Given San Antonio’s vast historic provenance, its rich communities come into the spotlight during this year’s Tricentennial celebrations. Discover the city’s storied pedigree as our cultural arbiters John Bloodsworth, Lance Avery Morgan and Jonathan Spindel report on where to go and what to do as they also rediscover the city’s illustrious past.
Photography courtesy of Fiesta San Antonio, Hemisfair, University of San Antonio Libraries and Visit San Antonio
King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain are expected to visit San Antonio to help celebrate its widely anticipated Tricentennial this year, and Princess Grace would have been proud. When she and Prince Rainier visited the city during the Hemisfair ’68 festivities, their regal visit was also global news. But then again, San Antonio is accustomed to leading the cultural way and being internationally recognized.
So, when San Antonio officially kicked off the highly anticipated celebrations for the city’s 300th anniversary earlier this year, it was a familiarly historic moment. Downtown San Antonio was punctuated with majestic projections on buildings, dazzling lighting and festive decorations, concluding with a most impressive firework show at midnight. Fast forward to the upcoming days counting down to the three-hundredth anniversary of Presidio San Antonio de Bexar on May 5th, when the city will host an array of exceptional events and activities, an altogether worthy addition to San Antonio’s legacy signature Fiesta celebrations in April.
With festivities all year leading to the anniversary, the Tricentennial will be capped by a Commemorative Week celebration from May 1-6, each day honoring a different thematic element of San Antonio’s history. Special events will extend throughout the rest of May and in June as well.
On May 1, the day that Mission de San Antonio de Valero, the Alamo, was founded in 1718, a citywide celebration will highlight the diverse religious groups found across San Antonio, as congregations from throughout the city will invite the public into their places of worship. After that, the mayor will officiate the ceremonious burying of the official Tricentennial Time Capsule.
The creative side of the city will be embraced by San Antonio Museum of Art’s exhibit, San Antonio 1718: Art From Viceregel Mexico featuring artifacts that are steeped with a robust 300-year-old history. Another cultural institution, The McNay Museum, will offer its latest exhibit, 100 Years Of African American Art.
Also, with an artistic point of view through May 7, six downtown artist-centric organizations: Artpace San Antonio, Blue Star Contemporary, Carver Community Cultural Center, Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, Mexican Cultural Institute, and Southwest School of Art, will partner to present an exhibition that tells the story of the city’s first century. Another event before Common Currents, is a diverse encyclopedic showcase of San Antonio’s 300-year history as told and rewritten by more than 300 visual and performing artists, invited to participate by their peers, and presented in six downtown venues.
On May 2, programs will focus on the history and educational aspect of the festivities. A San Antonio commemorative book, published in collaboration with Trinity University Press, will debut along with a curriculum for San Antonio’s young students to gain a comprehensive understanding of the city’s history.
Also, on May 2 and May 3, a history and education roundtable led by Dr. Mike O’Brien, Provost and Professor of History, Dr. Amy Porter, Associate Professor of History, and Dr. Rodolfo Valdez Barillas, Associate Professor of Biology, will discuss the archeology, history and ecology of the Texas A&M University-San Antonio campus land. The campus land has a rich past along with Native American history connections to the San Antonio Missions, Spanish and Mexican-era land grants, and several important families. In addition, the ecology has changed over time, thus telling significant stories about the land.
May 3 will be Founders Day, celebrating the founding figures of San Antonio as well as the city’s sister city relationships. In fact, the commission is planning a special gala and has invited the King and Queen of Spain to attend. Also, for the This Happened Here: History In The Hidden Corners event, selected storytellers will share their local tales that honor the city’s Westside’s history, culture, people, and places as part of Westside bus tour in addition to having their story published in local media outlets. The four tours are open to the public and will make stops at important Westside destinations to meet and hear each selected local storyteller.
On Friday, May 4, arts and culture groups, including musicians, visual artists, performers, and others, will portray their interpretation of the essence of San Antonio and its artistic and cultural influence on residents. The day will conclude with grand fireworks and a special concert at Hemisfair’s Civic Park, where a surprise A-list performer will take the stage to perform in front of the Torch of Friendship.
