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South Texas Living


Olmos Pharmacy soda fountain




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Rainy Days and Starry Nights
May 7, 2014 | 4,224 views | Post a comment

Does anyone remember the old Olmos Pharmacy soda fountain in Olmos Park? When we lived on Donaldson Avenue in San Antonio in 2006, I took Julie and Eddie there to eat lunch. That place has so much history. I wanted to find out what it was like. This is the story I wrote the next day. It is still on that corner of McCullough and Hildebrand in San Antonio.

Betty Garza was just a young teen-aged girl back in 1938 when her godmother, who was the soda fountain manager, called her one day to ask if she could come fill in for one of the girls who had broken her foot the night before. Betty jumped on her bicycle and took off to help out. She has been there ever since. She remembers making 80 cents an hour and either walking or riding her bike to work for many years. Twenty-five years ago, she became the manager. Last year, when the owner tried to sell the pharmacy and fountain on e-Bay, she scrambled around to get the financing to buy it to keep the fountain area running. She just couldn’t lose her home away from home.

Those milk shakes were the best I ever tasted. Their chocolate milk shake was made with real ice cream and served in the metal shaker, with a glass to pour it in. Just like the good old days. The best milk shake in South Texas I do believe.

Also, Betty walks around visiting and talking with the customers, some she has known for years, others like us, she sits down and visits and talks and gets to know them.

As we sipped our shakes I could almost feel like I was back in the ’40s or ’50s, as I watched a young kid sitting and swiveling on the beautiful original chrome stools at the counter. We sat in one of the original booths and took our straw from the original straw holders from the 1930s, and grabbed a napkin from the original metal napkin holder sitting nearby. I couldn’t take my eyes off the beautiful marble floor tiles, inlaid between the squares with chrome. The original floors!

Betty said the milk shakes and sodas are made on the original soda fountain still in the same place behind the counter. They still work perfectly. And the chrome and Formica counter is the original counter and so shiny and beautiful.

One of the employees was cooking burgers on the grill under this beautiful large Pittman Venta-hood. The chrome around the edges made it a thing of beauty. Then Betty tells me it is nearly 95 years old. What a priceless jewel and it still works!

For 25 years Betty has gotten up at 3:30 a.m. to be at work to open the soda fountain. She works 15 to 16 hours a day, six days a week. Breakfast is one of their biggest meals of the day. Families have been coming from all over Olmos Park for the wonderful breakfasts, especially the pancakes. There are still three and four generations of families that manage to make it to the old Olmos Pharmacy soda fountain at least once a year, some once a month, and some even once a week.

Betty has met a lot of famous people at the soda fountain in her years of working there. What she mostly remembers was in 1987 when the movie, “Johnny Be Good,” was shot in San Antonio and they used the Olmos soda fountain for some scenes. That was an exciting time for her and all the regulars there.

Betty served our sandwiches on the original plates, Fiesta Ware, from when the Olmos fountain opened in the 1930s. But they were the last two plates left, so she is taking them home. She has one Fiesta Mug left from the original dishes and that is going home with her too.

Footnote: The original pharmacy was on the other side of the fountain. Those last years that Olmos Pharmacy was open, it was not a pharmacy. That part of the place was a gift shop. I think Betty Garza retired several years ago. It was for sale for a while, and now I see it is a pub with live music and a bar. They still make milk shakes but some of the reviews I saw were not very positive about the service and cleanliness, and they will even serve you beer milk shakes! Oh, for the good ol’ days!

Lois Zook Wauson is the oldest of eight children who grew up on a farm in Wilson County in the mid-20th century. After many years living in other parts of Texas, she now lives and writes in Floresville. Her two books are available from the Wilson County News office. Email her at loiswauson@yahoo.com.
 

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