Val Verde County Historical Commission

Val Verde County Historical Commission

The Model Bakery

821 South Main Street, Del Rio, Texas 78840

Doug Braudaway
Southwest Texas Junior College, 207 Wildcat, Del Rio, Texas 78840

There is an old stone building at 821 South Main Street on the south end of Del Rio’s downtown commercial district. For most of the twentieth century the building was a bakery, an old-fashioned, locally-owned bread- and pastry-making establishment.

The property, like all of downtown Del Rio, was once part of the James Mitchell grant acquired by the San Felipe Agricultural, Manufacturing and Irrigation Company. The Company, source of most deeds in old Del Rio, sold the land to early settler William H. Pulliam in 1877. Pullium sold the land to A.J. Griner, whose death conveyed the land to widow Joaquina Griner who gave it to her mother Refugio Rivera who sold it to J.M. Walsh in 1892. Walsh sold it to W.K. Shipman in 1916.1 Shipman sold the property to John Qualia on June 6, 1916, who apparently combined ownership of the property with operation of the bakery business.2 During Qualias’ operation of the Bakery, Qualia sold two tracts of land, in 1921 and 1923, along the north side of the property to the Roach-McLymont Store. The Roach-McLymont building still approaches within two feet of the Bakery building.3

The Model Bakery seems to have opened for business as early as 1905 or 1907. A hand drawn map of Main Street shows “Model Bakery” in its location in 1907; a 1912 newspaper article indicates the business was open in 1905 or 1906. The 1909 Sanborn map shows the structure divided with the north half labeled as a grocery and the south half as a bakery.4 A newspaper article, while clearly representing local boosters, summarizes the product of the Bakery.

John and Chris Qualia, two Del Rio raised boys, own and operate the Model Bakery of this city and indeed it is a “model” of cleanliness, good service and full measure.
   John and Chris have been in this business about six or seven years; they started out as delivery boys and have worked up to where they are proprietors. They are both industrious, sober, deserving young fellows and they are giving a service in their line that is being appreciated by all the people of the city.
   If bread is from the Model Bakery you know it is good—you know that there is not going to be any disappointment in the meal. The very latest machinery is being added from time to time and the boys are spending the larger portion of the profits of the business keeping it strictly up-to-date. Bakery goods of every kind are made and in all there is a quality of excellence which you cannot fail to notice and appreciate.
   A specialty is made of taking orders for baking pies, cakes and fancy goods. The busy housewife often finds it a great relief to have her Sunday or party cake made at the Model, where the very best service can be had at the most reasonable price. It does away with much of the care and fretting over the Sunday dinner. One can go to church and enjoy the services better.
   The chief aim of the proprietors of the Model Bakery is to give the people of Del Rio the very highest quality of service and they know no better way to do this than to always give the highest quality of goods.
   Two months ago the Model Bakery opened a branch up near the Federal Building, in order to make it more convenient for customers and at either place you can get what you want. Besides the wagon will come to your door every day if you desire it.5

The article suggests the bakery, or a bakery, was in operation a few years after the turn of the century, though it may not have resided at the 821 address. A previous bakery at this location is strongly suggested by the language “the bakery” used several times in a biographical piece about Chris Qualia—Chris working at “the bakery” under other ownership before he bought it.6 Another published article in the collection of Shirley Jo Qualia, John Qualia’s granddaughter (and Chris Qualia’s niece), states that the Bakery was opened in 1914.7 But then, an undated, hand-drawn map in the Whitehead Memorial Museum files puts the Model Bakery on the 800 block in 1907.8 The Casey Collection source notes that Chris Qualia mangled his hand severely in 1914 in the bakery—several years after the bakery came into his ownership. (The hand was amputated, and an attached illustration shows Chris Qualia with a prosthetic hook.)9

The building itself appears to have been constructed before 1900. An incomplete survey card says gives 1898 as the date of construction.10 It may also have been built by G.B. Cassinelli (or Cassinelli and John Taini).11 Sanborn Fire Insurance maps show a restaurant (“res’t”) in a building at the address. Extensions to the building appear in several subsequent maps through 1924. A visual inspection of the building shows the additions: The front parts of the side walls are original stone. Towards the back the stone connects to red brick masonry. Empty foundations lie behind and adjoining the structure where later additions have been removed; joints in the back wall show brick has been erected to fill what must have been an interior wall. The exterior of the building most likely resembles the building shown on the 1909 map.12

