Following more than nine years of dreaming, planning and work by a broad cross section of community volunteers, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Museum of San Marcos opened its doors on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2006. Luci Baines Johnson and North Carolina educator Candace Call, who credits her success with her enrollment in Head Start, were the keynote speakers at the Museum opening.
Located at 131 N. Guadalupe Street on the court house square in downtown San Marcos, the museum got on the fast track in 2006, after enough funds were raised to renovate the building. Although the first floor is finished and is now open to the public, additional funding is still needed to complete the second floor’s interior. Efforts to create the LB] Museum of San Marcos grew out of discussions by community representatives serving on a Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee on Tourism Development. In its final report, the committee recommended that the museum be established to preserve the LBJ legacy by focusing on his years spent as a student at what is now Texas State University-San Marcos (then Southwest Texas State Teachers College), his teaching experiences in South Texas and the impact of these experiences on his role in the development of landmark legislation in the areas of education and civil rights. The President’s Texas State University-San Marcos experience was one of lasting influence. He got his start in politics while in college, working behind the scenes to elect candidates to student government positions. He was a member of the school’s debate team and the student newspaper staff. He expressed his political beliefs in early newspaper editorials and columns, and he prepared for a brief teaching career where he learned firsthand the impact of poverty and discrimination on the lives of young school children.
It was here in San Marcos that President Johnson began his commitment to education, and it was here that he was groomed for service as an elementary school teacher in South Texas. The museum represents a major effort to preserve and share the important artifacts and memories of the man known as “the Education President” with generations of Texas school children, as well as to enhance the already growing tourist industry by providing another educational offering for out-of-town visitors. Located almost mid-way between metropolitan Austin and San Antonio, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Museum of San Marcos is the only Johnson site in Texas that focuses on his university student years, including the time spent teaching in Cotulla, Texas.
Supporting organizations in San Marcos have included the San Marcos City Council, the San Marcos Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Hays County Commissioners Court, as well as the Greater San Marcos Area and San Marcos Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, the Downtown Association and the Main Street project. Texas State University has strongly supported the concept of a community museum dedicated to President Johnson since it is the only Texas university to claim a U.S. President as an alumnus.
On Feb. 22, 1998, Hays County commissioners gave their approval to an arrangement through which the museum board could lease an abandoned county-owned movie theater on the courthouse square (see pictures above) for 30 years for a nominal annual fee. Under this agreement, the board would raise funds to renovate the building, which was in a state of serious neglect and disrepair but had considerable potential as the museum site. After arrangements to lease the building from the county were complete, the museum board began its renovation plans. Local architect Ngoc Nguyen, who volunteered to produce preliminary sketches for the renovation of the old theater to museum, was hired by the board to produce a master plan for renovation.
The project was divided into four phases. The first phase was to remove the asbestos from the building and to affect and complete interior demolition. The renovation work was started by craftsmen from Gary Job Corps Training Center – part of a national job training program created by President Johnson and first announced in San Marcos – who cleared the interior of the building in preparation for the construction and renovation. The third phase was devoted to a structural renovation of the building while the fourth phase was dedicated to finish out work on the first floor. The second floor remains to be finished, but will hopefully someday serve as a library, auditorium, and exhibit/archives workspace.
Dedicated leadership of the museum’s volunteer board of directors and generous financial support from both the private and public sectors have helped bring the LBJ Museum of San Marcos to the point where it was ready to open. To date, large cash contributions have been received from a broad spectrum of sources, ranging from the Hobby Family Foundation to Century Tel, Tanger Outlet Center creator Stanley Tanger, H-E-B Grocery Company and individuals such as founding board members John and Marsha Cooper and William and Eleanor Crook. Documented museum donors will be recognized in a special wall display in the museum.
Current members of the LBJ Museum of San Marcos Board of Directors include Dr. Ed Milhakanin, President; Dr. Carmen Imel, Vice President; The Honorable Linda Rodriguez, Secretary; Scott Gregson, Treasurer; Sherwood Bishop; Ted Breihan; Teresa Santerre Hobby; Dr. Bill Liddle; John H. McCrocklin; Vicki Meehan-Clarke; Pat Murdock; and John L. Navarrette.
The museum is open to the public on Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Group tours can be arranged by calling the LBJ Museum at (512) 353-3300.