‘Corn King’ key for Mex­i­can food in­dus­try

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Metro - PAULA ALLEN

The ori­gin of corn chips — a food so fa­mil­iar and ubiq­ui­tous, it’s hard to imag­ine a time with­out them — has come up of­ten as a topic of reader ques­tions and an­swers, most re­cently April 15, 2017, in an­swer to an April 2, 2017, col­umn about Facs Corn Chips, a brand started by for­mer Fri­tos em­ployee Fred A. Cun­ning­ham (the orig­i­nal F.A.C.) Among the re­sponses was one from reader Ge­orge Farias, who had a fam­ily con­nec­tion to the an­ces­tor of both Fri­tos and Facs.

Farias for­warded an ar­ti­cle by his cousin, the late Roy G. Martinez, on “The Story of the Corn Chip,” which iden­ti­fied the first com­mer­cially pro­duced corn chips as Tostadas, a brand made by B. Martinez and Sons Co. in its mills west of down­town San An­to­nio. The com­pany, founded by the au­thor’s grand­fa­ther, made corn flour and as­so­ci­ated prod­ucts, in­clud­ing tor­tillas, ta­mal meal, cham­purrado (choco­late drink) mix and — to use up ev­ery last speck of corn — corn chips cut in tri­an­gles and sold to restau­rants to be served as ap­pe­tiz­ers and to con­sumers in 8ounce bags.

An­other cousin of Martinez, who died in 2013, re­cently sent up­dates on the “Corn King,” as com­pany founder José Bar­tolome Martinez was known. Norma R. Sali­nas also has been re­search­ing Bar­tolome Martinez for a book­let to share with fel­low de­scen­dants and found an en­try for “B. Martinez” in “A His­tory of Texas and Tex­ans” by Fran­cis White John­son, pub­lished in 1914 by the Amer­i­can His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety.

The bio­graph­i­cal ref­er­ence book iden­ti­fies Martinez as a busi­ness pi­o­neer for his found­ing in San An­to­nio of “the first mill for the grind­ing of masa, a prod­uct which is the ba­sis for the pop­u­lar Mex­i­can bread known as tor­tillas.” ( John­son notes that “it is well-known that full 90 per­cent of the Mex­i­can peo­ple pre­fer tor­tillas as food.”) Es­tab­lished in 1896, “with an ini­tial cap­i­tal of $500, the B. Martinez com­pany’s first mill opened at 615 Dolorosa St. as the third of only three such busi­nesses in North Amer­ica, the other two both in Mex­ico (Mon­ter­rey and Mex­ico City).

A sec­ond Martinez mill on Me­d­ina and Colima streets, ac­cord­ing to a fact sheet from Sali­nas, con­tin­ued to grind masa un­til 1908, when pro­duc­tion was switched to ma­solina, a de­hy­drated corn flour mar­keted as Ta­ma­lina. Be­sides its other corn prod­ucts, the new plant could pro­duce 60,000 pounds of corn chips a day, to be dis­trib­uted lo­cally and to south­west Texas and to be shipped by rail to “a much larger ter­ri­tory,” as stated in “A His­tory of Texas and Tex­ans.” It took a fleet of more than 20 wag­ons to dis­trib­ute along 25 de­liv­ery routes in San An­to­nio alone.

With­out Martinez’s busi­ness, through which he be­came one of the largest buy­ers of corn in the U.S. — “Mex­i­can restau­rants couldn’t have func­tioned when you think about all the items that are made from tor­tillas and masa, such as chalu­pas, chips for dips, en­chi­ladas and tamales, just to name a few,” Sali­nas wrote. “In the early 1900s, it was not cost­ef­fec­tive for peo­ple to make masa for their restau­rants due to the cost and dif­fi­culty of keep­ing masa from spoil­ing. So the in­tro­duc­tion of Ta­ma­lina (de­hy­drated masa) and the estab­lish­ment of his three mills (an­other at 701 S. Leona St. was de­stroyed by fire) may have been an es­sen­tial fac­tor in the de­vel­op­ment of the Mex­i­can food in­dus­try in San

An­to­nio.”

Home­town clubs

I’m com­pil­ing a book about San An­to­nio mu­sic, to be ti­tled “Home­town Heroes,” and I have a lot of pho­tos but need a few more. Specif­i­cally, I’m look­ing for ex­te­rior pho­tos of the Avalon Grill on East Com­merce Street; the Barn dance­hall; the Bi­jou, Home and the Scotch­man’s Club on San Pe­dro Av­enue; the Blue Note Lounge on Blanco Road; the Black Orchid Lounge, 120 N. New Braun­fels Ave.; Bone­shak­ers Bi­cy­cle Pub on 116 W. Mitchell St., the Cadil­lac, a base­ment club, 321 Navarro St.; Canal Street, 9503 Con­sole Drive; Chicken Plan­ta­tion (closed in 1930);

Club B’wana Dik on the River

Walk; Club Ebony, 3550 Ne­braska St.; Dragon Lady, 201 W. Travis St.; the East­wood Coun­try Club on the East Side; the El­bow Room, Mind’s Eye and Rialto Grill (aka the Bean Pot) on Austin High­way; Gus’s

Palm Gar­den; the Key­hole No. 1 at 728 Iowa St. at Pine Street; Li’l Hut on the East­side; Love Street Light Cir­cus on Com­merce Street near the Tower of the Amer­i­cas; Mann’s Hoe­down on High­way 16 South; Melody Ranch on Roo­sevelt Av­enue; Melody Ranch on Roo­sevelt, the Merry-Go-Round/My Place restau­rant, 7114 Blanco; Repub­lic of Boko Maru, 5545 N.W. Loop 410; Monte Carlo Inn; the Red Car­pet, the Rick­shaw and Tiffany’s Lounge down­town; Serene Void Cof­fee House; Som­er­set Club; the Tea Pot blues club on Burleson Street; and Whiskey River Saloon at Estilo — Texas Style, 203 N. Presa St.

Surely in a town as his­tor­i­cally con­scious as this, some­body has pho­tos of the fronts of these build­ings.

— Hank Har­ri­son

As you’ve no doubt al­ready found out, pub­lic­ity pho­tos sup­plied by any of these mu­sic venues — dat­ing from the 1920s on­ward — to lo­cal news­pa­pers are un­likely to be kept be­cause they were not shot by staff pho­tog­ra­phers and were sent reg­u­larly un­til the clubs closed or changed hands.

Any­one who can sup­ply images of any of these clubs where tour­ing celebri­ties or “home­town heroes” per­formed may send them to han­khar­ri­son@gmail.com. Pho­tos may be fea­tured in Har­ri­son’s book with a cour­tesy credit to the sender.

his­to­rycol­umn@yahoo.com | Twit­ter: @sahis­to­rycol­umn | Face­book: SanAn­to­nio­his­to­rycol­umn

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