Heritage, Volume 7, Number 1, Winter 1989 Page: 18
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business was at an all time high. This posed
a risk since labor and supply shortages
caused wages and the price of building
materials to shoot up. Thus, in that year,
although he did a large volume of work, he
did not make much profit, and this situation
continued through the war.
In 1919, he signed a contract to put up
three adjoining store buildings in Sinton,
which were to have a 75-foot glass front.
This contract was the final undoing of
Birkner's once-prosperous enterprise. He
had already completed the brick fronts
when a devastating storm hit the area in
September of that year. There was enough
warning so the as yet uninstalled glass
could be stored in a safe place. However,
when he returned to Sinton afterwards to
look at the site, his son greeted him at the
station with the words, "You are going to
feel pretty bad when you see the damage
that the storm did to your buildings, but
you are going to feel downright lucky when
you go to the undertakers and see the dead.
None of your men were lost."
Not only was the project completely
blown down, but other work he had under
way in the area was severely damaged. The
storm and attendant floods had ravaged the
entire region down to Corpus Christi. Over
280 people died or were injured while
others lost their homes and livelihoods.
The disaster ended his career as a building
contractor. After that, he continued to
be active as a builder, but worked on a
percentage basis to lessen the risks. He also
undertook small projects such as constructing
chimneys and flues, and he did some
farming. He reluctantly retired in 1938 at
the age of 77. His diary tells of his life until
1940. His wife Bettie was still alive, and at
that point two daughters and one son were
the only survivors of the eight children
who had been born to them.
Throughout his long and busy life, Gus
Birkner contributed significantly to the
built environment of south central Texas.
We can still enjoy and make use of the welldesigned
and sturdy schools, commercial
buildings, homes and other structures that
he built. However, it is the written record
he left that enables us to appreciate the
scope of his life's work, and saves much of
it from anonymity. This demonstates most
graphically the importance of preserving
not only the historic built environment,
but also of collecting the documentation
that records and interprets it.
Historians for the most part have to
work from the written record. They can
18 HERITAGE * WINTER 1989
We can only study
what has been brought
together in archives and
libraries. Those who
leave such a record will
be remembered, and
sadly, those who don't
will be neglected in
histories despite their
CENTER FOR HISTORIC RESOURCES
Top: In 1987 the Leinweber building in Hondo was
given a Texas historical marker.
Bottom: In 1901 the Star Building was completed
for A. L. Brock. The "Star Restaurant" was located
here for years. Both buildings were constructed by
only study what has been brought together
in archives and libraries. Those who leave
such a record will be remembered, and
sadly, those who don't will be neglected in
histories despite possibly equal accomplishments.
We at the Center for Historic
Resources at Texas A&M are dedicated to
the mission of assembling materials that
shed light on the Texas built environment,
and the people who created it. We are very
pleased to have Gus Birkner's diary, with
its wealth of information. We hope that
sharing his story will illustrate the value of
historical information whether in the form
of diaries, photographs, architectural
drawings, business records or in other formats
and the need to place such material in
repositories where the story of our heritage
can be collected and used.
Joan Rabins is Associate Director of the Texas
Historical Foundation. [In future issues, we will
feature more items of interest acquired by the Center
for Historic Resources repository.-Ed]
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 7, Number 1, Winter 1989, periodical, Winter 1988; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45430/m1/18/: accessed July 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.