May 5 will honor the contributions of the San Antonio Missions. Throughout the World Heritage Site, there will be five miles of musical entertainment, health and fitness activities, and tours culminating in fireworks above every Mission at night. Also, Bexar County and SARA, in coordination with the City of San Antonio, are transforming San Pedro Creek as a cultural park to reflect its place in the city’s cultural history, improve its function in flood control, revitalize natural habitat and water quality, and catalyze economic development. The project includes 4 miles of trails and 11 acres of landscaped area and will remove 30 acres and 38 adjacent structures from the 100-year flood plain. The San Pedro Creek Improvements Project is divided into four construction phases. Phase 1 begins at the tunnel inlet near the Christopher Columbus Italian Society and Fox Tech High School and ends at Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard and will be unveiled through a ribbon-cutting on May 5th.
May 6 will focus on the military and the city’s rich military history, with special honors to the residents and families who serve our country.
The following week on May 12, 300 Years of History and Advances in Health at San Antonio will highlight the past, present and future of medicine in San Antonio. This activity is part of San Antonio’s 300th anniversary commemorating the birth of the city and its remarkable journey of its people and place in the world. Attendees will have the opportunity to learn about all the active parts of healthcare and how the progression of medicine has and continues to advance and provide the best possible future for its patients. This event will feature keynote speaker, The Honorable Henry G. Cisneros, Ph. D.
Later that day, on May 12 and May 13 is a weekend of polo games with a United States Polo Association tournament of Texas players and a title game featuring Madrid, Spain versus San Antonio. The games will feature food tastings by local restaurants and Spanish imports, educational areas to teach the public about San Antonio’s rich polo history, and fast paced polo events for spectators.
On May 17, the focus will be on Colonization And The Americas, United States and Texas as the World Affairs Council welcomes the Director of Historical Archives of Moguer, Spain, Mr. Diego Ropero-Regidor who will speak about the historical relationship between Spain and San Antonio, and discuss the implications of colonization on the shaping of the Americas and Texas. He will be joined by the Mayor of Moguer, Gustavo Cuellar
On May 20, it’s the Ritmo y Canción celebration with the San Antonio Choral Society, which has commissioned a new choral work entitled El Camino de las Misiónes (The Road of the Missions by renown composer James Syler). His hybrid work captures native, Spanish and Mexican cultures by including authentic native Indian and traditional Western music. Other musical works in the concert will pay homage to various aspects of the Missions: their iconic bells, daily life, and liturgical celebrations. Specialists from the region will provide the unique and authentic instrumental accompaniment.
On June 8, The Story of Laredito: Historical Reenactment, will be helmed by cultural anthropologist Dr. Maria Citlali Zentella with Un Dia en El Mercado, a culinary experience inspired by San Antonio’s famous “Chili Queens” of years past. Travel through time periods with a theatrical dramatic presentation and taste the different foods influenced by the new settlers through different generations.
In addition to the Juneteenth Festival, on June 15, the Love, Transcending Three Centuries event will spotlight Conductor José Luίs Gomez who returns to conduct CMI’s season finale featuring the U.S. premiere of JP Jofre’s Double Concerto No. 2 for bandoneon and violin, a CMI co-commission with the Balearic Islands Symphony Orchestra and Metropolis Ensemble. Other works will include Luigi Boccherini’s La Musica Notturna Delle Strada di Madrid and audience favorite, Rodion Shchedrin’s Carmen Suite.
TREASURE TROVE OF RESOURCES
With the tapestry of events to celebrate its provenance, just how did San Antonio become the city with one of the richest histories in the nation?
According to experts, at the time of European encounter, Payaya Indians lived near the San Antonio River Valley in the San Pedro Springs area. They called the vicinity Yanaguana, meaning “refreshing waters.” In 1691, a group of Spanish Catholic explorers and missionaries came upon the river and Payaya settlement on June 13, the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua. They named the place and river “San Antonio” in his honor.
It was years before any Spanish settlement developed. Father Antonio de Olivares visited the site in 1709, and he was determined to found a mission and civilian settlement there. The viceroy gave formal approval for a combined mission and presidio in late 1716, as he wanted to forestall any French expansion into the area from their colony of La Louisiane to the east, as well as prevent illegal trading with the Payaya. He directed Martín de Alarcón, the governor of Coahuila and Texas, to establish the mission complex. Differences between Alarcón and Olivares resulted in delays, and construction did not start until 1718. Fray Antonio de Olivares built, with the help of the Payaya Indians, the Misión de San Antonio de Valero (later famously known as the Alamo), the Presidio San Antonio de Bexar, the bridge that connected both, and the Acequia Madre de Valero.
