Thursday, January 29, 2015

DISCOVERING SAN ANTONIO: A Photographic Souvenir

I spent the better part of four days, mainly walking around San Antonio, Texas in March of 2014, camera in hand (as usual). When I finally reviewed and selected my photographs for this blog post, I had 150 images. That's a lot, especially in today's world of Twitter's 140-character limit, text messaging, and emoticons.

Nevertheless, I remain undaunted, being the 74-year-old geezer that I am. And so, here I present you with these 150 photographs with the assurance that they are the result of intentional selection on my part: each one a discovery worth sharing.

I group them by the following topics:  Flora & Fauna (really, a catch-all for miscellaneous);   Historical Architecture; Contemporary Architecture;   HemisFair Park;   Urban Sculpture; King William District;   Inner West Side ( or what locals I spoke with referred to as Near West, so I used this term);   Near West Mural Art;   Selections from the Museum of Art;   River Walk.

Flora & Fauna:

San Antonio, Texas, The Alamo, Garden, Opuntia (Prickly Pear Cactus)

An impressive stand of Opuntia cacti in the garden behind the Alamo. Native Americans would eat its pads (nopales) raw as well as make its fruit into candy, chewing gum, a form of "applesauce," and a jelly. 

The Prickly Pear has many medicinal uses; among these are the healing of open wounds, reducing swelling, and the treating of mumps, rheumatism, congestion from colds, and constipation. Recent studies have even indicated an ability to reduce blood sugar levels.

San Antonio, Texas, The Alamo, Garden, Palmetto Palm, Trunk

The beautiful criss-cross pattern of the Sabal Palmetto. Its old leaves are trimmed, leaving what are called "boots;" this word refers to the form of any single leaf base, because its shape is very much like that of a bootjack, the device used to remove tall riding boots.

The leaf buds of young palms are often used in hearts of palm salad. However, removing this leaf bud kills the tree, so it is recommended that nobody should purchase cans of hearts of palm

San Antonio, Texas, River Walk, Grackle

This male Great-tailed grackle hardly paid me any attention as I aimed my camera at him while he eyed some morsel on the ground.  In its original Central American habitat, it was prized by Aztec royalty for the iridescence of its dark feathers. 

Today, this canny, bold member of the starling family has spread as far north and west as the State of Washington. It is omnivorous, it possesses an enormous range of callnotes and it has become a local pest, particularly in the fall and winter.  San Antonians have resorted to confusing its gatherings of urban grackles with laser beams, and I suspect the locals fully understand why the large congregations of these birds are known as annoyances.

San Antonio, Texas, Mission Concepción, Feral Dog

After walking the entire way to this first of three missions south of San Antonio, I smartened up for a return by bus.  As I sat at an outdoor bus kiosk, this feral dog came and gave me a good looking over....and I him.

San Antonio, Texas, Convention Center, Cheerleading Competition

Wandering through the San Antonio Convention Center, I came across this competition in the center's largest auditorium and managed to snap this picture before being hustled out as a non-paying interloper.

My apologies for counting young cheerleaders as local fauna!  I'm forcing the analogy, of course, and beg forgiveness.  However, as Bob Brown reported for ABCNews a decade ago, "In Texas, High School Football Is King," which we have known, well...since forever;  and then, just open Texas Cheerleader magazine and the first thing that hits one's eye is this ad: "Cheerleading...It's a Texas Thing!"  I still apologize.

Historical Architecture:

San Antonio, Texas, Governor's Palace, Portal, 1749

These two photographic details (above and below) illustrate what has been called "the only remaining example in Texas of an aristocratic 18th-century Spanish Colonial town house." It is the prime physical evidence of the first non-native settlement that would become San Antonio, a.k.a.,  Presidio San Antonio de Bexar

The coat of arms above the door indicates its date of completion as 1749, though its plans date a little earlier.  Its central motif is a double-headed eagle, which most local texts connect to the Spanish Monarch of this period, King Ferdinand VI and to Habsburg rule.

Indeed, this eagle motif is part of Habsburg heraldry and carries at least as far back as the early Holy Roman Empire, where the two heads symbolized a ruler who was both voted in by electors and crowned by the Pope.   However, the reign of the Habsburgs in Spain ended in 1700. Ferdinand VI was a French Bourbon ruler, and his coat of arms actually featured two angels flanked by the Pillars of Hercules, not the double-headed eagle.

I'll leave clarification of this bit of confusing iconography to the local historians of San Antonio.

San Antonio, Texas, Governor's Palace, Scuppers, 1749

San Antonio, Texas, The Alamo (San Antonio de Valero), Convento, Scuppers, 

The other feature of the Governor's Palace which I selected is the wooden scupper used to drain rain water from the nearly-flat roof.   I also show that feature from the Alamo Convento, where you actually can see it at work in a light rain (pictured directly above).

The scupper is a great bit of indigenous architectural design that is both functional and also can be quite decorative: think of Gothic gargoyles or of certain iconic examples in modern architecture. Here we see it in its more primitive, simple and "honest" form.

San Antonio, Texas, The Alamo (San Antonio de Valero), Church Exterior, 1758 ff

The Alamo, officially known as Mission San Antonio de Valero, is the other earliest structure forming the nucleus of San Antonio.  It served as a Catholic mission built under its founding priest, the Franciscan Antonio de Olivares, to educate the newly-converted Native Americans.   Its first building, most likely quite crude, was replaced by a stone church in 1744, and that by the present, unfinished, church in 1758. This church, very likely, was meant to have twin bell towers and a dome, neither ever built. Also, its most familiar feature, the scalloped roof-line, was only added in 1849 by the U. S. Army.

San Antonio, Texas, Mission Concepción, Church Exterior, West Façade, 1755-1760

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción de Acuña may have been started as early as 1738 under the direction of a master mason from Zecatecas, Mexico, Antonio Tello. The main building was completed by 1755 under a second Mexican mason named Hieronymo Y'barra.  It may well be because of these masons and the quality of the limestone that they selected and quarried right on site that Mission Concepción enjoys the distinction of being "the oldest unrestored stone church in America." 

San Antonio, Texas, Mission Concepción, Church Exterior, detail, North Tower (looking west), 1755-1760

The walls of this church are some 45 inches thick, composed of limestone masonry sandwiching a rubble core of smaller stones. I was intrigued by the texture of this exterior wall surface, which almost looks like coral or the drippings of a sand castle, even though it consists of solid limestone laid in mortar. It clearly has withstood the test of time.

San Antonio, Texas, Mission Concepción, West Façade, Main Entry, detail, 1755-1760

Here is another intriguing detail from the entry portal: the pediment's entablature bulges out to accommodate the capital of an engaged column. That capital, directly below the entablature, is decorated with flat, low relief, floral motifs that continue all the way across. I think that those low-relief floral motifs are called tequitqui, a reference to an eclectic mix of European decorative forms as interpreted by Mexican Indian artists.

Finally, above these motifs we see a curious window with chamfered top corners, its raised stone frame battling the pediment for position.  Creative details like this can be found in all these 18th century missions, particularly in their entry portals. The traces of fresco painting remaining on this portal must have enlivened it that much more before the paint faded away.

San Antonio, Texas, Mission Concepción, Nave, looking East to Main Altar, 1755-1760

Solid barrel vaults and a dome on pendentives reveal the structural sophistication of this mission church.

