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Dietz Doll House

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Big party for a little house

By Bob Thaxton
The Gazette-Enterprise

Published March 4, 2010

Children sang “Happy Birthday” and munched on cupcakes Tuesday morning at the 100th birthday celebration for the newly restored Dietz Doll House on Conservation Society property at the corner of River and Live Oak streets.

Serving as master of ceremonies for the birthday celebration was Marvel Maddox.

He and his wife, Bobbi, are the Conservation Society’s conservators for the Dietz Doll House, and Marvel described the history of the little structure for the assembled audience which included kindergarten students.

The doll house was built in 1910 for 5-year-old Alice O’Brien, an orphan born in a foundling hospital in New York City.

Like other orphans or homeless children of the era, Alice was sent by train to Texas for foster care or adoption.

Initially, Alice was taken in by John and Julia Magin of Seguin. However, Julia Magin died nine months later, and another home was sought for little Alice.

Volunteering to care for the little girl were Louis Dietz, a carpenter born in Germany, and his sister, Mollie Dietz.

Alice moved into the Dietz home on May 10, 1910, and it was around this time that Louis built the doll house for her.

“He made uniquely crafted items of wood,” Marvel Maddox told the crowd at the birthday celebration. “And a hundred years ago, Mr. Dietz didn’t have a bunch of power tools.”

According to the Conservation Society’s web site, Dietz built furniture, rocking horses, elephants, camels and animals on wheels.

He also made wooden fruit including watermelons and bunches of grapes as well as decorative clock shelves painted to look like marble.

A child-size wardrobe and dresser which he made are on display inside the Doll House.

When originally built, the Doll House sat to the right of the Dietz home at 423 N. Milam St. and to the left of the Dietz Cabinet Shop at 427 N. Milam St. Later, the Doll House was moved to become an entrance for the Dietz home, and eventually the home was purchased by the Castilla family.

In 1967, the Doll House was donated to the Conservation Society by Pablo Castilla and his son, Ralph, and the little house was moved to its current location next to Los Nogales Museum at 415 S. River St.

Maddox introduced members of the Castilla family who attended the birthday celebration and mentioned that one of the Castillas had come all the way from Fargo, North Dakota, for the event. The Castillas participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the opening of the newly restored Doll House and in the unveiling of a new historical marker placed on the house.

Maddox presented certificates of appreciation to contributors who assisted in restoration of the Doll House.

They included The Koehler Company, Acme Brick Company, Tri-County Air Conditioning and Heating, Donald Morawietz, Home Depot, Keepers, Kim Schmidt, Altex Landscaping, Campbell Floors, Michael Hodges, Apex Glass, the Seguin Noon Lions Club, Sunrise Lions Club, Sunset Lions Club and the Geronimo Lions Club.

In the 1930 Guadalupe County, Texas census, Louis Dietz and his sister Mollie  were living in Ward No. 2.  Listed as lodging with them was Alice Pate, 22 years old, born in New York.

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About hopeseguin

Who am I? I'm still discovering just who I am, I suppose. A. Powell Davis writes that "Life is just a chance to grow a soul."

3 responses »

  1. What a wonderful story about the Dietz “Doll House”! What a beautiful structure! And, it has quite a charming history. While unlikely, I was wondering if there were any construction drawings for this little gem. My wife and I enjoy historical structures. In late 1988, we bought an Italienate (Otis J. Dimick) house in Rock Island, IL (built in 1872). It was originally built with a beautiful, multi-arched porch, similar to the Dietz “Doll House”, only bigger, of course. This porch fell into disrepair in the early 1900s, and was unfortunately torn down, and replaced with a “Tara-like”, two-story porch, circa 1930s or 1940s. My wife, Kim, said that the new porch would be fine on Tara, but it was the wrong porch for our Italienate, red-brick house. I was told in no uncertain terms, that I would remove the old porch and reconstruct a porch to look like the original. Fortunately, we had a circa 1900 black and white photo of the original porch. From that photo, I drew up the plans for a replacement porch of the original style. The new porch was finished in 2007, just before my wife and I moved to Germany. We currently live in Oberammergau, Germany, having retired in 2012. My point for relaying this long story is: If I could get the plans for Herr Dietz’s “Doll House”, I would build it on our German property, as a Gartenhaus for my wife. It seems only fitting that a likeness of Mr. Dietz’s creation in America, should return to his original homeland. If you would like to see the similarities between the two porches, give me an email address, and I will forward a few photos of our porch.

    Thanks.

    Sincerely,
    Tim Bolyard

    Reply
    • Dear Tim,

      I don’t know if there are any plans or records concerning the house, but will send out some queries to those who are more knowledgeable and get back to you (or put you in touch with someone who knows more than I do).

      Thank you for your interest. Your plan to put a replica on your property is an honor for Seguin’s Mr. Dietz.

      Reply
      • Tim, my husband and I have been conservators for the doll house for six years, and even organized local Lions Clubs and businesses to conduct “renovations” in 2009. However, we are unaware of any formal construction plans drawn by Mr. Dietz. I will check with other Conservation Society members to see if anyone has knowledge of this. Thank you for your interest with this little part of my community’s history.
        ~Bobbie Maddox

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