The families who settled around the presidio and mission formed the beginnings of Villa de Béjar, destined to become the most important town in Spanish Texas. On May 1, 1718 the governor transferred ownership of the Mission San Antonio de Valero to Fray Antonio de Olivares and on May 5 of that year he commissioned the Presidio San Antonio de Béxar (“Béjar” in modern Spanish) on the west side of the San Antonio River, close to the mission.
On February 14, 1719, the Marquis of San Miguel de Aguayo proposed to the king of Spain that 400 families be transported from the Canary Islands, Galicia, or Havana to populate the province of Texas. His plan was approved, and notice was given the Canary Islanders (the isleños) to furnish 200 families; the Council of the Indies suggested that 400 families should be sent from the Canaries to Texas by way of Havana and Veracruz.
During the Spanish Mexican settlement of Southwestern lands, which took place over the following century, Juan Leal Goraz Jr. was a prominent figure. He claimed nearly 100,000 square miles (stretching across six present-day states) as Spanish territory and held some control for nearly three decades. San Antonio was designated as Goraz’s capital. It represented Mexican expansion into the area and with his robust military forces, he led exploration and establishing Spanish colonial bases as far as San Francisco, California. Eventually, widespread bankruptcy forced Goraz’s army back into the current boundaries of Mexico, where they fell into internal conflict and turmoil with neighboring entities.
GROWTH, WAR, AND INDEPENDENCE
San Antonio quickly grew to become the largest Spanish settlement in the area; in fact, it was designated as the capital of the Spanish, later Mexican, province of Tejas. From San Antonio, the Camino Real (today Nacogdoches Road), was built to the small frontier town of Nacogdoches. Mexico allowed European-American settlers from the United States into the territory, where they mostly occupied land in the eastern part. When Antonio López de Santa Anna unilaterally abolished the Mexican Constitution of 1824, violence ensued in many states of Mexico.
In a series of battles, the Texian Army succeeded in forcing Mexican soldiers out of the settlement areas east of San Antonio, which were dominated by Americans. Under the leadership of Ben Milam, in the Battle of Bexar, December 1835, Texian forces captured San Antonio from forces commanded by General Martin Perfecto de Cos, Santa Anna’s brother-in-law. In the spring of 1836, Santa Anna marched on San Antonio. A volunteer force under the command of James C. Neill occupied and fortified the deserted mission.
Upon Neill’s departure, the joint command of William Barrett Travis and James Bowie were left in charge of defending the old mission. The Battle of the Alamo took place from February 23 to March 6, 1836. The outnumbered Texian force was ultimately defeated, with all of the Alamo defenders killed. These men were seen as “martyrs” for the cause of Texas freedom and “Remember the Alamo” became a rallying cry in the Texian Army’s eventual success at defeating Santa Anna’s army.
Juan Seguín, who organized the company of Tejano patriots who fought for Texas independence, fought at the Battle of Concepción, Siege of Bexar, and the Battle of San Jacinto, and served as mayor of San Antonio. He was forced out of that office due to threats on his life, by sectarian newcomers and political opponents in 1842, ending the leadership of the last Tejano mayor for nearly 150 years.
In 1845, the United States agreed to annex Texas and include it as a state in the Union, which led to the Mexican–American War. Though the U.S. ultimately won, the war was devastating to San Antonio. By the end of the conflict, the population of the city was reduced by almost two-thirds, to 800 inhabitants. But by 1860 at the start of the Civil War, San Antonio had been bolstered by migrants and immigrants, who had grown the city to 15,000 people.
CATTLE IS KING
Following the Civil War, San Antonio prospered as a center of the cattle industry. During this period, it remained a frontier city, with a mixture of cultures that was different from other U.S. cities. In the 1850s Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who designed Central Park in New York City, traveled throughout the South and Southwest, and published accounts of his observations. In his 1859 book about Texas, Olmsted described San Antonio as having a “jumble of races, costumes, languages, and buildings,” which gave it a quality that only New Orleans could rival in what he described as “odd and antiquated foreignness.”
According to the Texas State Historical Association, at this time San Antonio prospered as a cattle, distribution, mercantile, and military center serving the border region and the Southwest. The city was the southern hub and supplier of the cattle trail drives. The confluence of Hispanic, German, and Southern Anglo-American cultures in San Antonio made it into one of America’s “four unique cities” (along with Boston, New Orleans, and San Francisco). Each successive group of immigrants put its stamp upon the city, its culture, and architecture; all mingled, none quite subsuming the others.