San Antonio, Texas, Mission Concepción, Chapel of Saint Michael, Crucifixion, 1755-1760

Sorry: I could find nothing on either this Crucifixion sculpture or the main altar painting above.

San Antonio, Texas, Main Plaza, San Fernando Cathedral, Entrance Façade, François P. Giraud, 1868

The Cathedral, officially known as the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria y Guadalupe, was founded in 1731. The original church was built by settlers from the Canary Islands who had been sent by the Spanish government to repopulate its colonial possessions.

The church was enlarged and rebuilt in Gothic Revival style with tripartite façade, rose window and pointed arches in 1868, under the direction of François Giraud, who would become the mayor of San Antonio four years later.

The church took on the designation of Cathedral in 1874, when the Holy See made San Antonio a diocese. Since some of the original walls remain from the initial construction in the 1730s, there are those who claim that San Fernando is the oldest cathedral in the State of Texas.

San Antonio, Texas, San Fernando Cathedral, Narthex, Memorial to Alamo Heroes

Repairs to the Cathedral in 1936 unearthed what, ostensibly, were the cremated remains of the heroes of the Alamo, among them Crockett, Travis and Bowie.  As their "rough wooden coffin has moldered into dust, [so] only a few rusty nails survive," in the words of Archbishop Drossaerts, they were given a new coffin of marble and a place of honor right as one enters the Cathedral.

San Antonio, Texas, San Fernando Cathedral, Nave, Mary as Queen of Heaven

San Antonio, Texas, San Fernando Cathedral, Nave, François P. Giraud, 1868

If the exterior façade suggests the influence of early French gothic, the interior appears more Italian, with its wooden roof and rather broad nave arcade. Given the climate of San Antonio, this seems quite appropriate, and the result is a light, airy, expansive nave. Because the height of the side aisles is nearly that of the central nave, I am tempted to refer to this interior as a "hall church," which was more a design feature of German gothic. 

San Antonio, Texas, San Fernando Cathedral, Side Chapel, Retablo, Crucifixion

San Antonio, Texas, San Fernando Cathedral, Side Chapel, Retablo de Guadalupe

Three altars with major retablos in a single, large, side chapel, offer a clear indication of San Fernando's social and civic commitment, both to the earliest Canary Islanders--one of the retablos features their Virgin of Candelaria--and to today's poor and dispossessed 

San Antonio, Texas, St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Main Façade, 1868-1871

San Antonio, Texas, St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Nave, 1868-1871

This elegant, mid-19th century Gothic Revival church was built on the likely site of the second Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo) before that famous mission moved, in 1724, to its present location.   St. Joseph's served a growing congregation of German immigrants who were settling in a residential district just east of downtown. 

This, too, is a hall church, because of its high-soffited side aisles; also, its gothic features are much more consistent with a single historical style than is that of the Cathedral.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art (orig. Lone Star Brewery, 1895-1904), Main Entrance

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art (orig. Lone Star Brewery, 1895-1904), Luby Courtyard

San Antonio, Texas, Pearl Brewery, Stable, Otto Kramer, 1894

Luckily, two of San Antonio's 19th century breweries have been saved and renovated for new purposes.   The Lone Star Brewery (see the top 2 photographs, above) reopened in 1981 to become the San Antonio Museum of Art. This brewery was established in 1884 by Adolphus Busch; the extant buildings were designed for Busch about a decade later by his St. Louis architects, E. Jungenfeld and Company, in a castellated and simplified Romanesque style. 

The second brewery, located even farther north from the city center on a twenty-two acre campus, was Pearl Brewery. Renovation work progresses to transform it into a high-end living and commercial destination. Among the tenants are a 293-unit apartment complex, a 146-room hotel, a broad variety of boutique shops, restaurants, a farmer's market and the Culinary Institute of America.  The Pearl has become the anchor for San Antonio's north end.

Because on-going construction made good photographic composition difficult for many of its buildings, I selected the above shot of what was once the brewery stable. This building was re-purposed way back in the 1950s as a western-themed banquet facility and entertainment hall.

San Antonio, Fairmount Hotel,  401 South Alamo, Leo M. J. Dielmann, 1906 (moved 1986)

Situated across the street from the main entry to HemisFair Park, the Fairmount Hotel presents itself like an elegant, if slightly dowdy old dame, dressed in red brick, its bays defined by segmental arches, and an occasional foliated cast-iron column placed strategically at its entrances. I imagine it offers us a good indication of the appearance of downtown San Antonio a century ago. 

Back then, however, it actually was located downtown.  Between 1984-86, it seems that local preservationists won a battle to save the hotel from demolition, and it was moved a bit south to the historic district called La Villita.  Here is a video (17:46) of that move, which made the Guinness Book of World Records.

San Antonio, Texas, Majestic Theater, John Eberson, 1929

The majestic had once been the largest theater in Texas, the second largest in the United States, and home to the San Antonio Symphony for 25 years. It also had been the first air-conditioned Texas theater. John Eberson, its architect, made his reputation in theater design--more particularly, a type of theater known as atmospheric

The Majestic was an atmospheric theater, the purpose of which was to transport the patron into an exotic setting through trees, plants, taxidermy birds, and illusionistic lighting, especially in the domed ceilings.

San Antonio, Texas, International & Great Northern Railroad Station, Harvey L. Page, 1906-1908

San Antonio, Texas, International & Great Northern Railroad Station, Interior, Harvey L. Page, 1906-1908

The International & Great Northern Railroad (IGNRR), was created in 1873, extended to San Antonio in 1880, and finally reached Laredo and the Mexican border in December of 1881. By adding the IGNRR to its extant east-west connections via the Southern Pacific line, San Antonio prospered as a central trading hub.

However, by mid-century, railroad travel declined precipitously, and the San Antonio station was vacated around 1970 by Missouri Pacific, the new owner.   What we see now is a building restored after decades of neglect and decrepitude, rescued by the San Antonio City Employees Federal Credit Union (now Generations FCU) around 1988 as its offices. Today, the station, though not yet open to the public, is to become a transportation hub for VIA Metropolitan Transit busses and trolleys.

The quite gorgeous Mission Revival style building pictured here was designed by Harvey Lindsley Page, who had moved to San Antonio around 1900 and designed several other important buildings in the city.

San Antonio, Texas, U. S. Post Office & Courthouse, Paul Philippe Cret with Ralph H. Cameron, 1935-1937

Defining the north edge of Alamo Plaza, this elegant, Beaux-Arts design with its recessed porch and six Ionic columns in-antis was designed by the Philadelphia architect, Paul Philippe Cret.  At this time, Cret already was designing the master plan for the campus of the University of Texas, Austin, including its famous tower.
This U. S. Post Office & Courthouse was a product of the Public Works Administration and Roosevelt's New Deal. So, too, were the fresco murals painted in the spandrels of its main lobby by Howard Cook, which depict San Antonio's Importance in Texas History.

Contemporary Architecture:

San Antonio, Texas, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center (and River Walk),  1968ff

San Antonio, Texas, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, Rear facing HemisFair Park

The Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center was built as part of  HemisFair '68 by two general contractors and has since been altered and expanded into something on the order of 1.3 million square feet of inter-connected spaces.

This is not a work of architecture which stands by itself in the form of a "signature building," but it does function well as a piece of urban design because of its integration with San Antonio's famous River Walk.  Apparently, a new alteration and expansion is scheduled for 2016, to be designed by Populous.

