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SCHWARTZ, SAM

SCHWARTZ, SAM (1885–1969). Sam Schwartz, businessman and civic leader, was born on December 26, 1885, in Patrelin, Hungary. A paternal uncle, Adolph Schwartz, preceded him to the United States. Around 1900 Sam came to work for his uncle at the Popular Dry Goods Company in El Paso, Texas. He worked at the Popular for ten years. One of his customers was Doroteo Arango, also known as Pancho (Francisco) Villa. In 1910 Schwartz decided to establish a business similar to the Popular and began looking for an appropriate town in New Mexico or Texas. One of the towns he visited was Eagle Pass; Schwartz liked the town, saw potential, and decided to settle there. Since there were no buildings for rent, he decided on the new entertainment technology sweeping the country-a motion picture theater. He bought an old pool hall, renamed it the Majestic Theater, installed benches and projection equipment, and rented films from the film drummers that came through town. Sam sold the tickets, swept the floors, slept in the theater, and did everything except run the projection equipment. With 16,000 National Guard troops garrisoned at Eagle Pass during the Mexican Revolution of 1910, the business was quite a success. In 1915 Sam built the present Aztec Theater. The contractor and architect was Leonard F. Seed. It was the first documented theater designed in the Mayan revival style. Silent movies and vaudeville acts were the first entertainment, and the theater had a twenty-five by forty-one foot stage to accommodate live entertainment. Piano music accompanied the first silent movies. Admission was ten cents for adults and five cents for children, and business was never better. In 1929 the Aztec was one of the first theaters in South Texas to play the new "sound" movie, The Jazz Singer. After twenty-five years in the theater business Schwartz was honored by Adolph Zukor of Paramount pictures for his service to the industry.

At the time of his death in 1969, Sam Schwartz was the oldest independent theater owner in Texas. The Aztec, despite television and the merger of the movie companies into large corporations, continued operating until 1982, when it was closed. After Sam's death the theater was managed by his son, Arnold I. Schwartz, and his son-in-law, Lloyd T. Munter. It was later managed by his grandson, Maurice P. Munter. In 1991 another grandson, William J. Munter, utilized the space for his law office and refurbished the old theater, which is now used for live performances, movies, and rental for civic events. More than six generations of Eagle Pass residents have gone to the movies at the Aztec. Besides being a successful theater owner and real estate developer, Schwartz was also a civic leader. He was elected mayor in 1920 and served until 1924, at which time he decided not to run for office again. During his term the streets of Eagle Pass were paved, the sewage system established, and lighting improved. He was one of the cofounders of the Maverick County Water Control and Improvement District Number One. Schwartz, along with other members of the community, formed the irrigation water district in 1929 to turn the brush country of Maverick County into a fertile land. He was the first treasurer and continued as president from 1930 to 1967. The district uses a gravity flow system of 200 miles of main canal to irrigate almost 40,000 acres of land. The agricultural production represents a $100-million-dollar-plus business in Maverick County and most can be directly attributed to this irrigation system. Many times, when the district faced terrible financial crises caused by floods or delinquent taxes, as in the Great Depression, Sam Schwartz personally lent money for the day-to-day operation of the district. He loved farming and ranching and owned two farms himself. Schwartz also secured more than 360 acres of land in the old Fort Duncan area for the city during the 1930s and designated it for municipal and civic purposes. He was a director of the First National Bank of Eagle Pass for more than forty years until his death, director and president of the Eagle Pass Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Eagle Pass School Board, a thirty-second-degree Mason, and a member of the Bridge Company, which was organized after the flood in 1923. He was married to Ellen Kranzthor in November 1917, and they had three children. Sam Schwartz died in Maverick County on December 17, 1969.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

William J. Munter, History of the Jews of Texas' Middle Corridor (Laredo: Border Studies, 1991). Ruthe Winegarten and Cathy Schechter, Deep in the Heart: The Lives and Legends of Texas Jews (Austin: Eakin Press, 1990).

William J. Munter

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

William J. Munter, "SCHWARTZ, SAM," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fschn), accessed November 23, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.