in the late 1880s. Her spirit is said to be the one who roams the second floor, seeming to search for someone. The top floor, which housed hotel staff in the days when the place had live-in staff, is haunted by the spirit of another woman; a maid or housekeeper who was murdered by a spurned boyfriend; she is reported to manifest by the sounds of an invisible broom, sweeping dust … which is seen moving in brief spurts along the floor. The third ghost is that of a reckless young cowboy, who was robbed of his takings at a not-so-friendly poker game in the livery stable which once stood behind the Cattleman Hotel. It is this ghost who is reportedly responsible for the voices and the noises in the old bar.
The Cattleman Hotel is located at the western side of Luna City’s historic Town Square. Tours of the building may be arranged by contacting the Historical Society, or the office of the Mayor. When not in his office in City Hall, the mayor may be found at his place of business, Abernathy Hardware.

The Mighty Fighting Luna Moth! - Designed by Alex of 2iii Graphics!

The Mighty Fighting Luna Moth! – Designed by Alex of 2iii Graphics!

Yes – Luna City is now home to a CafePress shop! The first items available are with the Luna Cafe and Coffee logo – here!

For the coffee shop on Town Square that is the usual morning gathering place.

For the coffee shop on Town Square that is the usual morning gathering place.

Winterl 2016 Newsletter-1
Winterl 2016 Newsletter-2

(Not drawn to scale, nor including all facilities – but to give an idea of the general lay-out of Town Square and of the location of some of the shops and establishments surrounding Town Square.)

Map of Luna City - Town Square

Tickets are available at most Luna City buisinesses, including the Cattleman Hotel, Stein's Wild West Roundup, the Luna Cafe and Coffee, and at the Chamber of Commerce.

Tickets are available at most Luna City businesses, including the Cattleman Hotel, Stein’s Wild West Roundup, the Luna Cafe and Coffee, and at the Chamber of Commerce.

Theater with TowerThe Luna City Players are one of, if not the longest-established community theatrical groups in Karnes County, having roots in a small group of amateur performers known as “The Lunatics” who were famed for performing as a minstrel group in and around the local area in the late 1880s. The Lunatics also acted in farces and bawdy comedies, but around the turn of the last century turned to a more formal organization and more elevated materiel. In some years, they were able to mount three or four separate productions, with performances weekly, of classic and popular plays. With the popularity of motion pictures throughout the years since the 1920s, there was not so much demand for locally-sourced entertainments, yet the Luna City Players continued, with traditional theatrical presentations, and with short original presentations, tableaux, and skits to mark celebrations such as Founders’ Day, the 4th of July and at Christmas. In the last half dozen years, under the direction of Patricia Wyler Pryor, the Players have begun performing original material by a selection of local South Texas writers and playwrights.
The Players performance space and rehearsal facility is the historic Koenig Opera House on Town Square – an intimate 200-capacity hall, which once was Luna City’s movie theater, and remains the newest of the structures lining Town Square, dating as it does from 1922. Once merely a wide alley-way between The Cattleman Hotel and O’Byrne’s Fine Haberdashery (now housing the Ssts Margaret and Anthony Parish thrift shop) leading to a livery stable behind the Cattleman Hotel, the Opera House filled in that long, narrow space, adorning the façade on Town Square with colorful glazed tiles and a fabulously ornate marquee. The Koenig still hosts movie showings on a regular basis, showing mainly classic old black and white silent pictures, with live organ accompaniment. (Consult the Chamber of Commerce website for a current schedule.)