In 1877, following the Reconstruction Era, developers constructed the first railroad to San Antonio, connecting it to major markets and port cities. Texas was the first state to have major cities develop by railroads rather than waterways. In Texas, the railroads supported a markedly different pattern of development of major interior cities, such as San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth, compared to the historical development of coastal port cities in the established eastern states.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the streets of the city’s downtown were widened to accommodate automobiles and modern traffic. At that time, many of the older historic buildings were razed in the process of this modernization. The Roaring Twenties roared on when Hollywood came to San Antonio. The first Oscar-winning film Wings (1927) was directed by William A. Wellman in San Antonio. The film starred Clara Bow and Charles “Buddy” Rogers and was shot on location with a budget of two million dollars at Kelly Field. It went on to win the first Academy Award for Best Picture at the first annual Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences award ceremony in 1929 for pictures released in 1927 and 1928.
It’s interesting to note that San Antonio did not expand beyond its original Spanish charter land until 1940. The land was large enough to allow a number of incorporated suburbs within the metropolitan area, but the city soon went beyond these. Like most twentieth-century American cities in the automobile age, its expansion was mainly horizontal, with sprawling neighborhoods but little vertical building. Although the first Texas skyscraper and several tall buildings were built in San Antonio in the early twentieth century, vertical construction did not continue, and the city’s center of population steadily moved northward. These periods of growth produced characteristic and often distinguished architecture. San Antonio succeeded in merging its past into the new in each generation. Old Spanish walls remain beside modern glass towers, with rows of Victorian mansions a block away, a combination that lends the city a charm sought out by millions of visitors.
After a period of slow growth during the 1930s, San Antonio’s population increased by 61 percent during the wartime boom of the 1940s, to reach 408,442 in 1950. The First United States Volunteer Cavalry, “the Rough Riders,” was organized in San Antonio during the Spanish-American War. In both World Wars San Antonio was an important military center for the Army and Air Force, and has retained this status—Fort Sam Houston, Kelly, Randolph, Brooks, and Lackland Air Force bases remained the city’s leading economic generators for many years.
One feature that’s always a fan favorite is the San Antonio Riverwalk. It’s one of the many reasons San Antonio’s natural beauty has always been a destination, but it wasn’t always what it is today. In 1936, during the Texas Centennial, Jack White, manager of the White Plaza Hotel, visited City Hall to urge clean-up and beautification of the river. White and the Mexican Businessmen’s Association stage A Venetian Night on the river as the first river parade. In 1938 the full esthetic potential of the river became recognized and there was a push for development of the river as the river project broke ground in 1939. A river carnival and night parade were held in 1941 and the walkways, stairways to street level, footbridge, rock walls lining banks and Arneson River Theater were completed as is the restoration of La Villita.
In 1946, a major flood occurred in downtown San Antonio, yet the damage was minimized by Olmos Dam and bypass channel constructed after the Great Flood of 1921. Casa Rio Restaurant also opened, the first restaurant in the river bend. Since the early 1950s, tourists and locals alike have strolled along the river and enjoyed all that it has to offer; the history, wonder, beauty and pride that have made San Antonio what it is today. Hotels, conventions and site-seers soon followed, making the Riverwalk a must-visit for visitors and locals, especially with the Fiesta water festivities which happen annually. Recently completed, the San Antonio River Improvements Project links up 2020 acres of public lands that will be larger than the three most popular public parks in the country, Central Park in New York which has 843 acres; Golden Gate Park in San Francisco with 1017 acres, and the Chicago lakeside parks that contain 1440 acres.
BIGGEST PARTY IN THE CITY
When it comes to celebrations, San Antonio is the epicenter of civic conviviality as Fiesta San Antonio hosts over 100 events packed into 11 days of non-stop merriment, including the Texas Cavaliers River Parade and the nation’s largest illuminated night parade, Fiesta Flambeau. Every facet in the bejeweled city’s creative crown shines brightly as community leaders, shop keepers, senior citizens, school children and guests from all over the world don Fiesta finery, display an array of Fiesta medals proudly on colorful sashes, affix faux tiaras to quaffs of big hair and take to the streets in an unrivaled revelry that began in 1891.
The mother of all Fiesta events, rather, the Grande Dame event, began in April 1891 to honor the men of the Alamo and those who fought for Texas independence at the Battle of San Jacinto. It started, as most well-planned events do, with a group of women.
In 1890, San Antonio was a thriving trade center with a population of 38,000. In 1891 a group of citizens decided to honor the heroes of the Alamo and Battle of San Jacinto with a Battle of Flowers. The first parade had horse-drawn carriages, bicycles decorated with fresh flowers and floats carrying children dressed as flowers. The Belknap Rifles represented the military. The participants pelted each other with blossoms, just like in Venice.