San Antonio, Texas, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, "Texas Dignitaries" 1986-87, Sam Houston by Larry  Ludtke

San Antonio, Texas, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, "Texas Dignitaries" 1986-87, Lyndon B. Johnson by Larry Ludtke

On display in an upper level hall in the Convention Center are seventeen bronze statues of famous Texans done by six different artists between 1986 and 1987. They originally were installed at Sea World San Antonio for its grand opening in 1988 under the title, "Texas Walk."

San Antonio, Texas, Alamodome, HOK Sports Facilities Group + W. E. Simpson Company Inc., 1990-1993

San Antonio, Texas, Alamodome, HOK Sports Facilities Group + W. E. Simpson Company Inc., 1990-1993

The Alamodome is a multi-purpose facility that seats up to 72,000 people for large concerts or ca. 32,000 for basketball and hockey. The San Antonio Spurs of the NBA used it for a decade, but now play at a newer AT&T Center.  Structurally, it's a derivative of bridge design, employing 378-foot long bowstring trusses (not visible from outside) and cable stays (seen here) to support its relatively flat, nine acre roof.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Public Library, Ricardo Legorreta, 1991-1995

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Public Library, Ricardo Legorreta, 1991-1995

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Public Library, Ricardo Legorreta, 1991-1995

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Public Library, Ricardo Legorreta, 1991-1995

Ricardo Legorreta uses thick walls, often of stucco or plaster to emphasize their planarity, as the main definers of interior space. He works in simple geometric shapes, enhances these shapes with bold and earthy colors, and integrates his buildings with their environment through plantings and, very often, water.

His San Antonio Public Library is a spectacular building, inside and out.  The play of light and shadow over its surfaces as well as the ground is dramatic.  The colors are joyful and uplifting.   In an interview in 1995, Legorreta said of the colors:  “I think the bold colors signify the joy of learning and the city's bright future.”
Legorreta, himself, selected the color name that everyone now uses--"enchilada red"--from submissions by readers of the San Antonio Express-News.

The name is appropriate, since his colors are so clearly influenced by indigenous Mexican architecture. In the words of Judge Nelson Wolff, who then was the city's mayor, the library "was the first building built downtown that reflected our Hispanic heritage." 

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Public Library, Ricardo Legorreta; Dale Chihuly sculpture, Fiesta Tower,  2003

Glass artist Dale Chihuly was commissioned to make this two-story Fiesta Tower in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Central Library. It consists of 917 individual pieces of blown glass, which Chihuly says "represents the multicultural qualities of the San Antonio community and the role the Central Library plays in the lives of its people."

HemisFair Park:

San Antonio, Texas, HemisFair Park, Entrance Arch & Tower of the Americas, from West Nueva Street, 1968

San Antonio, Texas, HemisFair Park, Entrance Arch, 200 South Alamo Street, 1968

HemisFair '68 was a world's fair hosted by San Antonio between April and October, 1968. Its theme, The Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas, celebrated the many nations that settled this region of the United States. The year 1968 also coincided with the 250th anniversary of San Antonio's 1718 founding by Spanish missionaries.

The 96 acre site, slightly south of the urban center, was a "blighted" area acquired through eminent domain; only some twenty structures within it were rescued and incorporated into the exhibition. Also, the River Walk was extended over a quarter of a mile to connect with the fairgrounds. This connection of a below-grade-but-open-air, car-less paseo for pedestrians and boats makes San Antonio unique. It provides a comfortable, human-oriented transition between an urban center, a convention center, and an old fairground.

Just consider your experiences with most cities that have a convention center or an old, abandoned fairground. In most cases, getting to them from center city is challenging and discomfiting. In New York, my city, for example, I would much more readily attend shows at the Queens Museum--located on the grounds of the New York World's Fairs--were it not so challenging to get to (except, maybe, by car); and when I go to a show at the Javits Convention Center, walking those last two long blocks from 9th Avenue to 11th Avenue is like entering no-man's land.  It's a wasteland, with no storefronts; anyone on the sidewalk is going to or coming from the Javits Center. Lost is that familiar and wonderful experience of the diversity found elsewhere throughout Manhattan.

San Antonio, Texas, HemisFair Park, Southern Baptist Exhibit (orig. Sarah Riddle Eagar House, 1866), 434 South Alamo

Of the houses retained for the Fair, this appears to me to be a good example of a wealthier ranch house from the mid-19th century.

San Antonio, Texas, HemisFair Park, Acosta/Halff House, 1892

Another of the houses retained for the Fair, this one attracted me because of its eclectic combination of a Romanesque arched entry, a two-story wood porch that might be called Eastlake in style, and the gable above it, which is a sensual bit of Shingle Style.

San Antonio, Texas, HemisFair Park, Mayer Halff House, Porch, 1893

This house, which faces the one above, is equally eclectic, and the detail of this porch is even more Eastlake with its fussy, jigsawed wood detailing.  I chose this photo mainly because of the opportunity to contrast it with the ultra-simple, and in this case rather boring, modernism of the Hyatt Hotel looming in the distance.

Mayer Halff, by the way, was one of several Jews who came to San Antonio after the Civil War and, with his brother Solomon, made a fortune in the dry goods business and in cattle.   Their ranches became the third largest producers of cattle in the country, and Mayer would go on the be a founder and president of City National Bank.

San Antonio, Texas, HemisFair Park, Education Building, (orig. Kampmann/Solomon Halff House), Eaves detail, 1878

A fourth of the houses retained for the Fair, this one caught my eye because of its elegant wood brackets and dentils under the eaves against those beautifully dressed ashlar masonry walls.

San Antonio, Texas, HemisFair Park, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla statue, 1941 (Gift of Mexico to San Antonio)

San Antonio, Texas, HemisFair Park, Diana Calvillo de Chapa, La Puerta: Mi Casa Es Tu Casa, 1992 (Gift from Monterey, Mexico to San Antonio)

A smattering of public sculpture can be found in HemisFair Park: some representational pieces as Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, the "Father of Mexican Independence," and, more rarely, something abstract, like this metaphorical portal of steel, the rough coating of which makes it look almost prehistoric.

However, the Park sculpture appears placed haphazardly and not sited with much intentionality. Only as I began to write this post did I discover that HemisFair '68 originally contained 116 works of public art made by artists throughout America. Most were reclaimed after the Fair closed because San Antonio had raised no acquisition funds.

It seems that the city's elite may soon make amends for their earlier missed opportunities in this regard, as a non-profit has been formed to raise $25 million for art installations in a newly-planned, twelve acre sculpture garden in the north-west section of the Park.

San Antonio, Texas, HemisFair Park, Waterfalls

This playful composition of cascades and waterfalls is quite near to the Tower of the Americas at the eastern edge of the Park. As far as I was able to determine, it was not part of HemisFair '68. Apparently, it was built in 1986 as part of a redevelopment effort that coincided with the removal of many of the empty Fair structures.

San Antonio, Texas, HemisFair Park, O'Neil Ford, Tower of the Americas, 1968

The theme structure of HemisFair '68, the Tower of the Americas, remains the tallest building in San Antonio. The observation tower at the top also houses a bar and restaurant, which slowly rotate. The tophouse was constructed at ground level and hoisted up the poured concrete shaft by cables; when some cables snapped, the project, fittingly, was rescued by replacing the cables with oil field pipes.

