San Antonio has what may be the most romantic library in the world, the Hannah Landa Memorial Library. This library is located in the Landa family’s treasured home in the Monte Vista Historic District. The Italianate stone and stucco house was built in 1928 for the couple, Hannah and Harry Landa. They participated in the design and furnished the home with purchases from their European travels. Hannah & Harry Landa in 1942:
Ornamental urns from travels in Rome, Italy:
In 1946, the residence and five surrounding acres were bequeathed to the city of San Antonio by Harry Landa for a public library and children’s playground. When completed the home was considered one of the finest in the South. Now as a library you can linger and enjoy it too. The posh interior:
Harry Landa’s wife, Hannah, died suddenly from the flu in 1942 after 30 years of marriage. Heartbroken and alone, Harry published his memoir As I Remember… in 1945 and died a year later.
I tracked down a copy of his book through Interlibrary Loan. The 100-page memoir, including photos and sketches, was sent free of charge to my local library from the Cody Memorial Library in Georgetown, Texas, north of Austin. He copyrighted his book but since not renewed, I have included some of his quotes in this blog. You can buy his memoir on Amazon, but since it’s a rare book, it costs $450. Instead, consider requesting it from your library via Interlibrary Loan.
The Landas were married for 32 years but didn’t have or adopt children. As Harry said in his memoir, “We had no family, so we lived for one another.” Harry mentioned near the end of his memoir, “After her passing, all of my lights went out, and I felt deserted and alone, a desolate and sorrowful man. I lost all interest in life and felt that I had been inflicted with a great punishment.”
Poor Harry! After reading about his adventures in a not-so-easy game of life, I wanted to give him an encouraging hug. If only everyone could find an enduring true love that lasts for over thirty years. Paintings of Harry and Hannah in the Grand Hall:
Harry had quite a background and story to tell. His father, Joseph Landa, was born in Northern Germany and supplied horses to the Russians. Not wanting to be a Rabbi as his parents wished, he ran away to Liverpool, England and saved money for a ticket in steerage for America.
After a storm and close call, he was held responsible for the bad luck. Joseph was nearly tossed overboard, but the captain hid him. All his belongings were stolen, and he arrived in New York City with only one English half-crown hidden in his mouth and the clothes on his back. Luckily, in New York City, he was helped by European townspeople. He moved southwest to Texas and New Braunfels, a German settlement north of San Antonio, and opened a store.
Pappa Joseph was a success and made an annual buying trip to New York City. He traveled by mule to Vicksburg, Mississippi, on a river steamer to St. Louis, and by train to New York. But the long and treacherous trip was worth it when he met his wife and love of his life, Helena Friedlander, from Albany. Wedding photo of Harry’s Parents in 1851:
When President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in the midst of the Civil War in 1863, Harry’s father, an abolitionist, set his slaves free. But Texas was a Confederate state, so he had to protect his newly freed slaves and hide in Mexico until the war ended.
Harry’s mother ran the business in Texas and raised the children, including baby Harry born in 1861, relying on a nearby gun for protection. Times were tough in Texas. After the Civil War, a representative for Lincoln’s successor, President Andrew Johnson, reported back, “If I owned hell and Texas, I’d sell Texas and live in hell.”
And if you think his father’s adventurous beginnings can’t be beat, Harry also had a fascinating life story. He was shot on a train, by who else but train robbers, and narrowly missed having his hand amputated. The bullets were poisoned putting his whole life in danger, so he traveled to Mexico, Arkansas, New York City, and Germany for cures. He had so many surgeries he lost count.
But Harry was unstoppable, and when on the road to recovery he worked all sorts of jobs, built up a mill business in New Braunfels, and became a respected banker, landowner, and rancher. He had his share of failures and disappointments but never gave up. Harry was an innovative problem solver and once imported Chinese Pekin ducks to keep the Comal river clean for his mill, but they ended up multiplying and polluting the river instead.
After his mother died in 1912, Harry felt alone for the first time and missed her companionship. In San Antonio’s classy St. Anthony Hotel’s Peacock Alley, Harry saw an attractive woman, Hannah Mansfeld. He was determined to meet this young lady visiting from Tucson, Arizona, despite hearing she was to be engaged. But Harry kept striking out and was warned she spent too much money – $30 for two pairs of shoes. He replied that was exactly the type of woman for him.
Destiny intervened, and Harry was invited to a formal dance since they were short of men. At the dance, he teased Hannah and said he was a floor-walker (salesman) at Joske’s, a well-known downtown department store, when he had already built his fortune. Hannah told her friends she was worried he couldn’t afford to buy champagne for their table.
The next day Harry drove Hannah, with his married sister along as a chaperone, to see his estate and home in New Braunfels. Shortly after they met, he proposed and won over his future parents-in-law despite their concerns about this rough Texas rancher. They were wed in her hometown of Tucson and returned to live in New Braunfels. The newlyweds:
On the last page, of Harry’s memoir, he is circumspect. “However, in the recent past, a change has come over my spirit, and I feel that I have enjoyed an eventful and very blessed existence. Through all of my ups and downs, and through all of my good and bad luck, I was guided by the influence and advice of two noble women. First, by my mother in my extreme youth, and until my late manhood and then by my wife until her death. Due to the companionship of these two precious women, my life has bloomed to its sweetest and best ….”
His final paragraph refers to his faith in God and his parents who brought him up free of prejudice and malice. Harry died a year later in 1946, and the City of San Antonio received an impressive site for a new library. Outside views from January when it’s not at its best:
Thank you, Hannah and Harry, for your awesome home and garden and for sharing your story. Lovely valentine-red shrimp plants still blooming in January:
If you are in the mood for romance, plan a visit to San Antonio and the Landa Park in nearby New Braunfels off interstate 35 between Austin and San Antonio. The annual Fiesta in San Antonio takes place from mid to late April. This is a great time to visit, but the river walk is a romantic spot year-round. The luxury hotel, the St. Anthony, where the Landa’s met is nearby and a convenient place to stay for touring downtown San Antonio and the nearby Landa Library. And don’t forget to take a stroll down historic Peacock Alley.
Karen Stensgaard is the author of the novel AQUAVIT, the first book in the Aquamarine Sea Series with a second novel underway. AQUAVIT is available as a paperback from Amazon and Ingram Spark or as an e-book from almost everyone else. Libraries have free access via Overdrive. Link to free chapters on Amazon