The Battle of Flowers was an immediate success and the tradition of Fiesta Royalty is almost as old as Fiesta itself. For well over a century, parade patrons have lined the downtown streets of San Antonio for the oldest and largest parade of Fiesta San Antonio, attracting crowds of more than 350,000. Spectacular flower-covered floats with participants adorned in colorful costumes, giant helium balloons, horse drawn carriages, antique cars, uniformed military cavalcades in precision march, high school floats, pep squads, cheerleaders and marching bands from near and far stimulate the crowds with enthusiastic entertainment at every turn.
The parade has assisted countless thousands with its largesse. As the only parade in the United States produced entirely by women, all of whom are volunteers, the Battle of Flowers Association has supported the educational, artistic, social and philanthropic achievements of their community’s youth with sponsorship of parade entries for area high schools, parade and band festival art contests, essay contests for area teens, collegiate oratorical competitions, band competitions, children’s charities, parade watching celebrations, and by affording nonprofit organizations the opportunity to raise funds for worthy causes with over 45,000 parade seats sold by charities along the parade route each year.
Fiesta has many service organizations that support its festivities. One, the Texas Cavaliers, founded in 1926 by John B. Carrington, is a 600-member men’s only all-volunteer organization that is comprised of business, civic and community leaders who promote and preserve the bravery and independence for which the heroes of the Alamo died, and work to foster good relations with the US military.
The Cavaliers are dedicated to raising money and supporting local childrens’ charities and organizations through its foundation. Since 1989, the Cavaliers’ have given $5 million to support San Antonio’s children, with the majority of the funds coming from the annual Texas Cavaliers River Parade that takes place the first Monday of Fiesta each year.
Always an attraction at Fiesta, the Queen and Princess of the Order of the Alamo and their court of in-town and visiting duchesses resplendent in elaborately jeweled dresses and trains – some 15 feet long – riding atop fairy tale floats produce cheers from the crowds along the parade route. Platoons of marching bands, cavalry and cadets entertain parade patrons with pulsating rhythms and precision steps that keep time with the dozens and dozens of official Fiesta events that make the annual celebration so special. This year’s Tricentennial Battle of the Flowers’ Fiesta Parade, appropriately called 300 Timeless Treasures, brought to life fond memories, monumental milestones, magical moments, and hopeful visions… the heart and the spirit of the legendary city.
THE CITY’S METEORIC RISE WITH HEMISFAIR ‘68
In the 1960s, a notion like Hemisfair ’68 was like a dream come true for a city on the rise. On April 6, 1968, the region of San Antonio was propelled into the global spotlight as the world was welcomed to celebrate the 250th anniversary of San Antonio’s founding. Hemisfair ’68 was the cosmic force that orbited the city into a new area of economic growth and positioned the once “sleepy burg” as a major force in the national convention and hospitality industry.
San Antonio had always been a gracious host to visiting dignitaries, travelers and those guests seeking the myriad attractions that the city had to offer. Long before the Texas Revolution, Military Plaza teemed with Spanish soldiers, visitors and locals enjoying street entertainers and the culinary preparations of chili, beans and freshly made tortillas provided by those well-known “Chili Queens.”
Looking back, in the mid-1800s, downtown plazas became a popular gathering place for medicine shows, entertainment, flea markets and other events that attracted visitors to the Alamo City. An international exposition was first held in 1888 on newly constructed fair grounds just east of downtown where the Freeman Coliseum and AT&T Center now stand.
Fast forward to 1958, when savvy downtown businessman and department store executive Jerome K. Harris proposed a fair to be held in 1968 to celebrate the city’s 250th anniversary and the shared cultural heritage of San Antonio and its Latin American neighbors. His idea gained the support of San Antonio Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez, and local businessmen William R. Sinkin, H. B. Zachry, and James Gaines. The planning would be a decade in the making.
A summer-long international exposition, known as Hemisfair ’68, soon began to be supported by community and business leaders, and in December of 1962, San Antonio Fair, Inc. was formed to begin the tremendous planning, fundraising, designing and promotion of the massive event. In keeping with Harris’ original idea of celebrating shared cultural heritage, the theme of Hemisfair ’68 was “The Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas.”