Andres Andujar, the CEO of Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation, is coordinating a major project to transform HemisFair Park, in his words, into "San Antonio's front porch" by developing it into a hub for art and activity on the order of Central Park or the Champ de Mars. Watch his TED Talk [11:17] of one year ago, "Great Cities Have Great Downtowns."

Urban Sculpture:

San Antonio, Texas, Air-view to Commerce Street: Torch of Friendship [L], 2001-2002 & St. Joseph's Church [Ctr]

Public sculpture outside of HemisFair Park is hardly more abundant.  The largest and most prominent is the tall (nearly 65 feet), abstract Torch of Friendship by Sebastián--far left in the photo above.  This was gift of the Association of Mexican Businesspeople.  Unfortunately, as it is sited in the middle of a confluence of four major roads, only the boldest of pedestrians are likely to view it from close-up.

Before leaving this air view photo of Commerce Street, note how St. Joseph's Church is hemmed in. That is because the parish refused to sell to an expanding department store, Joske's, in 1945. 

San Antonio, Texas, Alamo Plaza, Pompeo Coppini, The Spirit of Sacrifice (Alamo Cenotaph), 1937-1939

The Alamo Cenotaph was commissioned by the Texas Centennial Commission, although not completed until after the official 1936 celebration of 100 years of Texas independence. This large memorial, carved from Georgia marble and pink Texas granite, sweeps south to north for forty feet, then rises up sixty feet. 

The "sacrifice" to which it refers is, of course, that of the Alamo's defenders who died in 1836 rather than surrender. It is claimed that the monument is sited on the spot of the funeral pyre where the bodies of the defenders were cremated.

The female figure we see here on the north end personifies the State of Texas, holding the shields of Texas and the United States. The two most prominent standing figures on the longer (west) side are William B. Travis and Davy Crockett.

San Antonio, Texas, Market Street, Bette Jean Alden, Samuel Gompers, 1982

Here is Samuel Gompers, founder and first president of the American Federation of Labor, speaking to working men and women, as well as the two children we see here. It seems fitting that the local sculptor used Shellcrete as the material for this memorial; Shellcrete is a strong and hardy workman's building material with a history of over two centuries in which oyster shells are converted into lime and aggregate.

But why, I wondered, is this champion of workers' unions, collective bargaining, shorter hours and better wages being given such a prominent place in a Texas city?   The answer lies with Gompers' death.  In December of 1924, he was attending a Pan-American Federation of Labor meeting in Mexico City. There, he suffered a stroke, but wished to be buried on American soil. A train rushed him to San Antonio's IGNRR depot (that we already saw) and he died a week later in a room at the St. Anthony Hotel.

In the ninety years since Gompers' death, the lives of workers certainly improved. Yet, today, workers are so sorely threatened that a quotation by Gompers, found at the base of this monument, could just as well be uttered by any contemporary American, worker or otherwise: 

What does labor want? 
We want more school houses and less jails
More books and less guns
More learning and less vice
More leisure and less greed
More justice and less revenge
We want more opportunities to cultivate our better natures.

San Antonio, Texas, Bexar County Courthouse, Gilbert Barrera, Lady Justice Fountain, 2003-2008 

Lady Justice, standing in contrapposto before the Courthouse, harks back to Hellenistic Greek Aphrodites, although her apparent breast augmentation gives away her contemporaneity. She holds the standard trappings of Justice, or Iustitia: the scales to balance truth and indicate fairness; the double-edged sword to indicate the power of reason and justice; the blindfold as an assurance of impartiality. These three attributes are gilded so that they are more visually prominent.

Also, she stands on the earth's globe while being framed by a broad ribbon, an ancient symbol of the sky and heavens. Both Justice and the fountain structure were badly damaged and only recently moved to this location. Taking advantage of this re-installation, the City managed to conserve water by using the air conditioning systems of the Courthouse and a second building as the fountain's water source.

San Antonio, Texas, City Hall, Waldine Amanda Tauch, Moses Austin, 1937-1939

Stephen F. Austin may be known as the "Father of Texas," but it was Moses Austin, his father, who actually persuaded the Spanish government in 1820 to permit him to settle 300 Anglo-American families in what is now known as Texas. The son carried out the colonization at the request of his dying father.

San Antonio was where Moses Austin travelled from his home in Missouri to press his case for colonization.  Here, on the lawn before City Hall, Moses Austin stands, hat in left hand while facing west toward that part of New Spain that would become Texas. In his right hand, he holds a scroll--the official land grant from Spain.
The four low-relief panels on the base beneath his feet narrate four episodes of his life, in the manner of predella panels in an an early Renaissance altarpiece.  

San Antonio, Texas, Main Plaza, Historiated Paving (1862 riot in the Plaza)

Among the paving bricks in San Antonio's Main Plaza, which opens out before San Fernando Cathedral, I discovered this Historiated Paving stone. In low relief, it shows armed horsemen on the right. On the left is some text taken from the Semi-Weekly News, 1862; it speaks of rioters taking over the plazas and streets, of shots fired, and of possibly taking revenge for some unnamed "injustice" by some Mexican member of "Capt. Peñaloza's company."

The only connection I could find is to certain Christmas Eve riots of 1862 by members of a Confederate company who served under a Major Taylor. They later were driven out of the city by a dozen or so Mexican soldiers under Captain Peñaloza. 

This paver was carved to resemble an actual page of the newspaper. I would love to know more about it and whether there are other such historiated paving stones in the Plaza or elsewhere. At any rate, this small discovery is a reason to keep one's eyes peeled in all directions.

King William District:

San Antonio, Texas, King William District, House, South Alamo Street

San Antonio, Texas, King William District, House, King William Manor, South Alamo Street, 1892

The King William District consists of some twenty-five blocks within easy walking distance of the city center to its north. This area originally was the farmland for Mission San Antonio de Valero (Alamo), but when the mission was secularized, it was divided among its Indian families or sold at auction.  During the 1860's, it was subdivided and its present street system was laid out. 

It was here that many of the German settlers bought houses and settled in the decades after the Civil War.  In 1867, one of them, Ernst Hermann Altgelt built the first house on a street that he then named King William Street, after Wilhelm I of Prussia. 

Spacious houses like these, with two-story classical columns supporting broad verandahs, typify the elegance of King William. The top house now serves as offices for a personal injury law firm. The bottom one is the residence of innkeepers, whose guest Inn is the adjacent house, built in 1901.

San Antonio, Texas, King William District, House, Norton-Polk-Mathis House (Villa Finale), 1876/1904ff, King William Street

This lavish Italianate home was purchased in 1967 by a local preservationist, Walter Nold Mathis. He had it completely restored as his final home (thus its title, Villa Finale), and then he bought, restored, and sold over a dozen other area homes, greatly contributing to the revival of this residential district. 

San Antonio, Texas, King William District, Friendly Spot Ice House, Gun Warning Signs, South Alamo Street

This outdoor beer garden and restaurant caught my attention because it was the only time that I encountered weapon warning signs in San Antonio.

In contrast, once outside of San Antonio, Texas openly asserts its love of the gun. Jack's Outfitters [see photograph below] in the hill country does so with gusto. Among these many signs in support of the Second Amendment are the following:

Invest in precious metals: buy lead

Prayer is the best way to meet the Lord; trespassing is faster

Warning: if you are found here tonight, you will be found here tomorrow

Gods, guns & guts made America free; let's keep it that way

I'd rather have a gun in my hand than a cop on the phone

Guns are welcome on premises...

