Giles Place: Stuck on Stuccoville

Giles Place, the area we affectionately call “Stuccoville,” was developed out of the Banton W. Giles family holdings with James Bascom Giles’ son, Rogan signing the legal documents of subdivision in February 1947, While the Giles family story is thoroughly intertwined with the history of Cherrywood, we are indebted to Banton Giles as one of the early twentieth century investors in our east Austin area.  His families’ vision of development is indelibly stamped on the architecture and design of the homes and layout of much of the neighborhood, and no more noticeably than the subdivision that carries the family name.  The Giles Place subdivision is bounded by East 38½ Street on the north, Cherrywood on the west, the Houston & Texas Central Rail Road on the southwest, Manor Road on the south and runs along the east side of Grayson and Banton Rd on the east.

neighborhood plat map

Giles Place plat map

Banton W Giles and family on porch i 1922

Banton W Giles and family 1922

The earliest home in the area was that of Banton W. and Leora Giles.  The Giles family ancestors had moved from Virginia to Texas and settled in the area when Texas was a Republic with Banton being born in Travis County in 1870. The family mansion was located at 2824 Manor Road, where Value Sky Park was located, and sat on the edge of the hill overlooking the farm and pasture land that was to become the Austin Municipal Airport in 1930.  Banton and Leora had six children, five girls and one son, Bascom, who later became noted as Texas Land Commissioner. Leora passed away in 1945 and Banton died in 1952 leaving the house to become vacant.  According to long time resident, Jeanne Whittington, the two-story, wood frame home was built in a Victorian style with Doric columns and wrap-around porches.  Jeanne remembers that as a girl in the late 1950s, neighborhood children would sneak inside the vacant home and check it out.  The kids were convinced it was a haunted house… doors would open and close unexpectedly, things would move around…so their prowlings were always limited to daylight hours.  No one would dare venture there after dark!

Tomie Giles and baby Jamie on porch in 1922

Tomie Giles and baby Jamie 1922

Developed from 1947 to 1950, the area of Giles Place was designed and constructed with returning GI’s in mind.  The one-story tract homes, primarily constructed from volcanic ash blocks imported from Mexico, ranged in size from 800 to 1,000 square feet and many have identical floor plans, although several were built much larger. Several homeowners have expanded their homes over the years and now range in size up to 2,000 sq ft.  The original construction of these homes was like an assembly line…foundations would be poured for the entire block, then walls would go up… and windows and doors would be installed. 

Burt Gerding

Burt Gerding

Our neighbor, Burt Gerding was one of the construction hands on these homes.  Burt was fresh out of the Navy after having served as a Pharmacist Mate onboard ship. Looking for work like thousands of other returning GIs, Burt got the job from his brother-in-law, Reggie Smith, who worked for the company in Waco that sold Giles the casement windows for the homes.  Burt’s job was installing the windows with Reggie and Burt would come back and glaze the windows for six cents a pane!

It is in honor of Burt, who passed away March 19, 2013,that we share this story and a little more about his interesting life. Burt and his wife, Mildred had moved into 3211 Hemlock in 1951 and then moved over to one of the very homes he had helped build ten years earlier, 3801 Vineland, in 1956. Born in Greenville and raised in Dallas, Burt joined the Austin Police Department in 1950 where he became a Lieutenant in the Criminal Investigation unit.  He was instrumental in the James Cross murder investigation and was on the one of the earliest on site of the Charles Whitman shooting.  “He grabbed his .30-06 Springfield with armor-piercing ammunition. He took up a position on the roof of the business and economics building off the Tower’s southeast corner and doesn’t mind admitting now that before he got sighted in, the first shot went high and put the most conspicuous hole in the Tower clock’s translucent glass face. After that, he hit a bag of cartridges that Whitman had set on the parapet and maybe one of Whitman’s rifles, which appeared to have been struck by an armor-piercing bullet.”*(1) Thorne Dreyer, in a 2006 article of the Texas Observer describes Burt thusly, Gerding, a wry, lanky gent with a winning style, is an Austin legend. Omnipresent, with a continually amused look and an almost “aw shucks” demeanor, he was the town’s one-man “Good Cop, Bad Cop.”*(2)   Burt also loved to tell this writer stories of his work during the Viet Nam era peace marches of the early 1970s.  He seemed to take a bit of pleasure reminiscing about macing the protestors on the UT Campus at Guadalupe Street, while I would gladly remind him that I was most likely one of those protestors who was on the receiving end of his efforts!

Burt leaves behind his former wife of 49 years, two children, six grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and many friends. His little dog, Asta, preceded him in death. We will miss them both.

* (1) Texas Monthly, The Madman on the Tower, William Helmer, August 1986.
* (2) The Texas Observer, The Spies of Texas, Thorne Dreyer, November 17, 2006.