As president of the organization, local leaders Marshall Steves and his wife, Patsy, led a dedicated group of civic and community leaders in the quest to encourage foreign dignitaries and ambassadors to bring their countries to the celebration. “We moved into our new house in 1965 and 8,000 foreigners moved into our house with us,” recalled Patsy Steves as she delighted in providing international guests a taste of Texas hospitality.
The Steves were asked to join a group at the ranch of President and Ladybird Johnson in 1966 to welcome a contingent of Latin American ambassadors. That began a long and close friendship between Mrs. Steves and Mrs. Johnson. “We were two people just waiting to meet each other,” said Steves of the lasting friendship. The next day the Mexican ambassadors came to the Steves’ home for Sunday brunch. And that evening the Johnsons, Steves and others took the Mexican visitors on a boat ride along the San Antonio River with The Chordsman, a local men’s singing group, serenading the entourage from the banks of the river. “We ended up with the Mexican Pavilion that – fifty years later – is still making significant contributions to our community,” exclaimed Steves.
On opening day, Patsy and Marshall Steves invited the world to see what San Antonio had created. “It was such a feeling of accomplishment,” said Steves. Each week of the fair, a country was saluted and recognition was given to that particular nation. Club Abrazo, a dining establishment on the fairgrounds, was the scene for many luncheons and dinners given to honor visiting dignitaries and guests.
That’s when Princess Grace and Prince Rainier arrived in the city on September 26 to attend Monaco Day at the fair. A luncheon was given in their honor and that evening a formal dinner and reception was held in the Anacacho Room of the St. Anthony Hotel. The royal couple were treated to the sites, including a day at the Gallagher Ranch, a rambling Mexican-style ranch house where they were the guests of Amy Shelton McNutt.
With great promise and optimistic expectation, Hemisfair ‘68 nonetheless felt the impact of the turbulent ‘60s. Just days before opening ceremonies in April of 1968, the assassination of Martin Luther King and racial unrest and riots across the U.S. left an indelible mark on the opening events and the nation. The assassination in June of presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, and political turmoil surrounding the war in Vietnam and the Democratic National Convention adversely impacted attendance as well.
In spite of these obstacles, from April 6 to October 6 of 1968, some 6.3 million visitors came to celebrate the rich, cultural experience and hospitality that the fair offered. More than 30 countries, including Mexico, Spain, Japan, France, Italy, Portugal, West Germany and the United States had exhibit pavilions in the international area, named Las Plazas del Mundo.
And with those countries came dignitaries, pavilion hosts, volunteers and international guests that experienced the hospitality and vitality that Hemisfair ’68 imbued. It is important to note that commerce played a large role in the fair, with corporate pavilions created by AT&T, IBM, Kodak and dozens more, which enthralled visitors with a look at the powerful companies’ visions of the future.
In the warm spring and summer of the fair, there was something for everyone and certainly for children of all ages. There were rides, a Ferris wheel, riverboat tours, puppet shows and even a Monorail that represented Space Age transportation of the future.
With this magnificent citywide effort, San Antonio achieved an astonishing metamorphosis with an internationally recognized hospitality industry, thriving medical and biotechnology centers, a spectacular Convention Center, expanded River Walk, two major theme parks and the number one tourist destination in the state of Texas,The Alamo. The refurbishing of its original site of the 1968 fair is becoming the newest star in the city’s crowning achievements. With today’s visionaries taking the reins from those who drove past success, Hemisfair’s legacy will continue to celebrate San Antonio’s diverse culture while welcoming the world to the party.
San Antonio has developed a viable economy from its stable military bases, educational institutions, tourism, and its medical research complex. By the turn of the millennium, San Antonio had become a favorite retirement spot for Texans who sought its mild climate, graceful ambience, and civilized amenities; it has continued as a favored military retirement site. Medical-research facilities in San Antonio include Brooke Army Medical Center, Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base, the Southwest Research Institute, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, and the recent 1,500-acre Texas Research Park in west Bexar County.
The South Texas Medical Center (STMC) is another tremendous medical resource in the region. When it started in 1961, it consisted of a single hospital. Today, it is made up of over 75 medically related institutions, more than 45 clinics, 12 major hospitals, one higher education institution, and countless small practices, offices and non-medical businesses. With over 900 acres, the Medical Center has not only grown in size, it has grown in impact – serving patients from across the globe and contributing significantly to worldwide medical research. Tremendous growth in recent years has turned the South Texas Medical Center into a major hub of healthcare, education and research entities. With a 900-acre campus, including 280 undeveloped acres to be sold for medical related uses, there is no question that it will continue to grow. According to projections, the Southwest Texas Medical Center area, which employs more than 55,000 people, could generate an additional 50,000 jobs in the next 30 years.