Fredericksburg, Texas, Jack's Outfitters, Gun Warning Signs, North Adams Street

Near West:

San Antonio, Texas, Market Square: El Mercado, Souvenir Guitars, West Commerce Street

San Antonio, Texas, Derelict Hotel, West Commerce Street (at Frio Street)

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Bail Bond Establishments, West Commerce Street

These first three photographs record my progress as I walked west down West Commerce Street from downtown. To be accurate, this is not the Near West. It's a local historical district called Cattleman Square and designated so only in 1988. It's an area still awaiting urban renewal, as these last two photographs suggest: a derelict hotel to the east of the railroad tracks and several bail bond offices to the west (the Bexar County Jail is located a few blocks north).

Market Square, or El Mercado, pictured in the top photograph, is much closer in to the city center on West Commerce. It is a three-block, outdoor plaza of over 100 shops, restaurants and produce stands and is, reputedly, the largest Mexican market in the United States

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Plaza Guadalupe, 1984-1987, showing General Ignacio Zaragoza statue & Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 1926

Plaza Guadalupe, located well into the Near West, is the center of the revival of San Antonio's low-income Hispanic barrio. A prize-winning design by Reyna Caragonne Architects, it combines shaded plazas, an open air theater, a playground and market spaces that have been used for informal public events as well as solemn ceremonies.  On September 13, 1987, Pope John Paul II gave an oration from the Plaza--the only speech he gave in Spanish during his visit to the United States. Presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke here in 2008.

The statue of General Zaragoza, facing Our Lady of Guadalupe Church to seen in the background, commemorates the man who defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862--a battle celebrated and best remembered for its date, Cinco de Mayo.

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Joe's Aluminum Repair Shop, Guadalupe Street

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Mr. Pinguino Shaved Ice, Guadalupe Street

Here are two wonderful examples of the entrepreneurial spirit of family-owned businesses in the barrio:  Joe's Aluminum Shop, where one can repair or purchase new windows and doors, and Mr. Pinguino's (Mr. P's), which offers shaved ice (raspas), "street food," and boasts a welcoming back patio. Both are on Guadalupe Street, several blocks further west from the Plaza.

Near West Mural Art:

San Antonio, Texas, New Chapa Lion Mural, Jesse Treviño, 2000, Mosaic, Santa Rosa Street (at West Commerce Street)

The attraction of visiting a new city is the delight of visual discovery. I sometimes may direct those discoveries, however, with the help of prior research. In the case of my San Antonio visit, I knew I would encounter some potentially interesting mural art by walking west, into the barrio.

The New Chapa Lion Mural was the first of my discoveries. It is adjacent to and just east of El Mercado. With the exception of the two men walking on the far left and the one man walking behind the tree on the far right, all the other figures are part of this painted ceramic tile mural. These people appear to actually be on the sidewalk, with ladders, in the act of hanging an enormous, framed painting of lions on the outside wall of the building.

This powerful piece of trompe l'oeil references a lion mural, the Chapa Lion, that had been painted on the nearby Lion Drugstore (La Botica de Leon), which was razed in 1970.  Goodwill, which owns the building we see here, commissioned Jesse Treviño to create this New Chapa Lion Mural thirty years later.

Jesse Treviño was born in Monterrey, Mexico, but his parents moved to San Antonio's Near West when he was quite young. He is a major artist despite the fact that he lost his right arm in 1967 in the Vietnam War and had to re-train himself to paint left-handed when he returned home.

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, La Música de San Anto, David Blancas (lead muralist), 2009, West Commerce Street (A-Amigo Bail Bonds Building)

Across the street for those bail bond establishments seen earlier is this, another bail bond agency.  It proudly hosts the largest of the murals sponsored by the San Anto Cultural Arts (SACA). SACA's Community Mural & Public Arts Program trains inner city youth in the skills of art and allows them to assist major mural artists. It is responsible for over fifty murals in the Near West.

This mural depicts and honors eight of San Antonio's most famous musicians. They are Randy Garibay, Rocky Morales, Clifford Scott, Felix Villarreal, Manuel “Manny” Castillo, Eva Garza, Doug Sahm, Lydia Mendoza, and Valerio Longoria.

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, La Música de San Anto, David Blancas (lead muralist), 2009, West Commerce Street, detail, L to R: Eva Garza; Doug Sahm; Rosita Fernandez; Lydia Mendoza

Eva Garza (far left) was a famous cabaret actress and singer of the 1940s-1950s as well as, in High School, a talented Chicana basketball star.  Here she is, singing Arrepentido [2:49]

Doug Sahm (center left), the founder of the Sir Douglas Quartet and, later, the Texas Tornados, is considered a major Tex-Mex musician.  Here we hear him perform She's About a Mover [6:39].

Rosita Fernandez (center right) was a Tejano singer, actress and radio star, "San Antonio's First Lady of Song."  Here she sings Mi Fracaso [2:49].

Lydia Mendoza (right), painted here in grisaille with her guitar, was known as "The Lark of the Border" (La Alondra de la Frontera).  Here she plays and sings Malagueña Salerosa [3:52].

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, La Música de San Anto, David Blancas (lead muralist), 2009, West Commerce Street, detail, L to R: Valerio Longoria; Clifford Scott; Rocky Morales; Felix Villareal; Manny Castillo

Saxophonist Clifford Scott got an early break when, at age fourteen, he filled in with Lionel Hampton for a local gig. The international hit song, Honky Tonk (1956), was one of his compositions, which we hear him playing in this famous release with Bill Doggett on the Hammond [5:24].

Among the other musicians seen here are saxophonist Rocky Morales, guitarist Felix Villareal, and drummer Manny Castillo. Manny also served as executive director of SACA until his untimely death to cancer at the age of forty.  Here he is playing with the local indie-punk band, Snowbyrd [4:29]. 

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, You Are Not Forgotten, Mike Roman, 2006, West Commerce Street & South Colorado Street

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, You Are Not Forgotten, Mike Roman, 2006, detail, West Commerce Street & South Colorado Street

Mike Roman has painted a panorama with scenes from the Vietnam War: in the air, a jet, four helicopters, three transport planes; below, a swift-boat on a river patrol, foot soldiers on patrol, a resting soldier reading a letter. Then, lined up on the front plane, is the memorial: 36 pairs of boots.

We are told Mike Roman's father served in Vietnam and that he dedicated this mural to his brother. We know the symbolism of empty boots as part of a tribute to dead soldiers, each pair molded to the specific person. We know the importance of comfortable boots to a soldier (or anyone else). We even know that the boot represents a legacy, at least since Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), which begins with the question of who will inherit the dying Kemmerich's boots?

Is there, however, some significance to 36 pair of boots?  The mural is located very near Edgewood High School. Ten graduates from the class of 1967 died in Vietnam, as did fifty-two residents from this district.  The numbers may not add up precisely, but the message can hardly be clearer.

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Leaders in the Community, Valerie Aranda (lead muralist), 2006, South Colorado Street

Lideres de la Comunidad acknowledges the Near West and its people.  For instance, in this full view, the largest face is of a young woman shown in 3/4 view.  She is Emma Tenayuca, a Mexican-American labor leader who led a successful strike for better pay in 1938 with the city's 12,000 pecan-shellers. This has been called the first major victory in the Mexican-American fight for economic equality in the United States. To quote Emma, who lived until 1999:  "I just have a feeling, a very strong feeling, that if ever this world is civilized, it would be more the work of women." 

Amen to that, I say.

