Why Don’t We Do It In The Park?

There are lots of places to get married besides a church or courthouse. Here's how to do it.

March 1974By Comments

IF YOU’VE WANTED TO THROW ROCKS instead of rice at the gimmick-getting weddings&#151i.e.&#151snorkeling for the rings, sky diving for the flower girl; if you don’t want to say it to the judge in his sterile, white cubicle; if you can’t go the traditional church wedding … There are alternatives.

Texans can unite, two by two, in matrimony (holy or otherwise) in grand “un”tradition. On Texas historical sites. In city parks. On beaches. In backyards. On a fishing pier. In and on lots of places that don’t require classic wedding-bell hassles, long satin dresses and large, cash-on-the-spot outlays.

Cosmopolitan folk with a yen for the woodlands can get married in some parks. On city property. For free. In Houston, you need written permission from the Parks and Recreation department to do your time. Write William G. Schiebe, P.O. Box 1562, Houston, 77001 for information on the Rose Garden in Hermann Park, the really woodsy Arboretum in Memorial Park, or the gazebo and the historical homes in Sam Houston Park. Those who wish to be married in the gazebo must contact both the Harris County Heritage Society (1100 Bagby, Houston 77002) and the Parks and Recreation department. In Dallas, request, in writing again, permission from the Director of Parks and Recreation, 406 City Hall, Dallas 75201. And in Austin, the arrangements are just a phone call away. Simply dial 512-476-6692, ext. 10 and ask for Louise Nivison.

San Antonio discourages weddings in parks. But they have super alternatives. The Arneson River Theater, which hosts the Fiesta Noche del Rio during the summer has a seating capacity of 1000 people. It's entirely outdoors. The "seats" are of grass and a stage across the river would provide an elaborate wedding setting. The rental price is set at $50. You have to bring your own lighting equipment&#151a small price to pay for having center stage. Also in San Antonio is the famous La Villita&#151a little restored village that was once a Spanish settlement. Charlotte Kearney, manager of La Villita, says that the patio areas are available from 6 p.m. til midnight for receptions. However, she might be talked into letting you have the wedding there too. The Cos House costs $20 for up to 100 guests. (Prices may be going up soon, folks.) If you want chairs for the reception that will cost you an extra $17.50. There is a patio outside so guests can flow in and out.

Juarez Plaza, in the same area, will accommodate 150 to 500 people and it costs a mere $60 for the six hours. It's an outdoor area (just imagine mariachis and candlelight). But just in case it rains, don't fret. There is Bolivar Hall which will accommodate 200 soggy guests, seated inside and l00 more in the gallery. According to Ms. Kearney, the patios are closed after November. Arrangements can also be made for times other than evenings&#151if the couple doesn't mind a few curious passersby.

For those who really want to throw a whing-ding (up to 1500 people) they can rent the Plaza Nueva. The area is entirely fenced and a perfect place for champagne celebrations. For reservations at La Villita, call Charlotte Kearney at 512-227-0521 or write 416 Villita Street, San Antonio 78205. If you opt for a church wedding, there is a non-denominational church in the area under lease to Rev. David Edmunds. Contact him at 512-226-3593.

Weddings in Corpus Christi are a whole 'nother bag. Kenneth C. Krenek, superintendent of Parks and Recreation, is pretty hang-loose about weddings in the parks. "We don't necessarily provide any facilities, per se, for weddings, but there aren't any regulations against it. People are perfectly welcome to use the parks. If there is anything I can do for them&#151I want them to let me know." Krenek will take requests over the phone, 512-882-1971 or write 222 Belden, Corpus Christi, 78401.

If you want to gravitate closer to the water (and there's plenty of it in the coastal town) you might request McGee Beach&#151a very small strip beach right off Shoreline.

For a kind of kinky wedding, Corpus has just the spot. In Cole Park there is a municipally owned fishing pier&#151about 800 feet of it. It's lighted and "if you're not afraid of getting snagged by a hook," talk to Krenek about it. Or, if you dig the briney way, but not a pier, you could try for a T-head or the L-head. (Those heads lead out to boat slips.) Ask Krenek about them. And speaking of beaches, don't forget Galveston for a wedding and marshmallow roast. If you have questions, call Patsy Poole, 713-763-1261.

If you're hung up on getting married on a boat&#151forget it unless there's a chaplain aboard or you own a yacht. "The days of getting married on the high seas by a captain are over," sighed one old captain. (We checked with Judge Hugo Touchy and he verified that a new law has been passed prohibiting ship captains doing the deed. "They just have to wait 'til they get to shore.") So rule out the ever-adrift Battleship Texas and all other seagoing vessels unless you know a chaplain.