The Qualias baked bread, but they also baked the sweeter examples of their craft. “Today, the Model Bakery of Del Rio shows an average of forty pastry and cake items in its four large display cases daily. Sometimes the number is even higher.” The Bakery also catered to Mexican customers with examples of traditional Mexican sweets: “One case shows exclusively certain items which appeal to the Mexican trade and it does a phenomenal penny and nickel business.” Furthermore, the Bakery sold candies—by the piece or in bulk. The Bakery also “had the best creampuffs you could ever hope to taste.”13

The bakery is better remembered today as Seeger’s Bakery. In 1940 John and Mary Qualia leased the property, including the buildings, to Ed Seeger of Harris County. (A second building sits behind the Bakery towards the rear of the property.) Concurrently, Qualia sold the contents of the buildings: baking pans and other equipment: “All of said above described personal property being located in a building belonging to John Qualia at No. 821 South Main Street.” In addition to the lease and the sale, Qualia signed a contract with Seeger agreeing not to enter the bakery business for five years “or so long as Ed Seeger shall continue in said bakery business.”14

Seeger's Bakery storefront

The name “Seeger’s Bakery” was not used immediately and consistently in the early years. The establishment was mysteriously named Malina’s Bakery and Del Rio Bakery for a short time after the Seeger purchase. By the mid-1940s though, Seeger, began to build brand name and symbol recognition: “Mrs. Seeger’s loaf in the Orange Wrapper.” Seeger’s Bakery in the 1950s advertised things sweeter than bread, which is probably why it is so well remembered: “Specializing in Wedding Cakes, Birthday Cakes—Sweet Rolls—Donuts, Open 6 Days a Week.” The Bakery “took pride in their baked goods,” and it was “the place” to get special pastries.15

The Bakery is well remembered by Del Rio’s Mayor Dora Alcala. Raised in the San Felipe neighborhood, the Mayor did not find Seeger’s until her high school years (when attending Sacred Heart High School on the “Del Rio” side of the San Felipe Creek). But once she found the Bakery, she stayed with it. The Mayor’s favorite were the cream puffs, a treat new to her because none of the San Felipe bakeries carried such an item. The cream puffs were a special (on Thursdays?), and the (future) Mayor and her friends would save their allowance to buy cream puffs from Seeger’s (and cherry colas at Walgreen’s Drugstore). The aroma was evident from a block away adding something nice to a downtown stroll, and even now, the Mayor recalled nostalgically, she could close her eyes and remember that aroma. Seeger’s was a “very special place” where people went for get pastries for weddings, showers and other special events. Seeger’s made the Mayor’s wedding cake. In sum, Seeger’s cakes and pastries made any event extra special.16

Seeger continued to lease the property and operate the business for many years. In 1973 Beatrice Qualia Ballard and E.J. Qualia, John Qualia’s daughter and son, both holding power of attorney for John, sold the property to George E. (Ed’s son who had joined his father at the Bakery) and Elizabeth E. Seeger.17 The Bakery remained open until 1985, and the building remained vacant until 1989 when Amistad Loans occupied it through 1990.18

Seeger sold the land to Monica Hernandez in 1990, bringing the property under the ownership of the family seeking the historical marker. The building remained vacant except for a few years in the 1990s when the Southwest Texas Junior College Adult Basic Education office occupied the premises. This Main Street District building is vacant at this time, and the owners are preparing to repair roof damage and rehabilitate the structure.

The Atlas of the THC shows that only five bakeries around the state have been awarded historical markers. Interestingly, all five markers reflect strong ethnic/immigrant associations (four being German and one Irish). It is the contention of the Val Verde County Historical Commission the THC needs to add another bakery, this one founded by Italians who settled in Del Rio. The Model Bakery and its successor Seeger Bakery were an important part of the social life of the city and of Val Verde County, as witness Mayor Dora Alcala’s frequent recollections of those wonderful cream puffs.

 

Bibliography—
Mayor Dora Alcala to D.B., interview, June 2, 2003.
Katie Debo Fairbank, “Seeger’s Bakery to close Jan. 31,” Del Rio News-Herald, no date, no page (clipping from Shirley Qualia).
John Garoni to Doug Braudaway, email dated August 22, 2003.
Kinney County Clerk’s Office Deed Records.
Ruel McDaniel, “Pastries In the Small Town Bake Shops,” no publication, [March 1936] (collection of Shirley Qualia).
“The Model Bakery,” Val Verde County Herald, [1912], no page number.
Joe Rembla to Isela Hernandez, communication August 2003.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps: 1900, 1905, 1909, 1917, 1924, and 1930.
Hernan C. Schunenke Map, Whitehead Memorial Museum.
Telephone Directories: Kriss-Kross Directory, 1936; City Directories, 1933-4, 1938-9, 1948-9, 1951-2, 1959-1978, 1987; GTC Telephone Directories 1984, 1985.
Val Verde County Clerk’s Office Deed Records.
Val Verde County Clerk’s Office, Record of Bills of Sale Vol. 3, pages 262-263.
Val Verde County Commissioner Court Minutes Vol. 3, pages 127-128 (Order 6431).