Among the other important residents pictured in Lideres... is the man wearing a hat on the far right.  He is Trinidad Sanchez, Jr., a one-time Jesuit and Chicano poet who focused on cultural and social issues. Among his best-known poems is Why am I so brown?   
The shallow-arched building that surrounds him with the name, La Gloria, was a neighborhood gas station, but also much more, including a movie theater and roof-top dance pavilion that would become an iconic social center until it was razed in 2002. 

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Leaders in the Community, Valerie Aranda (lead muralist), 2006, detail, South Colorado Street

Clearly, Lideres... is all about the fight for social justice, as we can see in the detail above with demonstrators carrying signs demanding justice for workers and calling for the end of border killings.  The man with palette and brushes is Rudy Garcia, one of the founders of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Ancestors, El Chilaquil Restaurant, West Commerce Street

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Ancestors, El Chilaquil Restaurant, West Commerce Street

On its inside, this unassuming restaurant has murals, seemingly, on every available wall. All appear to focus on the owning family's ancestry. The top picture shows the wall behind the bandstand in the center of the dining room. With the exception of spatial depth in its center, which reveals a broad, but shallow river (possibly the Rio Grande?), the mural is all foreground, filed with ancestor "portraits" in ancient headdresses. To the left of center,  also in the foreground, is what appears to be a version of the Aztec "calendar stone," or Sun Stone.  This was carved with the main features of Mexica cosmogony. 

The lower picture, located behind the checkout counter, creates what would appear to be a history of the owning family from its Aztec roots on left--note the Mesoamerican pyramid, the feathered serpent below and the wind god Ehecatl above--then to Spanish discovery, conquest, and the 17th century Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary in Mexico City in the center, and on to contemporary family portraits on the right.

Here is the embodiment of cultural pride that informs almost all of the public art of San Antonio's Near West. 

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Mano a Mano, The Future Is Ours, J. Ramos/M. Roman/J. Torres, 1999, North Pinto Street at West Commerce Street

A call for building community and understanding between San Antonio and the Spanish speakers of our hemisphere (the Tower of the Americas is painted next to the map of the Western Hemisphere) was commissioned by People en Español magazine in support of an annual conference of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies. 

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Herbolaria La India, Mary Agnes Rodriguez (lead muralist), 2004, mosaic, detail, West Commerce Street

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Herbolaria La India, Mary Agnes Rodriguez (lead muralist), 2004, mosaic, detail, West Commerce Street

This Botánica, or retail store dealing in folk medicines, alternative medicine and religious amulets, has a front covered with depictions of herbal cures, curanderas, and Aztec imagery done in paint and stained glass mosaic.

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Plaza Guadalupe, Dualidad, Jane Madrigal (mural co-ordinator), 2005, El Paso Street

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Plaza Guadalupe, Dualidad, Jane Madrigal (mural co-ordinator), 2005,detail, El Paso Street

I suspect that the "duality" of this mural's title embodies several levels of meaning. On a cosmic level, we see the sun and a fiery left hand above it on the mural's left side. Balancing these on the right side is the moon and, above, an extended right hand.

On a historical level, we see--centered--a Mesoamerican pyramid, and this is encased by the outline of a building that rises in right-angled steps and culminates in an arched top. These two architectures represent the ancient Aztec culture encased within the later European (or Spanish) culture.

That encasing outline is clearly a Baroque form, much like the façade of the late 18th century Church of San Bernardino Tlaxcalancingo

Maybe a third duality is contemporary, suggested by the human families portrayed on the mural's two ends.

Centering the entire composition is a stalk of corn, flanked by hummingbirds. This, I imagine, refers to the early cultivation of corn, which began in the Tehuacan Valley as early as 5000 B.C., while the hummingbird is associated with the Aztec sun god, Huitzilopochtli, who guided the Aztecs into Mexico.

Huitzilopochtli, as well, embodied a duality, as the son of the female and male aspects of the primordial god, Ometeotl. 

There is much more to this mural, including its connection to the Virgin of Guadalupe and her church directly across the street, but I leave any further iconography to those with some expertise in the subject.

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Plaza Guadalupe, La Veladora of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Jesse Treviño, 2006, mosaic, Guadalupe Street

Situated on the opposite side of Plaza Guadalupe from Dualidad is Jesse Treviño's La Veladora of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A veladora is a votive candle, only this one can't be taken home to light in private. This veladora is forty feet high and is attached to the side of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center building.

It was dedicated to the victims of the 9/11 attacks and contains an eternal flame that doubles as a neighborhood beacon.

For the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe and her miraculous appearances before the Aztec Indian, Juan Diego, in December of 1531, see this link.  Her miracle at Tepeyac, near present-day Mexico City, would result in eight million natives converting to Catholicism by 1538. She became the image of Mexico, both for the European Spanish and native Mexica.   Thus, she also is associated with those founding symbols of Aztec Tenochtitlan (Mexico City): the eagle, snake and Opuntia cactus that we see pictured behind her.

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Familia y Cultura...Es Vida, Andrea Rivas, 2011, El Paso Street

Showing typical activities of automobile maintenance and modification, playing music, and dancing, this mural is interesting because it is a reproduction of the original. The original dated from 1995 and was only the second mural project made under  SACA. 

After the original building was condemned and razed, a new muralist, Andrea Rivas, was assigned to recreate the painting on this neighborhood panderia, known for forty years for its pan dulce.

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, La Gloria, Giovanni's Pizza and Gelateria, South Brazos Street

Giovanni's was started by Brooklyn native John 'Giovanni' Gagliano. The mural on its side is usually simply called La Gloria, as it depicts that cultural landmark gas station and dance hall known by that name.  

However, we can see the head and extended right arm of the Virgin hovering protectively over the building while the sun's rays associated with Our Lady of Guadalupe radiate out from behind the station. The full title of the mural is La Gloria en Los Brazos de Guadalupe--"La Gloria in the arms of Our Lady of Guadalupe."

I suspect that the artist, David Blancas, wanted to convey the social and cultural importance of Matilde Elizondo's gas station-dance hall-theater-pastry shop to the Near West by placing it under the Virgin's protection.  After all, "la gloria" can also serve in Spanish for "heaven," even if cielo or paraíso are the more standard terms.

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Comprando y Prestando, Mary Helen Herrera, 1996, San Jacinto Street at Guadalupe Street

On the side of El Parian Market we see ten natives who appear to be bartering various crafts or food. They are flanked by larger-scale Aztec warriors, one presenting an ear of corn, the other blowing into a conch shell.

In the sky above them a text, signed by the artist, reads: 

This is the way of our people, 
Sharing talents, food, & land, 
Giving to your neighbor, friends & family, 
A word of wisdom if you can... 
Let us live in harmony once again.

Although the simple translation of the title, Comprando y Prestando would be "shopping and paying," I imagine they may be  translated more appropriately as "investing and lending."

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Seeds of Solidarity, Mary Agnes Rodriguez & Jose Cosme, 2005, Hope/Action/Care Building, Guadalupe Street

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Seeds of Solidarity, Mary Agnes Rodriguez & Jose Cosme, 2005, detail, Hope/Action/Care Building, Guadalupe Street

Hope/Action/Care is a national non-profit facility for the treatment of substance abuse, HIV and STD.  This particular venue is now closed, and as of October, 2014 its new owner has whitewashed the entire mural.