However, if you are bent on getting married near a boat, you can get married on certain portions of the San Jacinto Battle grounds. Jim Frantz, superintendent of the grounds told us that one should call him at 713-479-2431 to make arrangements. Officially, no alcoholic beverages can be served. And the wedding party should plan on bringing their own chairs and portable picnic tables. Frantz says he can't reserve any one place for the nearly weds but will work with people who are interested in being married on the site. He did make a plea for ecology. "Please leave the grounds as you find them&#151or even cleaner. It would really annoy me to find lots of cups and plates scattered around."

If you don't opt for a picnic in the park for the reception, you can rent buildings. The Garden Center, in Houston, is available if you call Dan Ogea, 713-529-5371 or write 1500 Hermann Drive and have $35 to fork out for the first four hours. Each hour extra is an additional $10. Dallasites can rent rooms in the Samuell Recreation Building, 6200 East Grant. Reservations can be made by calling 214-823-9750. In the White Rock area, separate arrangements must be made by calling 214-321-2125 or writing 830 East Lawther Drive. Prices depend on the room you hire and the length of time you're going to party. And Austin charges a flat rate of $20 for five hours at Zilker Club House (in Zilker Park), and $50 for Fiesta Garden ... Louise Nivison will take your reservations and your deposit. The Oriental Gardens, surrounded by little waterfalls and Lotus blossoms is for receptions too. The hours, Monday through Friday are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Weekends the gardens are open from 2 to 5 p.m. Reservations should be made through David Kennemer.

You can get married in the Botanic Garden in Fort Worth&#151but not for free. Up until recently, we didn't charge anything for weddings out here," said Scott Sikes at the Garden. "But in just the first half of the summer, we had 109 couples get married out here&#151so the sheer increase in the work load caused us to have to charge." The charges are reasonable enough, however, when you can choose almost any spot out of 90 acres of city woodlands. You can have your choice of one of two rose gardens, one with a fountain, the other with a shelter, a fragrance garden (in which all plants can be identified by odor and are labelled in braille) or any open space. For simple weddings (taking the garden as is) the charge is $25. For more complex weddings (moving in chairs or an organ), the charge is $50. Yes, Sikes assures us that parts of the park are wired for organic sound. The Garden is open Monday through Friday, but weekend weddings can be arranged.

The Garden Center Building is for hire for receptions. If you only use half the space, the charge is $12.50 for roughly 2 1/2 hours. If you use the entire space, the charge is $25. To put in your bid for the Botanic Garden, you should first contact Joyce Pannill, then go out to the Garden in person to put your X on the map for date, time, and place. The center is located at 3220 Botanic Garden Drive. For Fort Worthers who do not know where that is&#151just follow the East-West Freeway to University Drive. Once you've decided on all the essentials, you'll be required to sign a contract and hand over the money. The only don'ts in the Garden are no alcoholic beverages and no paper hearts or confetti. Rice is O.K. "You just haven't lived until you've gathered up a bushel basket or two of paper hearts over 90 acres," chuckled Sikes.

There are few hitches, besides your own, in getting married in "un"tradition. You can wear what you please and so can the guests. (If Mazie Cox can get married in a backyard with the guests wearing saris, jeans, grannies and "afternoon" attire&#151why can't you?) The ceremonies can be as structured or as hang-loose as you want. Feel free to have the religious stint in the great outdoors. And if religion gets in the way, what more secular spot than a non-denominational park, beach or historical site?

If this is a second go-round for one of the parties, remember that under the new Family Code, divorcees in Texas are prohibited to marry for six months after the divorce is final&#151unless the court gives you a waiver for a "good cause." One can journey out of state to get over that hurdle. But be advised that there could be some legal ramifications if trouble arises after the wedding. Consult a lawyer for details.

In Houston, the parks ask that no rice be thrown&#151but you can get around that with the park's blessing by letting guests hurl rose petals or confetti at you. They also ask that no alcoholic beverages be served in the indoor facilities. (Ditto for most city facilities unless otherwise specified. Ask.)

In Houston, chairs are set up for the guests in the parks, upon request, and the consenting adults can "dress up" the park with flowers, trellises and traditional florist trappings. Not so in Dallas. The parks must be left as are and chairs are forbidden. If you ask nicely, the park patrol in Houston will monitor the celebration&#151just to insure privacy.

None of these suggestions are end-aIls. They are really ideas to get you going, to get those imaginative juices going so that you can concoct your own alternative. After all, weddings should be more than pasting up glossy-8xl0-suitable-for-framing photos in an album. Weddings, however corny it may sound, are love feasts. Treat them as such and you'll have memories for a lifetime.

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