The Brammer Building still stands tall
For The Madera Tribune
Brammer’s shoe store was a pioneer establishment on Yosemite Avenue that bent with the times and survived. It began as a single-story, frame building on the north side of the street. In 1913, owner Herman Brammer replaced the wooden structure with a single-story brick building. Six years later he enlarged his store to three stories, and it still stands today.
A few years ago I had the privilege of riding in the Old Timers Parade with Tom DaSilva in a beautiful, classic, 1931 Cadillac.
Tom and I talked a lot about that automobile — how his brother, the late Lee DaSilva, had acquired it, and how much work it took to get it running. We talked about his parents and some bits and pieces of Madera’s past. We agreed to get together again soon to continue our conversation. I don’t think we ever did, but I still have fond memories of that day.
It was such a thrill to drive down Yosemite Avenue, wave to the crowds, and reminisce about old Madera. It was like being pulled between the past and the present, and I will have to confess that on at least one occasion the past won.
When we reached that three story brick building on the north side of Yosemite — the one that used to house Brammer’s Shoe Store, I thought about a photo that once ran in the Tribune of Mr. Brammer, and then I thought about that old building. (The cutline of the photograph repeated a local legend about Teddy Roosevelt purchasing shoes at Brammer’s. It is just that — a legend — it never happened, but then that’s another story.)
As most everyone knows, in October 1876, Madera was born. The first downtown lots were sold during that month, and building began immediately. Within six months, there were more than half a dozen business establishments operating on Yosemite Avenue, and this rapid pace continued over the next four or five years.
Madera’s quick growth, however, was a mixed blessing. In the beginning, the buildings were all frame structures, and throughout the first ten years of its existence, the town was at the mercy of numerous, death-dealing conflagrations. When Madera lost its prestigious Yosemite Hotel in the disastrous fire of 1885, a concentrated effort was made to rid the downtown area of wood and replace it with brick.
Although it took another 15 years to kick the downtown area’s first redevelopment program into high gear, by 1900, vintage Madera was approaching its goal of eliminating all of the wooden buildings on Yosemite Avenue. One by one, by the turn of the century, the frame structures had been replaced by brick buildings, and as one looked east from the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks, only a few of the unwanted structures remained.
In 1900, on the south side of Yosemite Avenue, between E and B Streets, only 12 businesses were being conducted out of frame structures, while on the north side there were just three: Curtin’s Livery Stable, the Southern Hotel, and Brammer’s Shoe Store.
In 1913, the latter joined the growing list of buildings on Yosemite that converted from lumber to brick. The frame building housing Brammer’s Shoe Store was moved away, and a one-story brick structure replaced it. Herman Brammer, however, was not satisfied with this improvement. He looked enviously at the three-story Barcroft Building just across the street.
H.C.E. Brammer had come to Madera in the early 1890’s, before it became the seat of government for the new county of the same name. He bought an empty lot in the middle of D and C Streets and erected the small frame building from which he conducted Madera’s first shoe business. There must have been a living quarters in the rear of the building, because it was the birthplace of his son, William.
When Herman Brammer decided in 1913, that it was time to replace his wooden structure with a brick building, he constructed a “handsome,” one-story affair which added greatly to the aesthetic view of early Madera and made it “one of the most modern shoe stores in the state.” In addition, the building was much safer, since it was more resistant to fire.
It was about this same time that the elder Brammer took his son, William, into the business, and the enterprise really began to boom. By 1919, H.C.E. Brammer & Son was ready to expand once more. So enticing were the business prospects which main street offered, the two partners decided to go for their dream. They would give Madera another three-story building on Main Street. The ground floor would house their shoe store, while the upper stories would be rented out as office space.
Although the project was announced in March, because of the weather, work on Brammer’s new building did not begin until July 1919. After the roof of the existing building was removed, the second and third stories made of glazed brick were added, and a stairway to the upper floors was built on the east side of the building. The front of the store underwent a drastic facelift, as the display windows were deepened to twenty feet.
With everything told, the renovations to their building cost the Brammers $10,000, but they seemed quite willing to make the investment. H.C.E. Brammer was quoted as saying that “Madera’s people have been good to him and he is willing and contented in spending what he makes here.”
Well, that was a long time ago. The Brammers would hardly recognize downtown Madera today — except for their three-story building on Yosemite Avenue. It still stands as a monument to those halcyon days when families used to flock to town on Saturday night to spend their money and greet their neighbors.