A Central Texas Dance Hall

La Bahia Turn Verein
Burton, Texas


As an example of German-American carpentry of eighty years ago, La Bahia Turn Verein merits a passing notice.  Having had the opportunity to visit the site in the summer of 1990, and as a matter of record, make measured drawings of the building, it appeared to be a curious example of early Texas work that might be of interest, to preservationist, and others involved in building technology.  It seems to be of importance because of the unusual roof framing system used in a relatively small building with light loading conditions.

The building is located approximately five miles north of Burton, Washington County, Texas, on state Highway 237.

The intent of the study is to make measured drawings of the structure for a historic record of carpentry used in Central Texas during the early 1900's, and attempt to explain the structural frame design.

On July 5, 1879, a small group of German settlers living in the vicinity of Burton, Washington County, Texas organized what is still known today as La Bahia Turn Verein, and to the residents of the area simply "La Bahia".  The first part of the name comes from the La Bahia Road which was originally an east-west Indian trail in southeastern Texas and Louisiana and eventually extended to Washington-on-the-Brazos and Goliad (La Bahia).  The La Bahia Road figured quite importantly in the movement of explorers, soldiers, traders and settlers across Texas.  In 1821, the first Anglo-American colonists in Texas, the vanguard of the "Old 300" came down the La Bahia Road into this area.  The second part of the name "Turn Verein" translated into English means athletic club.

The purpose of this organization was to promote the physical and spiritual development of their members and to encourage the social life in the area.  One of the physical aspects of the individuals membership in the organization was to participate in innocent sporting activities.  The sport practiced by the members was tureining, the activity comparable to American chirming the bar.  Individuals were required to master this sport and be able to chin the bar a certain number of times before they were accepted into membership.  Although this type of exercise and entrance requirements were dropped many years ago, the chinning bar remained in place for several years afterwards.

The organization existed without a charter and without facilities until 1884.  On June 24, 1884, the La Bahia Turn Verein organization purchased three acres of land that fronts Texas Highway 237, and immediately thereafter G.P. Christek constructed the first hall on the site.  This building was destroyed by fire on November 3, 1887.  A second hall was built that same year and it burned on October 12, 1901.  The present hall was constructed in 1902 and has been enlarged and modified several times as the needs of the organization changed.  Additions have been made to both sides and rear of the 1902 building.  One connecting structure and two separate buildings were added to the facilities at a later date.  The additions to the sides increased the size of the seating area while the addition to the rear added toilet facilities and a raised stage.  A dining hall and barbecue pit were also added.  One small structure on the north east side of the building remains on the grounds and is reported to be the original beer stand built in 1902.

According to longtime members of the La Bahia Turn Verein, the 1902 hall was originally unheated.  During dances, there was one or more fires outside where the men could warm themselves between dances.  This was probably the cause of the building fires which destroyed the building on two separate occasions.  Women and children apparently kept warm as best they could inside the hall.  During the 1940's, butane heaters were installed and are still present today but are seldom used because few activities are held during the winter season.

Lighting was originally provided by opening sections of the exterior wall during the day and by gas or kerosene lanterns at night.  Reports indicate that in the 1930's the hall had a Delco battery light system installed.  In the 1940's, rural electrical cooperatives were developed throughout Texas and during this time the hall was connected to this source of electrical power.

Cooling was provided in the hall by way of natural ventilation through open sections of the exterior wall and by large louvers at the front of the building.  The air could easily circulate through exterior wall and rise in the high open roof and exit through large louvers in the front of the building.  It is suspected that louvers were also in the rear wall, but during the addition of a raised stage and toilet facility the rear louvers were removed.  After electric power was available, fans were installed to assist in circulation of air through the hall, and are in use today.  An enclosed photograph shows a fan in the shape of an airplane which is still in place today.  This was a novelty item in the early days of air travel.  Cooling is still provided by the natural movement of air through the openings in the exterior walls and rising to the louvers located high in the roof.

The features described here are representative of the many such halls which once dotted the Central Texas area, of which only a few are still standing.

The study of La Bahia began with a visit to the site and photographing the building both inside and outside.  This was accomplished with assistance from Carrol Claycamp P.E. and Julie Rogers.  The intent of the study was to make measured drawings of the structure, and it was decided early in the study that the field measurements taken would be input into a computer drafting program to produce the final drawings.  It should be noted that this recording process was not indented to be of HABS quality.  The computer program that was used for the drawings was AutoCad Version 10.  To take advantage of this method of drawing, the process of taking field measurements was altered to facilitate input of data into the computer.  Rather than taking dimensions from one point continuously to another point, overall dimensions were recorded, then offset dimensions from point to point were recorded.  This facilitated the input of data into the computer through the "offset" command in the program which proved to be a faster method of entering data with good accuracy.  The traditional method of measuring from a starting point to successive points along the building length could be used for computer input of data by using the "reference" command in the computer program to locate starting points for lines.  In this case, it proved f aster to use the "offset" method to locate objects in the building.  Once an entire wall elevation was constructed in the computer, any discrepancies in measuring could be easily seen by comparison of photographs.  By comparing photographs with known measurements, many parts could be constructed on the screen without taking field measurements.  This proved to be an accurate and time saving method of recording an existing building.