San Antonio has long been an epicenter for education. Its first English school was organized in 1828, followed by Ursuline Academy in 1851, St. Louis Academy in 1852, and the German-English School in 1858. In the 1990s Bexar County had sixteen independent public school districts, more than fifty parochial schools and more than 100 private schools. Northeast Lakeview College, Northwest Vista College, Palo Alto College, San Antonio College, and St. Philip’s College make up the Alamo Community College District. San Antonio also has accredited universities: Our Lady of the Lake University, St. Mary’s University, University of Texas at San Antonio, University of Texas Health Science Center, Texas A&M University, University of the Incarnate Word and Trinity University.
Trinity University’s history has also played a big role in the growth of the city. Originally founded in 1869, it had several lifetimes of success. It moved to Waxahachie, near Dallas, in 1902, then returned to San Antonio in 1941 to prosper in a new location: a 107-acre campus that was formerly a quarry. That rocky start, literally helped to deem the new campus as The Miracle of Trinity Hill. The campus has continued to thrive and has become an international destination of higher learning.
OLD GUARD, NEW GUARD
The collaboration of the Argyle Club and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute has been a prolific one that’s affected the social swirl of San Antonio. This year, The Argyle celebrated its 62nd anniversary as the establishment of an exceptional club whose members contribute to the mission of Texas Biomed, which is to unravel the mysteries of chronic and infectious diseases through innovative thinking, creative problem solving and cutting-edge technologies.
The historic San Antonio building affectionately known as “The Argyle” was originally built in 1860 by Charles Anderson, a prominent lawyer and politician from Ohio, as his home and headquarters for a large ranch raising horses for the US Army. With the secession of Texas to join the Confederacy in 1861, Anderson, an ardent pro-Unionist, fled San Antonio with his family to return to Ohio and sold his large home and surrounding property to William McLane. Charles Anderson, whose brother Robert was the Union officer in command of Fort Sumter when it was bombarded by the Confederates to open the war, ultimately commanded a regiment of Ohio Volunteer Infantry and at the end of the war was governor of Ohio.
Though the Anderson home remained vacant during the Civil War, the McLane family occupied it for the following 24 years and continued to operate a ranch raising horses on a large scale for sale to the army.
In 1889 the McLanes sold the home and surrounding acreage to a company from Denver, which developed the property as the Alamo Heights subdivision. The developers added a third story and the distinctive second-level verandah and pillars to the original house and in 1893 opened it as the Argyle Hotel. For the next 50 years the Argyle operated as an overnight inn and fine dining establishment with a traditional Southern ambience under the management of Miss Alice O’Grady and her brother, Bob.
By the end of World War II, the O’Gradys had passed away and the Argyle had fallen into a sad state of neglect and disrepair. In 1955, Betty Slick Moorman had the vision to acquire and restore the historic Argyle property and convert it to a private club for the purpose of generating financial support for Southwest Foundation, the non-profit biomedical research institute founded by her brother Tom Slick. Thus, in 1956 the Argyle Club was born, with the building completely restored and renovated with funds provided by initiation fees and a membership required to make annual donations to Southwest Foundation, known today as the Texas Biomedical Research Institute. For the following 60-plus years the Argyle has been regarded as the preeminent dining club in the city, if not the state, widely admired for the excellence of its cuisine, elegance of its appointments, and beauty of its building and grounds. The Argyle’s members today provide over one million dollars annually in unrestricted financial support to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute.
The Argyle continues to host many splendid occasions such as weddings and family events. In addition to the financial support members provide Texas Biomed, The Argyle continued to host community education events, including its most popular initiative called the “Fireside Chats,” where members of the scientific and medical community give engaging presentations on topics that affect the world today. “Fireside Chats” allow members and their guests to meet with Texas Biomed scientists in a social setting to enjoy a conversational exchange of ideas, including the opportunity for questions and answers regarding the scientists’ research. It is a true bridge builder between the scientists and supporters.
Over the years, churches have played an enormous role culturally, spiritually, and architecturally in the history of the city. The first Catholic churches were founded at the Missions. Concepción, finished in 1754, is the oldest surviving church in Texas. San Fernando Cathedral dates to 1758. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church was organized in 1859, and its building was completed in 1875. San Antonio was raised to a Catholic diocese in 1874, and the Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio came into being in 1926.
