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SWISS ALP HALL

Swiss Alp Hall
Photograph, The Swiss Alp Hall. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

SWISS ALP HALL. Swiss Alp Hall is a historic dance hall named for the small settlement in which it is located, on U.S. Highway 77, eleven miles south of La Grange in southern Fayette County in the rolling hills of the Blackland Prairies. The hall’s music and social activities have been important features of local Central Texas culture and identity since the area’s earliest European settlement.

The settlement called Swiss Alp was established about 1865 by German Lutheran immigrants, who were soon followed by Wendish families from Serbin in Lee County (Wends are immigrants from the former Lusatia, a region in present-day eastern Germany). The origin of the name “Swiss Alp” has been lost to time. August Brune, one of the community’s earliest merchants and farmers, built the first Swiss Alp dance hall in the late nineteenth century, likely in the 1870s. It is notable that this hall was built specifically for dancing. Unlike most of the halls raised in surrounding German and Czech communities, Swiss Alp Hall was never dedicated to fraternal, religious, or other general cultural functions. Although the foundation date of the original hall is not recorded, the second and current hall was erected, according to local memory, between 1896 and 1900. The current hall shows some signs of reused materials, possibly from an earlier hall.

Following its founding, Swiss Alp was settled in the 1870s. Among the earliest recorded settlers are Chris Steinmann, A. Franke, and Mrs. Auguste Bolling; popular young merchants George Vogt and Charles Bruns (Brune); and L. C. Melcher, proprietor of one of the finest gins in the county at the turn of the twentieth century. Near the site of the hall, the Brune family established a dairy farm that endured into the 1970s, and in the 2010s many outbuildings from earlier dairy use still stood nearby.

Adolph Hofner
Photograph, Portrait of Adolph Hofner. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

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James Robert (Bob) Wills
Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys at the Showboat Hotel in Las Vegas (spring 1959). Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame Collection, Wittliff Collections, Texas State University.

In 1933 Henry Tietjen moved his family to Swiss Alp from Rutersville and purchased the Swiss Alp store and farm from August Brune. Tietjen’s purchase included the hall, and he and his heirs immediately began to enlarge it. As the hall grew in size and popularity, it drew audiences from around the region and performers and bands from throughout the region and state. Swiss Alp Hall has gone on to become a classic example of a historic hall that has seen virtually all of the changing trends and styles of Texas popular music over the last century or more. The hall resounded with early German brass bands and Czech or German polka bands, big-band sounds, country and western, and, more recently, various forms of rock-and-roll. Thanks to its centralized location between the major cities of San Antonio, Houston, and Austin, the hall became a key venue for regional touring acts. Legendary names such as Adolph Hofner and Bob Wills have graced its stage, as well as regional breakout artists like Johnny Winter, B. J. Thomas, Sunny and the Sunliners, and Roy Head and the Traits. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the hall continued to highlight the local Czech and German polka bands, as well as the country styles that were once so popular in this region settled primarily by Central European immigrants.

Asleep at the Wheel
Photograph, Asleep at the Wheel. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Structurally and physically, Swiss Alp Hall is a 7,000-square-foot rectangular wood framed hall, German immigrant in origin, with a barn-like structure and gabled roof, pier-and-beam foundation, with awning style wooden flaps maximizing the South Texas breeze, and an exposed roof structure. Its 3,000-square-foot wood floor is designed for dancing. The present hall has been enlarged several times and has been owned by three families since it was built around 1900—the Brunes (circa 1900 to 1933), the Tietjens (1933 to 2005) and the Ustyniks (2005 to present). In its most recent, early twenty-first century incarnation, the hall has hosted many of the best-known Texas artists, from Asleep at the Wheel to Kevin Fowler, Roger Creager, Stoney LaRue and others. Next door to the current hall is a café, remodeled from an earlier 1950s gas station and store that provided the small community with groceries and gasoline.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Kevin Alter, ed., Dance Halls of Central Texas: Pre World War II Wooden Structures (Austin: Center for American Architecture and Design, University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, 2005). Austin County Historical Commission, Dance Halls of Austin County (Bellville, Texas: Austin County Historical Commission, 1993). Steve Dean, “Fading Music,” Texas Architect, March/April 2011. Frank Lotto, Fayette County: Her History and Her People (Schulenburg, Texas: Sticker Steam Press, 1902; rpt., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981). Swiss Alp Dancehall (http://www.swissalptexas.com/), accessed August 26, 2015. Geronimo Treviño, Dance Halls and Last Calls: A History of Texas Country Music (Plano: Republic of Texas Press, 2002).

Steve Dean

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Citation

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

Handbook of Texas Online, Steve Dean, "Swiss Alp Hall," accessed October 16, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xds09.

Uploaded on May 27, 2015. Modified on May 11, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.