Community works to restore legendary Turnverein

Sitting atop a hill overlooking the Central Texas town of Bellville, Turnverein Pavilion has been a local landmark since the end of the 19th century.

It served the needs of the German settlers of the area who needed a place where they could meet and enjoy themselves. So, in 1897, a group hired builder Joachim Hintz to create the historic building, unique in that it is a 12-sided building with an elaborate wooden support structure.

“It was the first of this type of architecture,” explained Linda Feux, referring to her region of Texas. “He built two other halls in Austin County.

“This building is an icon that was copied in many communities across Texas,” Linda added.

Turnverein, means gymnastics club, and it provided a place for families to come and do some physical fitness. Since the building is so roomy, it also was a great place to hold large meetings, gatherings and social events.

The large, open floor also was quite good for dancing with a stage that could accommodate a large band. The Texas dancehalls shaped Western Swing, and Western Swing shaped Texas dance halls.

Back in the 1970s Waylon Jennings wrote a song, “Bob Wills is Still the King.” In an interview with Ralph Emery, Mr. Emery asked Waylon if he was a big Bob Wills fan, Waylon was honest and said not really, “There’s only two songs of his I really liked, but you go in those old Texas dance halls with those big stages, I’ve got a four-piece band, those stages were made for Bob Wills and his big band.”

Step into the Turnverein, and for those who know Bob Wills’ music, it doesn’t take much to close the eyes and hear his music coming from the stage as hundreds of people slide around the floor doing the Schottische or some other dance across the hardwood floor.

It was so much more than just a dance hall, though. Linda said, “It was a place for state-wide political speeches, Maifest festivals, German music and dancing, family reunions, parties and community events.

“It was the largest civic space in town and the center of all activities,” she added.

For 120 years it has remained the cultural centerpiece of town, but time takes a toll on all things and the people of Bellville want to help make sure the Turnverein Pavilion is there for the next 120 years. The Bellville Turnverein Pavilion Restoration Project, a non-profit organization, is working on giving the building a historic renovation.

“It needs repair and improvements to make it more usable for the community,” Linda said. “We plan air conditioning, replacing windows, updating bathrooms and kitchen. Repair the dance floor and it needs painting and repair of the structure, upgrade in lighting and landscaping, while being historically accurate.”

The Turnverein Pavilion resides on the grounds of the Austin County Fairgrounds in a beautiful park setting designed by Texas A&M students in the 1930s. Much of the work in the park was done by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression.

The exterior of the building truly is stunning, but if visiting the Turnverein, and the opportunity presents itself, lay in the center of the dance floor and look up at the woodwork, the engineering and the craftsmanship involved in creating such a unique structure that could stand for more than a century. It’s old-world architecture sitting in the middle of Texas.

The Turnverein Pavilion is playing an integral part in the Texas Dance Hall Tour, put together and organized by legendary Texas swing band Asleep at the Wheel, and other legendary dance hall groups.

To learn more about the Turnverein Pavilion visit the Bellville Chamber of Commerce at www.bellville.com.