 

Illustrations—
Newspaper clipping from the scrapbook of Carolyn Heep. The clipping is one of the “Bygone Days,” once a continuing series of historical photographs in the Del Rio News-Herald. The Qualias are identified in the photo. The Model Bakery appears to occupy only the south (left) half of the building in this photograph. The suggested date in the caption must be incorrect. The 1917 (and later) Sanborn maps show the Bakery occupying the whole structure, but the 1909 map shows the structure divided into two businesses, so the photo likely dates to a few years before 1918.
The 800 block of South Main Street with The Model Bakery at the left. The Bakery building predates the larger Roach-McLymont’s next door (to the north).
A photo of three men: Chris Qualia, an unidentified man who installed an oven, and John Qualia.
A photo of John Qualia and his delivery truck.
A newspaper ad from 1928 for The Model Bakery.
A copy of the 1907 Hernan C. Schunenke Map from the Whitehead Memorial Museum.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps: 1900, 1905, 1909, 1917, 1924, 1930.

 

Addendum for Model Bakery [answers to questions from the THC]—

Alas, the Model Bakery was not the first bakery in Del Rio. No bakeries appear in the 1900 Muenzenberger booklet—not in the business listings for the county, nor in the advertisements sprinkled throughout the booklet. The 1900 Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows no bakeries in town (though it may not be definitive). The 1905 Sanborn map does show a bakery on the northwest corner of South Main (Perry on the map) and Greenwood, about one-and-a-half blocks north of the Model Bakery site. That bakery and the Model Bakery both appear on the 1909 Sanborn map. The other bakery does not appear on the 1917 map; while the Model Bakery continued its existence.19

It would seem fair to say that the Model Bakery is the second oldest bakery in Del Rio and, along with Seeger’s, the longest continuously operating bakery in Del Rio. Beyond that, it can be difficult to explain great significance—of a bakery. But—When Seeger’s announced it was closing, the news hit Del Rio hard. The “Thursday ritual of Seeger’s bakery cream puffs will be a thing of the past.”20 Imagine news that Collins Bakery in Corsicana were closing. Del Rioans still sigh about the loss eighteen years later.

Presuming that the 75-year rule has officially been changed to a 50-year; hence Seeger’s is now eligible for marker text. The title suggested by THC, “Site of Model and Seeger’s Bakeries,” sounds good and will attract greater attention since more people remember the latter.

John Qualia, the man most associated with the older Bakery, was born in Del Rio September 13, 1887 (died December 10, 1973) on the property that is now the Val Verde Winery.21 He grew up speaking Italian and Spanish, not learning English until he began schooling. After giving up the bakery, he became the City of Del Rio’s first meterman and then, in 1955, Val Verde County Commissioner, Precinct One. Like the other Del Rio Italians, he farmed and made wine. John Qualia’s Home on the 900 block of South Main, half a block from the Bakery, has been noted as a historic building, though it has no formal designation. Chris Qualia, John’s brother, was born December 26, 1888 (died December 24, 1976). Aside from operating the Bakery, Chris farmed in South Del Rio, and appears to have retired from baking some time before the sale to Ed Seeger.22

Ed Seeger had been a baker in Houston, Austin and other cities before coming to Del Rio. Having gone into business just before the outbreak of the Second World War, Seeger ended up supplying bread to the troop trains that stopped in Del Rio for fuel and water; he also did business with Laughlin Air Force Base after the war. Seeger not only operated Seeger’s Bakery, he bought a farm irrigated by Del Rio’s canal system growing alfalfa and operating a “back door” dairy. (Del Rio once had several dairies and at least one cheese-making operation.) Seeger, in fact, closed the Bakery to farm full-time. Shortly, however, his wife Mary and son Lawrence reopened it, and then older son George took over the operation until bad health forced him to retire.23

George noted in the 1985 News-Herald interview (by Fairbank) that the business had lost money during the last few months, hence the closure, but the closure also appears to have been part of the general decline of Del Rio’s downtown business district as more commercial activity shifted out to the highway. The elder Seegers moved to South Carolina in the late 1970s to stay with family there. Ed died in 1979, and Mary died in 1986.