Dance with the Bunny Boiler in the Pale Moonlight

Some weeks after Romeo Gonzales arrived and set up his own campsite in the near-deserted Age of Aquarius, Richard pedaled up the road – deftly avoiding the ruts, bumps and puddles that nature and the passage of the occasional heavy vehicle had scoured into the clay-like soil with the skill of experience. It had rained lightly the night before, so puddles there were in plenty, and the fresh new grass had begun just raising tender new blades coyly between the old dead hay of the previous season.
On the whole, he had found Romeo Gonzales to be a congenial neighbor, given that it was hard to be anything else at half an acre space between their trailers and workplaces some blocks distant from each other. At least, Romeo showed no inclination to conspire together with malignantly-inclined micro-media operatives to ambush him at the door with lights, cameras and harassing commentary, unlike the egregious Penn. Who, in concordance with the injunction delivered through Jess, showed every inclination of making himself scarce whenever Richard was around. Richard was profoundly glad of that, not least because he treasured his afternoons of solitary contemplation of the pleasant but uninspiring landscape and his studies in Larousse.
And besides all that, Romeo was good at fixing things. He took it upon himself to shinny up and lubricate the old-fashioned windmill that drove the water-pump which supplied hot water to the old concrete block washhouse in the campground. Romeo adjusted the handbrakes and the chain of Richard’s bicycle, and when completely bored and bereft of things to do, popped up the hood of his pick-up truck and tinkered with the mysteries within. Still, Richard had looked out of the Airstream’s windows, very late at night, rubbing his eyes because he thought he could see some kind of ephemeral apparition – kind of like the Northern Lights, but rather more red-tinged than electric green, writhing and twisting in the air over Romeo’s Fifth-wheel. But as soon as he blinked, that vision was gone.
Now, that very pick-up coasted slowly across the campground, and Romeo leaned out of the drivers’ side window. “Hey, Rich – I’m heading out to Karnesville to swap out my propane bottles; you were saying that one of yours is empty and the other almost – you wanna come along?”
“Certainly – and thanks for the offer,” Richard answered with honest gratitude. “Run over to the Airstream – I’ll put them in.” He had been experimenting with various interesting recipes on the tiny propane-powered cooker in the Airstream, which had completely drained one tank – and to judge how the burner flame had been flickering of late – was close to emptying the other. The tanks were heavy – and the Walmart in Karnesville was a good ten or fifteen miles distant. In the space of a minute or two, his tanks were in the back of Romeo’s sturdy workman’s pick-up, and they were out on Route 123 – the back road between San Antonio and Aransas Pass, which gained in scenic qualities and relative lack of traffic in its soothing meandering across scenic portions of South Texas what it lacked in the boring celerity of the major highway.
But there was frequent traffic upon it; some miles along the way to Karnesville, the two of them witnessed evidence of that, in the form of a very late-model, velvet-black Mercedes sedan, off on the grassy verge on the other side of the road. The front left tire of the Mercedes was fatally, hopelessly flattened, and the driver stood uncertainly by it, very obviously boggled by this misfortune, although she held a cellphone in her hand.
“Oh, man,” Said Roman, in admiration. “What a gorgeous piece …”
“I don’t care!” Richard, recognizing the unfortunate driver, was horrified. He barely restrained his first impulse to dive under the passenger-side dashboard of Romeo’s truck – which being one of these huge garish American things, would have been big enough to hide at least two people, three of them if they were light of build. “Drive on – that’s the horrible Susannah! She’s a stalker, the bunny-boiler of Mills Farm! An executive of theirs! She has haunted me – chased after me! She came out to the trailer … for god’s sake, man – don’t stop! If you do, you’ll regret it, I tell you!”
“She came out to the Aquarius?” Romeo answered. “Damn, Rich, she’s way to classy for a regular lot lizard. I’ll run that risk, sure. And that Merc is one awesome bit of machinery.” He sighed, as the pick-up swept past the stranded Mercedes. “Sorry, man – you have issues with her. Your problem, not mine. I don’t leave ladies with car trouble by the roadside – just my personal standard.” He grinned sideways at Richard, who felt his heart sink right down to the level of his trainers. (Bought at Marisol Gonzalez’s thrift shop in Karnesville. He did wonder briefly if he could impose on Romeo to make a quick pit-stop there after trading in the gas bottles.)
“She’s a remora in human-guise,” Richard gabbled, frantic and horrified, as Romeo made an easy U-turn and drove back towards the stranded Mercedes and Susannah Wyatt – as always, slim and dressed to the nines in elegant and high-fashion vacation wear. “Just drive on! Call your uncle with the garage and the wrecker – anything! Once she latches onto your flesh, she doesn’t let go! A relentless succubus …”
“Sounds like my kind of woman!” Unmoved, Romeo did another U-turn and eased the pick-up off the road, backing up and parking just ahead of Susannah and her stranded Mercedes.
Richard slid down in the passenger seat, lower and lower, hissing between his teeth as Romeo turned off his engine, “I won’t be a part of this – I can’t be a part of this! For the love of God, don’t let her see me – don’t tell her I am here! The woman is a menace – you have no idea of what you are letting yourself in for …”
“No problem, bro,” Romeo answered, with total assurance. He unsnapped his seat belt, and opened the driver-side door. “I reckon maybe that I do … and I just won’t leave a woman stranded by the roadside with car trouble. That’s just not the Gonzales way.”
“You’ll live to regret it!” Richard made one final frantic and fruitless plea … to no avail. He slid farther down in the passenger seat, certain that he would not be seen, since Romeo’s truck sat so much higher than the Mercedes and had tinted windows in the back. But he could observe what transpired in the mirrors and hear Romeo’s and Susannah’s voices since the windows were open.
Romeo – swaggering just the tiniest bit like an old movie cowboy – doffed his hat and drawled, “Say there, little lady, you look like you’ve got a flat tire, there.”
Richard sank even farther down in the seat. “Oh, god – the bloody stereotype. Kill me now.” He couldn’t hear Susannah’s reply, but Romeo continued, “Don’t you fret, ma’am, I can change it for ya – just show me where your spare is. I got all the tools I need in the back of my truck. I’m Romeo Gonzales, by the way – of the Luna City Gonzaleses. You must be Miss Wyatt, from out at Mills Farm … I’ve heard so much about you.”

(to be continued in amusing fashion. Luna City 3.14159 will be released late this year, in both print and ebook versions.)