Thursday, July 7, 2016

Those Places Thursday: Old Tourist Court Cottage in Corpus Christi

On a recent trip to Corpus Christi, Texas, my spouse and I drove around looking at how places have changed (or not changed) since we lived there in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  One day we drove over the Harbor Bridge to North Beach, which has undergone a lot of transformation after Hurricane Allen in August 1980 pretty much wiped the peninsula clean.  There are still a few old pre-1980 buildings around, though.  I spotted this one at 304 Beach Avenue, and it looked vaguely familiar:


I knew I'd seen this little cottage with its unique roof before - and I was right.  The cottage is on our mystery roll of Ektachrome film we had developed by Film Rescue International.  Because it was so old, the images were processed as black-and-whites.  Ektachrome was color slide film first manufactured in 1963.  We were able to date the last pictures on the roll and knew it was shot before 1980.  As my spouse did not move (back) to Corpus Christi until early 1974, we also know that the roll of film was shot after that point.


I now feel fairly certain the black-and-white photo above is either the same building as that in the color photo at the beginning of this post (304 Beach Avenue), or else its neighbor at 306 Beach (visible on Google Maps), or possibly another building that would have been 308 or 310 Beach Avenue.  There is also a similar stucco cottage at 302 Beach Avenue, at the corner of Gulfbreeze.

My theory was that these three existing buildings (302, 304, and 306) were once part of a "tourist court" so prevalent on North Beach in the past.  According to the Free Dictionary online, "Tourist courts were usually a series of very small one-room buildings separated from each other by the width of an automobile."  Sometimes they had as few as four units, with the owner or manager living in one that also served as an office.

I was able to contact the current owner of 302 Beach and ask about my theory.  She told me that "302-306 were all together.  I understand they were built in the early '40s.  There were 4 of them at one time, but one of the hurricanes got the one [308 or 310] where the present-day alley is."  She e-mailed me later to tell me her husband said there were actually eight units in the complex at one time.

By studying some Corpus Christi city directories for the 1940 to 1960 time period, as well as a Sanborn map updated in May 1950, I think I have pieced together a rough history for this site for that period.

Beach Avenue was called Walldue and Gulfbreeze was called B Avenue through at least 1960.  The cottages on today's beach were actually on a lot at that time that fronted on Avenue B, with the address 4501.

There wasn't much of anything this far "north" on North Beach in the early 1940s, at least that I can determine from the city directories (the earliest I can access online is dated 1940) and Sanborn maps.

The first possibility appears in the 1946 city directory, a "Helen Marie Courts" at 310 Walldue owned by Frank Sovey (1893-1983), who also operated a produce company and watermelon garden in town.

However, there is nothing at that address in the next available directory from 1948.  Instead, there is a "Mackey Courts" at 4501 B Avenue, which is at the corner with Walldue.  It was owned by Ken and Leta Mackey.

The next available directory is from 1955, and lists "Atwater Courts" at this 4501 B Avenue address, but I found references to it (as Atwater Courts and Atwater Cottages) in Corpus Christi newspapers from 1952 and 1953.  The owner/operators were John Cameron (1892-1960) and "Mrs. Wallace F.[rancis]" Hunt (1894-1959) Cameron, who were originally from (and ultimately returned to) Hamilton, Texas.

The 1957 directory for Corpus Christi is incomplete, but the listings for 1958 through 1960 show 4501 B Avenue as being the Willis Courts, owned by Floyd Moore Willis (1906-1976) and his wife Frances Augusta Sellers Aubuchon Willis (1912-2007).

After that, the trail gets cold.  But I did determine that the photo below is most likely today's 302 Beach Avenue, sometime between 1974 and 1980.  Note the "Office...Vacancy" sign by the door:



© Amanda Pape - 2016 - click here to e-mail me.

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