In the case of the roof structure and its bracing members, a few key dimensions and angles were taken from locations easily accessible and then by projecting these angles and dimensions on the computer, a framework drawing could be constructed with a high degree of accuracy.  This process proved to be of use in double checking the field measurements, by overlaying the interior structural frame with the exterior elevations, any differences could easily seen and if necessary corrected.  Many similar parts of the building were easily copied by the computer and then modified to match the field measurements for each individual location on the drawing.  On this building items such as the shutter openings could be drawn once and then copied to different locations, saving the process of redrawing each part.  Each item was then modified to match photographs and field measurements.  The computers advantage in this process is that it can do repetitive tasks quickly using the "copy", "stretch", "move", "offset" commands saving the time to create each part individually.  These drawings could then be used to extract data necessary for input into a structural analysis program to help explain how the roof framing works as a structural member.  The structural analysis to be performed on the roof framing will be done with the help of the computer analysis program "FastFrame".  This program uses node points on an x-y axis to identify the frame design.  This was accomplished by using the existing drawing, and using the "ID" command in AutoCad to identify each intersection point with an x-y coordinate.  These coordinates were then input directly into FastFrame for analysis.  By using the computer method of constructing the structure, much time was saved by eliminating the need to measure parts of the building which were difficult to reach.  When total construction of a particular drawing was not possible from existing measurements, the necessary information to complete the drawing many times was found on other drawings such as plans, elevations, or sections.  This method of constructing drawings within the computer, with only a few key dimensions, has proven to be a valuable process in recording historic structures in short period of time.

Building Analysis
The building is a single story structure constructed of light wood framing resting on stone piers.  The wall system consists of 3 x 4 inch columns as a frame with vertical board and batten siding attached to cross framing.  The interior of the building has no wall surface and the frame is visible from inside the building.  Diagonal bracing is joined to the top and bottom plate using mortise and tenon joints.  The exterior wall shutter type openings are hinged at the bottom on the outside of the building to enable them to be opened out, allowing ventilation through the building.  The exterior doors are made of a simple wooden frame with vertical boards nailed to the frame.  The supporting roof frame is the most curious system in the building composed of a arch type frame with rafters connected with two collar ties, a steel rod, and a non-glued laminated arch.  The rafter is a 2 x 6 that rests directly on a heavy timber top plate which is connected to the support columns by means of a mortise and tenon joint.  The lower frame is a 4 x 6 connected to the column with a "v" shaped notch at its lower end, as shown in the detail drawing.  The lower frame is joined together at the ridge by means of lap joint.  Roof rafters are supported at mid span with a 4 x 6 purlin that spans between the arch frame.  This is not a typical design for a roof structure but the parts are common to many roof structures.  This arrangement of parts is what gives this building its unique character.  Live loads can be traced though the roof system to the supporting column by way of many different paths.  It is not clear why this structural design was used for this type of building.

The existing roof is corrugated metal on wooden stripping that is nailed to the rafter.  The original roof was reported to be cedar shakes nailed to the wood stripping.  This was evident from the narrow spacing of the wood strips on the rafter as the spacing is typical of a cedar shake roof not that of a metal roof.  The main structure measures 98'-2" along its front and 80'-3" along the side.  These measurements include additions made to the original building.  The original 1902 building measured approximately 50' in width and 80' in length.  The roof frame spans the full 50 feet to support the roof load.

The roof loads are transferred to the column through the arch frame and on to the stone piers.  The collar ties in the upper portion of the roof help give a stability to the frame with the arch giving some lateral stability to the frame.  The diaphragm action of the metal roof and the wood stripping between rafter is probably performing most of the lateral stability needed in this building.  A steel rod connects the columns, and the collar ties, and the arch together preventing the frame from spreading outward as load is applied.  These rods are believed to be original to the building because there appears to be original exterior siding still in place between the rod bolts and the columns where the tie rod passes through the column.  This would suggest the tie rod end caps and bolts were visible on the exterior of the hall when built in 1902.  The arch is made of 6- 1 x 4 pine boards bolted together at points tangent to the frame and collar ties.  A steel bracket holds the lower end of the arch in place at the column.

Computer analysis at this time has proven to be inconclusive in describing the stresses in the frame design.  This is believed to be because of the difficulty in describing such an unusual system in terms which the computer analysis program can work with.  Work in this area is ongoing and will soon provide a possible solution.

Comparison With Other Works
Comparing La Bahia Turn Verein with other similar works a was a difficult task because of its unique nature.  Many Central Texas areas were reported to have had rural community halls similar to La Bahia however few of them are still standing today, or they have been remodeled to the extent they are no longer comparable.

Since the settlers of this small rural community were immigrants from Germany, much of what they built in Central Texas is a direct cultural link to their homeland.  This is evident by the craftsmanship and ingenuity used to construct many buildings during this time period.  La Bahia is no different.  Local craftsman used the knowledge and skill they brought with them from Germany to build a recreational building for the community.  Much of the construction for the frame of the building used joinery to connect members together.  This was found in the column to top plate connection and at splices of longer framing members.  La Bahia has endured many years without major damage which is evidence that the structure is certainly performing as it was intended and a tribute to its builders.  La Bahia Turn Verein remains in relatively good condition.  Some maintenance work to the siding and roof are needed to keep the building in a state of good repair.  The people of this area of Texas can feel proud of the heritage and the part that La Bahia Turn Verein has played in it.  The members of La Bahia plan no future alteration to the hall and wish to keep the building as it stands today.  It is expected that La Bahia will remain a viable part of the Burton community for many years to come.


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La Bahia Antiques
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