by Paula Bosse
Today is the 4th of July. I had these two articles stuffed into bulging digital files:
I had seen the photo of Mayer’s beer garden posted above, but I didn’t really know anything about it.
Simon Mayer (1843-1924) was born in Germany/Prussia and came to the United States in 1866, first settling in Milwaukee. He came to Texas in 1869 where, as his obituary in The Dallas Morning News says, “he owned and operated the first brewery established in Fort Worth.” He moved to Dallas in 1871 and entered into business with pioneer Dallas brewer Charles Meisterhans.
In December, 1881 he opened what would become one of Dallas’ foremost gathering places, Mayer’s Summer Garden. He built a 3-story-plus-basement building (at what would later be 1601-1603 Elm Street) and added a charming outdoor beer garden. It stood on the north side of Elm and looked directly down Stone Street (now Stone Plaza) toward Main. You can see it on an 1885 Sanborn map here.
A 3-story building in Dallas in 1881 was nothing to sneeze at. He was putting a lot of money into it, and people were interested in its progress. The opening was touted in the paper for several months (click articles to see larger images):
From the above article: “Mr. Mayer proposes to have a garden where gentlemen can take ladies and enjoy a glass of beer or wine in a quiet way, without coming into contact with the rough class that frequent beer gardens. No improper characters will be tolerated. There will be music but no dancing.”
Finally. the opening was about to happen: “the grandest blow-out ever witnessed in Dallas” was promised (who knew “blow-out” was a term used in 1881?):
Over a thousand curious and thirsty Dallasites turned out.
Dallas Herald, Dec. 13, 1881
(Don’t know what “drummers” are? Check it out.)
You might have noticed mention of zoological specimens. Yes, not only did this establishment offer a beer garden, a meeting hall, a hotel, a restaurant, a saloon, a performance space, and a lecture hall, it also had lots of animals in (and out of) cages — Dallas’ first zoo. He had alligators, birds, lions, eagles, prairie dogs, a Gila monster, a bear, and a pet crow. And a lot more. The bear escaped at least once — it wandered down the street and bit a guy who was making a commotion about a bear wandering down the street. But the bear was fairly easily recaptured and was waltzed back home along Elm Street without further incident. (Apparently, Mayer was a taxidermist by trade. One wonders how many of these creatures ended up stuffed and mounted and displayed in Herr Mayer’s home.)
People flocked to the Summer Garden. They loved the outdoor beer garden with its trees and fountains and performing bands. …And alligators. Below is a, sadly, washed-out circa-1885 image of Mayer’s garden. It actually seems fairly cosmopolitan for a Texas city in the 19th century. (Although, on the other side of the trees at the right was a livery stable and a wagon yard, so I would assume the jovial tippling, socializing, and oom-pah music was accompanied by unpleasant smells that were hard to ignore.)
Mayer’s was one of the first businesses in Dallas (or, according to lore, THE first) to have electric lights — lights were switched on to great fanfare in August of 1882. Before that, Mayer utilized an interesting lighting technique I had never heard about: “Mr. Mayer had the latest thing in kerosene lamps. An attachment to the lamp sprayed kerosene on the blaze, making it much brighter” (Dallas Morning News, Sept. 14, 1924). (Perhaps the bear had escaped in fear for his life!)
Mayer eventually closed his very popular business sometime in the 1890s after being unable to fight the “Sunday-closing” laws which forced him to close on his most profitable day of the week. By 1901, he placed the ad below and was selling the building.
Nov. 24, 1901
I’m not sure when the building was demolished — probably in the ’20s or ’30s. I just found a photo of the building as it looked about the time Mayer sold it (it was the Clifton Hotel for a while).
The beer-garden era had ended. There were several in Dallas in the 1880s and 1890s, but Simon Mayer’s was perhaps the creme-de-la-creme. I mean, he had an eagle!
Sources & Notes
Top photo — “[Mayer’s Beer Garden, Dallas, Texas”] — is from the Dallas Public Library (Call Number PA87-1/19-27-1).
The photo of the “garden” is titled “Mayer’s Summer Garden on Elm and Stone, 1885,” and it is from the Collection of Dallas Morning News negatives and copy photographs, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University — more info can be found here. (There is another photo of the garden in this collection — it’s really hard to make out clearly, but I swear I see an alligator int he foreground. And maybe some other zoological specimens out of their cages. …Or not. It’s here.)
The photo showing Mayer’s building in about 1900 has been cropped from “[Elm Street between Stone and Ervay Streets].” which is from the George W. Cook Dallas/Texas Image Collection, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University — see the full photo here.
All articles and ads are from The Dallas Herald, editions of which are scanned in their entirety and can be found at the Portal to Texas History, here — thank you, University of North Texas!
A lot of colorful info can be found in Mayer’s obituary in the Dallas Morning News archives: “Simon Mayer, Early Dallas Entertainer — Death of Pioneer Brewer Recalls Pleasure Garden He Founded” (DMN, Sept. 14, 1924).
Copyright © 2022 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.