The central, and largest image, is the poet Raúl R. Salinas, holding a heart and a feather. Salinas has championed human rights, social justice and, in particular, prisoner rights.  Other Latino heroes depicted here include Carmelo Antonio Tranchese, a Jesuit advocate for public housing;   Patricia Castillo, a major figure in the fight against domestic violence;   the labor organizer Emma Tenayuca, who we encountered earlier;   and the political fighter Rosie Castro, who may be known best as the mother of Mayor Julián Castro and State Representative, Joaquín Castro.

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Brighter Days, Adriana Garcia (lead muralist), 2007, Community Mental Health Clinic, South Zarzamora Street

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Brighter Days, Adriana Garcia (lead muralist), 2007, detail, Community Mental Health Clinic, South Zarzamora Street

Depictions of mental health struggles, painted on the front of this clinic were inspired by conversations with patients and staff at the Center for Healthcare Services. It's a powerful, eye-catching composition in red and blue. 

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Breaking the Cycle, Mary Agnes Rodriguez (lead muralist), 2002, San Fernando Street at South Zarzamora Street

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Breaking the Cycle, Mary Agnes Rodriguez (lead muralist), 2002, detail, San Fernando Street at South Zarzamora Street

This all-over, two-dimensional composition of simplified figures addresses all forms of abuse: substance abuse, abuse of the elderly, dating violence, family violence, child abuse, mental abuse, and physical abuse. It also offers solutions in the way of telephone hotline numbers and other contact information for anybody needing help.

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Imagenes de Mi Pueblo, Jesse Treviño, 1982, Wells Fargo Bank, Castroville Road

This mural, painted on a single piece of canvas 54-feet long and 12-feet high is another monumental work by Jesse Treviño.  To do it, he was given access to the bank during evenings and weekends.

Its title, Imagenes de Mi Pueblo, may best be translated as both "images of my town" and "images of my people," given that the foreground is dominated by Mexican-American people and their activities: a cattle drive, a family dressed for church service, a full-skirted woman dancing, an outdoor market, a peasant potter, and a Mariachi band.

In the mid-ground and background, we recognize San Fernando Cathedral, the Tower of the Americas, the Alamo and other missions.  It is a romanticized tribute to the city of San Antonio, with a special focus on its historical roots.

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Tradición y Cultura [L], Ruth Buentello, et. al., 2001, Educación [R], Cruz Ortiz, 1994, South Chupaderas Street at Guadalupe Street

Both of these murals address aspects of Mexican-American culture in the Near West.  Tradición y Cultura, on the left (also known as "Sweet As Candy," the words on the license plate) places front-and-center a bright magenta 1949 (my guess) Chevrolet convertible.  To its left is Our Lady Of Guadalupe;  on the right, symbols of royalty;  in the background, the San Antonio skyline.

The car is a lowrider, a once mass-produced vehicle modified and personalized by body customizing, paint, often neon illumination, and the requisite hydraulic jacks that enable it to hop, jump, tilt and, most importantly, ride low to the pavement. 

Lowriding style began in California, from where migrants brought it into Texas.  Here, it became an art form specifically identified with, and practiced by, Chicanos. Thus, the lowrider car is now associated with Mexican-American culture, and those slow, low cars, cruising the boulevards in the evening hours are simply the modern version of the Latin tradition of the Paseo, the leisurely evening stroll.  

As Dino Penuelas, one San Antonio lowrider, insisted, “what we do is not the fashion, this is a lifestyle — eating tacos, driving our low-lows and hanging with family.” Another practitioner observes, I'm sure hinting at lowriding's sexy, slow, unaggressive nature: "Low riding is the Chicano American Graffiti."

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Educación, Cruz Ortiz, 1994, South Chupaderas Street at Guadalupe Street

Educación, the mural on the right, is a fairly clear plea to end gang warfare (the skeletons) in the barrio by learning one's heritage and embracing its cultural lessons, seen in the Mesoamerican step pyramids.

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, En Aquellos Tiempos...Fotohistorias del Westside, Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, Guadalupe Street

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, En Aquellos Tiempos...Fotohistorias del Westside, Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, Guadalupe Street

The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, an important fighter of inequality and champion of civil rights and economic justice, began a program in 2006 to place photo-banners featuring residents of earlier generations.  So far, over fifty photographs cover a twelve-block area centered on Guadalupe and San Jacinto Streets.

Besides the photographs, each participant also shares stories of her/his earlier experiences that help to bridge the generations. Anyone can join in this sharing of personal history on the first Saturday of every month. 

In the three images directly above, the identifications are as follows (left-to-right): 

1923: Maria Ramirez Merla, who lived at 1322 W. Travis;  

1913: Alejandro Benavidez at age two;  

1900s: The Madrid family photo. Born in 1902, Tibursio Madrid, father of Gabriel Madrid, sits to the right of the bride. Sam Madrid, cousin of Tibursio, sits to the left of the groom.

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Cassiano Homes, 1953, Golgotha, murals from the 1980s, San Lino Street

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Cassiano Homes, 1953, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, murals from the 1980s, South Laredo Street

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Cassiano Homes, 1953, Emiliano Zapata, murals from the 1980s, Hidalgo Street

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Cassiano Homes, 1953, Benito Juarez, murals from the 1980s, Loma Vista Street

San Antonio, Texas, Near West, Cassiano Homes, 1953, Henry B. Gonzalez, murals from the 1980s, San Carlos Street

All the murals of the Near West are emblematic of a progressive impulse to cultivate community and social good, at least among San Antonio's Latino population.  As one long-time (white) resident proudly informed me, San Antonio, among the large Texas conurbations, "may be the only one to have not only a county-wide public health system providing free medical care but also free mental health care." Now, that's progressive!

Certainly the Cassiano Homes (above) indicate an equally progressive and enlightened approach to public housing for low-income families.  Built in 1953 and still looking well-maintained, they consist of 499 two-story units with a park, pool, and plenty of open space.

The Community Cultural Arts Organization began painting murals on the un-fenestrated ends of the houses, starting in the 1970s. There now are over 200 of these murals, a cooperative venture between community organizers and neighborhood youth. Most focus on historical, political, or religious Mexican-Americans.

The five I have selected are Christ on Golgotha (Calvary);  Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a leader in the Mexican War of Independence;  Emiliano Zapata, a major figure in the Mexican Revolution and the founder of the Zapatismo agrarian movement;  Benito Juarez, a 19th-century democratic reformer and president of Mexico;  and Henry B. Gonzalez, the 20th-century democratic politician and member of Congress after whom the San Antonio Convention Center is named.

Selections from the Museum of Art:

The San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) is best known for two collections. One consists of pre-Columbian, Spanish Colonial and Latin American Folk Art, particularly since 1985 when it received major gifts from the collections of Nelson A. Rockefeller and Robert K. Winn. The other is a growing collection of Asian art, particularly that of Chinese ceramics; the Lenora and Walter F. Brown Asian Art Wing, which opened in 2005, has made the Museum "the largest center for Asian art in the southern United States." 

I left these collections for future visit, however, and chose to see what SAMA offered in the way of contemporary North American art. As I first entered  a small gallery on the second floor, I was taken aback to see an entire room devoted to political responses of contemporary artists. "Was this a special show," I wondered?" No it wasn't, I soon discovered. 

Because of this unanticipated progressive focus, I decided to take pictures of SAMA's contemporary collection. Even those pieces that lacked a political or social focus were very high-quality examples of their genre. As for the political pieces, I would argue that they constituted a higher percentage of all the contemporary art on display than any other museum I knew.

