They Come to Dance
When you step into Martinez Hall, you’re home. The family knows that when the music is playing you’ll be on the dance floor. In between songs, you’ll be enjoying a cold beverage and chatting with other family members. That’s the atmosphere that has kept the music playing for over 100 years at this hall 10 miles east of San Antonio.
The Martinez Social Club, which owns the hall, will celebrate its 106th anniversary on Sun., July 22 with a barbecue dinner, and, of course, music. Chris Rybak will help you polka on from 1-4 pm, and Tom Teboe and his band will provide the country from 5-8:30 pm. A brisket and sausage dinner will be available for $10 starting at 11 am.
“They come to dance,” said Barbara Dean, Social Club Secretary. “We have a great wood floor, air conditioning, no smoking, and a group of people who just enjoy dancing.”
Barbara is one of those people. She joined the social club about 8 years ago, when she and some of her girlfriends from New Braunfels decided to get off the couch. “I love to dance, and I was tired of being a couch potato,” Barbara said. Two of her friends met their future husbands and another two are dating someone they met at Martinez Hall.
Jane Lapinski is another regular. “I’ve been going to Martinez Dance Hall about 10 years, sometimes three times a week. I drive one hour each way (from New Braunfels),” she said. “I love all the friends I have made. People are nice and very friendly. Great wood dance floor. Very nice dance hall not a bar, very safe.”
Jane has several favorite bands including San Antonio Country, also known as San Antonio Combo, because they play country, polka, and Cajun music. She also likes Monte Good, Freddy Cruz, Countrymen, Bimbo, Nashville Sounds, and Burgundy.
The hall’s Facebook page says it’s a wedding venue, social club, and bowling alley. Yes, an 8-lane, 9-pin bowling alley. Prize Bowling will be featured at the anniversary party. Cost is $60 for a 6-member team (3 men, 3 women). First prize is $120 based on 8 teams. Call Liz, 210-601-7663; Robin, 210-859-6895; or Bonnie, 210-649-1502 to register your team.
The social club, which has about 200 members, only charges $12 a year for a membership. Dances are held on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons. Attendance can be as many as 300 people on a Sunday, with about 150 on a Wednesday. Admission is $10, or sometimes $15 for a specialty band like Rocky King or Justin Trevino. While country is the main draw these days, polka takes the limelight during the Bexar County Czech Heritage Society’s Czech Day held each March.
To account for an increase in taxes when the property was recently annexed by the City of San Antonio, the club increased the price of a bottle of beer (only longnecks will do, Barbara said) from $1.50 to $2.50 ($3 on Saturdays), but that’s still a bargain. The club also hosts dances on Friday and Saturday evenings. Barbara reported they hope to offer Friday dances twice a month and Saturday dances once a month. She was also happy to report that Saturday evenings are booked through the end of the year with social club dances, wedding receptions, quincineras, and anniversary and birthday parties.
Martinez is at the junction of Farm Roads 1346 and 1516. The town became a station on the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway in 1877. Population in 1910 was reported to be 50, when W. C. Schlather operated a store there. Three businesses and a population of 50 were reported in 1940. In 1990 Martinez had 75 residents.
Martinez Hall was built by German farmers and businessmen in 1912 as a bowling and dancing club, and a venue for polka bands. The 9,000-square-foot, air-conditioned hall sits on a 2-acre property. In the middle of the 4,050-square-foot oak dance floor is the original floor that was laid 101 years ago.
The first dance was held April 12, 1912, but it wasn't until 1923 that English replaced German in the social club's minutes.
One account from those minutes reveals the hall was almost torn down during the 1930 Depression.
“Membership dropped to about nine members. A meeting was called to decide how the club would pay a debt of $70.00 that remained due on the hall for the floor that had been done by Mr. Hugo Katt,” reads an account written by Jenalyn Schneider, a longtime member.
“There was some discussion about tearing down the hall and dividing the lumber after paying off the debt. However, when some of the members who had dropped away heard of this, they paid up their dues, and the club was able to pay the remaining debt,” it reads.
The social club has been able to make some improvements to the hall such as redoing the storage room, replacing the walk-in cooler, refurbishing the ladies’ restroom, and soon adding a handicap-accessible restroom. Revenue from rentals, dances, and bowling, plus a split-the-pot featured at each dance keep the club humming. The anniversary party is also a fundraiser for the club and will feature a silent auction.
Some of the polka bands mentioned in advertisements over the years include Don Peachey (Wisconsin), Wence Shimek Orchestra, Leo Majek Orchestra, Cloverleaf Orchestra, and Leroy Rybak’s Swinging Orchestra.
“It truly means a lot to be part of their anniversary,” said Chris Rybak. “I spent many years learning my craft of music while accompanying my dad's band on the stage at Martinez. This is also the place where Edita and I had our first dance together before Christmas back in 1997. Such great memories!”
“Texas Dance Hall Preservation sends warm wishes and congratulations to Martinez Social Club on its 106th anniversary,” said Deb Fleming, Executive Director. “Martinez has maintained a very active schedule for many years and we applaud them for those efforts knowing the work it requires to maintain historic dance halls and keep them viable. They have done a fine job on all counts.
"It has been a number of years since I have visited Martinez Social Club," Deb said, "But I remember vividly Bobby Flores and his fine band kept the tunes rolling and the dancers swirling on the big dance floor.”
Barbara encourages everyone to “come and dance.” Bring the family. “We always have people who bring their children and grandchildren to teach them how to dance. Everybody is part of our dance family. That’s the type of atmosphere we try to have. One, big, happy dance family.”