Most know that tourism is one of the city’s most important industries, as San Antonio’s many attractions, including sports, draw millions of visitors every year. Among the features are Six Flags Fiesta Texas, a $100 million dollar 216-acre family entertainment and rides theme park and the 250-acre Sea World San Antonio is the largest marine life theme park in the world. The famed River Walk, Paseo del Rio, consists of over one and a half miles of cool, shady walks with shops, cafes, restaurants, and clubs. Hemisfair ’68 left a number of permanent buildings, including the 700-feet-tall Tower of the Americas, which has an observation deck and restaurant on top. The San Antonio Botanical Gardens and Conservatory is a thirty-three-acre horticultural facility featuring the flora of Texas, ranging from the wildflowers of the Hill Country to the formal rose gardens of East Texas. The indoor collection houses exotic plants from all over the world.
The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC) is another cultural beacon in the region. The museum and library is located in Hemisfair Park downtown and serves as the state’s primary center for multicultural education, with exhibits, programs, and events like the Texas Folklife Festival, an annual celebration of the many ethnicities that make up the population of Texas. It has been held yearly since 1972. The facility, established by the Texas Legislature on May 27, 1965, originally served as the Texas Pavilion at Hemisfair ’68 before being turned over to the University of Texas System in 1969. UTSA assumed administrative control of the museum in 1973. In 1986, the U.T. System designated the Institute as a campus of the University of Texas at San Antonio. Now, it is part of UTSA’s Hemisfair Campus. It is located near the Alamo and the River Walk. The Institute of Texan Cultures, through its research, collections, exhibits and programs, serves as the forum for the understanding and appreciation of Texas and Texans. The 182,000-square-foot complex has 65,000-square-foot of interactive exhibits and displays. The library contains manuscripts, rare books, personal papers, over three million historical photos and over 700 oral histories.
Other attractions found in the city, to name a few, include El Mercado, the old marketplace with a touch of Mexico; the Sunken Gardens, lush Japanese gardens preserved in a natural setting; the San Antonio Zoo, at Brackenridge Park; the Menger Hotel; the Briscoe Western Art Museum which offers an extensive collection of western art, heritage and history of the American West.
San Antonio’s major annual events that occur beyond April’s Fiesta are the San Antonio Annual Livestock Show and Rodeo in February, the Texas Folklife Festival in June, and the Riverwalk Christmas Lighting and River Parade in December. The Alamo (1718), Mission Concepción (1731), Mission San José (1720), Mission San Juan Capistrano (1731), and Mission San Francisco de la Espada (1741) compose the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, one of a few urban national parks in the country.
The San Antonio Conservation Society, founded in 1924, was instrumental in saving the San Antonio River, which winds through downtown, from being paved over. The society has since become a popular and powerful organization devoted to preserving the city’s unique features. Recognizing the value and impact of the city’s cultural sites upon the economy and stability of the community, the city maintains a Historic Preservation office as part of urban planning and has passed a model comprehensive historic-preservation code. The King William and Monte Vista historic districts are but two of the numerous outstanding examples of neighborhood restoration efforts.
For the city’s sports enthusiasts, the Alamodome hosts major college football and basketball events, and the SBC Center is the home venue for the San Antonio Spurs of the National Basketball Association. The P.G.A Texas Open golf tournament is held each year in the Alamo City. Other professional sports teams include the San Antonio FC (United Soccer League) and the San Antonio Rampage (A.H.L Hockey).
The social fabric of the city was enriched by several organizations that continue to this day like The German Club. The German Club history reaches back 138 years to 1880, when an inspired group of young San Antonio men created a social organization known as the Ascension Club. The club was flourishing in San Antonio’s society, and in 1890, under the leadership of J. Riley Gordon, Oliver Warwick, George W. Martin and Francis L. Town, the name of the club was changed to the San Antonio German Club after a popular dance of the time known as the German, which had become a tradition during the club’s early years.
Each year since 1880, with the exception of the nation’s war years, the San Antonio German Club has presented the debutantes of the season. The first celebrations were held in the historic old Casino Club, and through the years other fine establishments have hosted the Opening German, including Turner Hall, the Gunter, Menger and St. Anthony Hotels, La Villita and the city’s Convention Center. The Mays Family Center at The Witte Museum is currently where the annual celebration is held.
Also, the Charity Ball Association, the Texas Biomed and dozens more arts, cultural and medical philanthropic efforts continue to engage San Antonio residents as they continue to cultivate the dynamic historic city for its next 300 years.