 

Endnotes--
1 Kinney County Clerk’s Office Deed Records, Book A, pages 477-478; Val Verde County Clerk’s Office Deed Records Vol. 4, pages 571; Vol. 31, pages 260+. This second source recounts a chain of ownership, but there is a loose end. Volume 22, pages 210+ and Volume 31, pages 368+ are deed and vender lien from Pacifico Serifini to W.K. Shipman, J.D. Shipman, and O.L. Shipman in 1910 for a property that appears to be the very same property. Volume 23, pages 237+ shows W.K. assuming payment responsibility for the other Shipmans. I have not found a Serifini acquisition of the property. The Volume 31 source is less of a sale and more of a quit-claim deed indicating that the Griner family has no interest in the property in light of the fact that “doubt has arisen as to exact location in said Block 3” this property existed. Without a survey on hand to decode the jargon and boundary notes, I will not pursue this. None of these deeds note the existence of the building even though it existed as early as 1900.
2 VVC Clerk’s Office Deed Records Vol. 31, pages 369+. Another branch of Del Rio’s Qualia is more famous, owning and operating the Val Verde Winery, which was awarded a THC subject marker in 1971.
3 Deed Records Vol. 48, pages 324+, Vol. 54, pages 275+.
4 The 1905 Sanborn map labels the building as something that looks like “Repository.”
5 “The Model Bakery,” Val Verde County Herald, [1912], no page number. The newspaper’s exact date is lost, but the publication includes candidate announcements for a set of local governing offices. The County Commissioner Court Minutes Vol. 3, pages 127-128 (Order 6431) shows the winners from the four races noted on a different page of the paper.
6 Jimmie Wayne Rand, “Del Rio, Texas Through the Eyes of Chris Qualia,” Term Paper for Prof. Clifford Casey, Spring 1964, Clifford Casey Collection, Archives of the Big Bend, Sul Ross University, Alpine, Texas.
7 Ruel McDaniel, “Pastries In the Small Town Bake Shops,” no publication, [March 1936] (collection of Shirley Qualia).
8 Hernan C. Schunenke Map (whose own home appears on the 1000 block of South Main and shoe shop on the 700 block). The map shows the Post Office in a pre-1912 location.
9 Jimmie Wayne Rand, “Del Rio, Texas Through the Eyes of Chris Qualia,” Term Paper for Prof. Clifford Casey, Spring 1964, Clifford Casey Collection, Archives of the Big Bend, Sul Ross University, Alpine, Texas.
10 Val Verde County Historical Commission, Historical Survey, 1976.
11 Joe Rembla to Isela Hernandez, communication August 2003. Rembla is a grandson of Pacifico Serifini, who hired the contractor to build the structure. The Cassinelli and Taini construction partnership started about this time. See THC files for markers for “Cassinelli Gin House” and “John Taini.” 12 Sanborn Fire Insurance maps 1900, 1905, 1909, 1917, 1924, 1930.
13 Ruel McDaniel, “Pastries In the Small Town Bake Shops,” no publication, [March 1936] (collection of Shirley Qualia); John Garoni to Doug Braudaway, email dated August 22, 2003.
14 Val Verde County Clerk’s Office Deed Records Vol. 98, pages 69+; Vol. 98, pages 71+; Record of Bills of Sale Vol. 3, pages 262-263. 15 Kriss-Kross Directory, 1936; City Directories, 1933-4, 1938-9, 1948-9, 1951-2, 1959-1978, 1987; GTC Telephone Directories 1984, 1985; Mayor Dora Alcala to D.B., interview, June 2, 2003.
16 Mayor Dora Alcala to D.B., interview, June 2, 2003.
17 Deed Records Vol. 247, page 1; Vol. 256, pages 379+.
18 Katie Debo Fairbank, “Seeger’s Bakery to close Jan. 31,” Del Rio News-Herald, no date, no page (clipping from Shirley Qualia).
19 H. Muenzenberger, 1900, privately published; Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps 1900, 1905, 1909, 1917.
20 Katie Debo Fairbank, “Seeger’s Bakery to close Jan. 31, 1985,” Del Rio News-Herald, no date, no page.
21 See “Val Verde Winery,” Texas Historical Commission, historical marker application.
22 Shirley Qualia, letter to DB, October 31, 2003; “John Qualia Dies,” Del Rio News-Herald, December 20, 1973, page 1A. Incidentally, the sibling relationship would make Shirley Chris’ grand-niece, not his niece as written on page three.
23 Lawrence Seeger, letter to DB, November 7, 2003. The letter says San Felipe Creek ran through the farm but that the farm was on Loop Road. It cannot be in both places. The letter also says the Seeger farm neighbored Chris Qualia’s farm which would put it on Loop Road where the farms are irrigated and the streets are named for the Italians. Loop Road is now Qualia Drive.