People with brains, panache, or character. Sometimes all three.
"ELOISE" IN TEXAS
by John Troesser
Van Gilder as Miss Aumont
Photo Courtesy of Cliftine Dywer and Earle Seaman
a (not-only-for-children) children's book from the 50s. The title
character was a little girl that for some reason was growing up
in a New York City hotel. We're certain it was more popular with
girls/women, since most males of that period couldn't get into such
a dull fantasy. Growing up on a Battleship - now you're talking!
Anyway, here was a little girl who had maids, bellmen, and waiters
attending to her every whim.
Now, we'll take you to Seguin,
Texas, a town that once was not so well known
as New York City. The time is the 1930s. The little girl in our
story is named Cliftine Van Gilder.
Texas Theater Today
Now owned by the Seguin Conservation Society headed by Robin Dywer,
Aumont" Goes to the Texas Theatre
Mrs. Dwyer recalls being six years old at the time. She was to walk
across the stage, followed by the 4 year-old grandson of the Hotel's
bellman. He was decked out in a gleaming white uniform, carrying
the luggage of Miss Aumont, who was checking into the Hotel.
Cliftine was humiliated about having the little boy carry her luggage
and was photographed just after hearing the script of her proposed
Today, Mrs. Dwyer still remembers who won first and second place
in that contest. First place, she told us, was won by Mary Lee Roberts
and second place was Betty Jean Jones. She also remembers that the
first prize was a small diamond ring (and that Mary Lee lost it)
and second prize was a small add-a-pearl bracelet, that Betty Jean
still has. All three women still reside in Seguin. Pride in Seguin
runs deep and only after several probing questions, did Mrs. Dwyer
admit she was born elsewhere (San Antonio) where her father was
Aumont Hotel c.1925
Photo Courtesy Earle Seaman
She too, is growing up in a Hotel and like Eloise, she is an only
child. This hotel is the Aumont,
named after Austin and Mountain Streets. Her parents are managing
the Aumont, which is one of the two best Hotels in town. The other
is the Park, which will later become the Plaza,
and Cliftine will figure in that building's history as well.
Our photo of Cliftine was taken at the Aumont
just prior to her departure for a chamber of commerce function at
the nearby Texas Theater. Contests with children were popular
throughout the 1920s and 30s, and in this particular show, each
business in Seguin was represented by a child dressed appropriately
for the sponsoring business. Cliftine was (if you haven't already
guessed) "Little Miss Aumont."
Park / Plaza Hotel c1935
Old postcard TE Archives
up in The Plaza
She recalls the Aumont
fondly, but she was a few years older when the Park became
available and her parents bought it. It had briefly served as a
Hospital (1929-1931) and went broke. It was renamed the Plaza
when it opened again as a hotel. It was this hotel where she
learned to work the switchboard and "drive" the elevator.
Nicknamed "The Pest" by the day desk clerk, she remembers
what a philosopher he was and how he taught her to use the switchboard.
The night desk clerk taught her how to drive the elevator, which
"wasn't just pressing buttons in those days" she reminded us. Sometimes
the only way to get her to bed was to give in and let her "drive
herself home" to the fourth floor.
She also related
how she enjoyed eating at friend's houses since bowls were democratically
passed around the table, and there were NO MENUS.
She found these
customs of house-dwellers quaint and amusing. If you're thinking
she had a nature-less upbringing then think again. The courthouse
lawn was right across the street and as she said in a previous interview:
"…those were MY benches and MY pecan trees and My fountain." It
was almost as much fun as growing up on a battleship.
read about the:
thanks to Cliftine Dwyer for her telephone interview and for sharing
her memories of "finishing out her growing up" in Seguin's rival hotels.
Additional information came from an interview with Mrs.Dwyer written
by Sue Ratliff.
© John Troesser