"Wow, and this is Texas," I said to myself.  Is there a connection between SAMA's contemporary collection and the progressive focus of San Antonio's Near West murals? I discovered the answer to this also was "no."   It turns out that San Antonio is not particularly liberal among Texas cities.  Austin leads in this regard, followed by Dallas and Houston; San Antonio falls right in the center of this scale, with even Corpus Christi ranking as a bit more moderate.

I offer the following photographs either because of the political focus of the work of art or because of its high quality. These are the works that "caught my eye."

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Gordon Parks, American Gothic 1942, photograph, 1942

In this conscious appropriation of Grant Wood's iconic American Gothic painting of 1930, a young Gordon Parks poses Ella Watson, a cleaning woman at the Farm Security Administration building in Washington, D.C., and thus radically changes Wood's narrative.

During the Great Depression, the original American Gothic became associated with the virtues of hard labor and moral strength.  In it, an Iowan farm family was seen as a continuing embodiment that pioneering American spirit that carried back to our Founding Fathers (at least as that spirit was imbued in our Caucasian citizens)

To reinforce this down-on-the-farm morality during the Depression, Grant Wood stated"All the good ideas I've ever had came to me while I was milking a cow."  This moral myth of the self-sufficient (and white) American pioneer still seems to hang over some of today's more conservative Iowans.  Who can forget Joni Ernst's boast:  "I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so...I'll know how to cut pork." 

And just last week this same Joni Ernst, now Iowa's freshman Senator, offered the Republican response to the State of the Union message with the image of "rows and rows of young Iowans with bread bags slipped over their feet. Our parents may not have had much, but they worked hard for what they did have.”

Myths die slowly, and we seldom subject them to hard analysis. If we did, we might question the poverty of certain Iowan school children who lack money for galoshes but whose family benefitted from over $460,000 in federal farm subsidies, as did Joni Ernst's.

If only Gordon Parks, who also was the director of the 1971 movie, Shaft, were still alive today and able to respond to Joni Ernst!

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Carrie Mae Weems, Mirror Mirror, photograph, 1987

In this manipulated photograph, Carrie Mae Weems shows herself looking into a mirror that she holds close to her. Looking out at her from the mirror is another woman, possibly white but maybe a light-skinned black. 

Here, as in many other works by Weems, the text seen below is integral. It reads as follows: “Looking into the mirror, the black woman asked, ‘Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?’ The mirror says, ‘Snow White you black bitch, and don’t you forget it!!!”

While Gordon Parks appropriates the compositional motif of a well-known, earlier work of art for his photograph, Carrie Mae Weems adopts a well-know fairy tale, the Brothers Grimm's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

On one level, they share a goal which Weems defines in this way:  "Let me say that my primary concern in art, as in politics, is with the status and place of Afro-Americans in our country." However, the mirror answers Weems with what can be perceived as a joke or a put-down; and if we assume the face in the mirror represents a black woman, her response must be construed as a form of internalized racism within the black community, as Andrea Kirsh has suggested.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Paul Manes, 120-MM, oil/canvas, 1987

The title of this painting refers to the forbidding cannon shown in extreme foreshortening, the M256 120 mm smoothbore cannon of the M1 Abrams tank, which America first tested in combat in 1991, during Operation Desert Storm.

This painting is not a political statement. It's more like something between a still life and a portrait, executed in a highly painterly manner that owes much to the work of old masters like Caravaggio and Ribera, whom this Texan, Paul Manes, had studied on trips to Southern Europe.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Robbie Conal, Holy Homophobia!, lithograph, 1990

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Robbie Conal, Freedom From Choice, lithograph, 1992

Back to politics with these two prints by Robbie Conal. Conal, whose parents were both union organizers, made his name by assembling a "guerilla poster army" at night and putting up posters throughout various American cities. Here is an extensive interview [1:23:17] he did in 2013 for The Young Turks if you have the time and inclination to watch it.

Holy Homophobia! frames the head of Jesse Helms, who unendingly had attacked the National Endowment of the Arts and, in particular, some of the homosexual artists it supported. Conal gives Helms a halo in the form of a palette in which the artist's thumb hole penetrates the skull of the ex-Senator from North Carolina: sainthood of a dubious nature, this. He also succeeded in placing this image on an enormous billboard that he had rented in Los Angeles.

Freedom From Choice depicts the six male Justices of the Supreme Court who voted to restrict a woman's right to abortion (1989) and in upholding a lower court ruling that curbed abortion counseling in public clinics (1991). Justice Clarence Thomas (accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill) is shown ready to replace the essential preposition "of" with "from," and so redefine, the meaning of one's freedom of choice. 

In fact, the Freedom of Choice Act, put forth by the 110th Congress, as a way to clarify and codify Roe v. Wade, has never been enacted. Also, ever since the 1973 enactment of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court has chipped away at the freedoms of a woman to choose. Conal accuses six white men with interfering with a woman's ability to decide what is best for her and her body.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Willie Cole, How Do You Spell America #6, oilstick/chalk/latex on wood, 1993

Willie Cole, a sculptor and conceptual artist, here uses words and text as art and message. This is one of eight "blackboards" that he created to define America. He claims to have arrived at the words written on these "blackboards" by watching television news and writing down all the words used by the pundits that began with the letters: A, M, E, R, I, C, A. He also gleaned the New York Times for more words. 

Read left-to-right, these words have an uncanny and often unsettling way of encapsulating aspects of America: 

"At Medical Emergency Rooms Inadequate Care Abounds;"  

"A Multi Ethnic Rule Isn't Coming Anymore;"

"After Midday Entire Remaining Inventory Cut Again;" 

"A Melting-pot Empire Rejects Immigrants Coming Ashore;" 

"Activist Minister Espouses Rightwing Ideological Christian Agenda;" 

"Able Men Everywhere Rate It Choice A."

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Enrique Chagoya, The Adventures of the Modernist Cannibals, color lithograph/woodcut/chine collé on amate paper, 1999

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Enrique Chagoya, The Adventures of the Modernist Cannibals, color lithograph/woodcut/chine collé on amate paper, 1999

Mexican-born Enrique Chagoya has assembled a series of prints into an accordion-like book that masquerade as early Meso-american codices, even to the amate paper, made from the bark of the wild fig. Combining imagery from pre-Columbian mythology, European religious iconography and American popular culture, he creates a compelling, fictitious narrative. 

The reference to "cannibals" in the title may well allude to a concept of anti-colonialism in which this "Mayan codex" "ingests" the art forms of Europe and North America. For example, Adelita (seen in the top image) reworks the stereotype of the Mexican woman by assuming the persona of an American Wonderwoman as she fights two very French-looking gendarmes.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Marilyn Lanfear, Library Table with Ink Paintings, ink/paper/vintage frames/antique table, 2001

An interesting piece, in that an antique library table, like grandma might have in her parlor, is filled with what appear to be framed family photographs. However, these many frames are filled with replicas of her family portraits that Lanfear has painted in ink. In her words: “I am a visual storyteller who translates personal family stories into a common mythology of family generational connections.”

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Henry Stein, Shifting Boundaries, Shanghai, grain sifter/maps/bronze figure on wood frame, 2002

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Henry Stein, Shifting Boundaries, Shanghai, grain sifter/maps/bronze figure on wood frame, detail, 2002

An interesting piece, although I have found nothing about the artist.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Ed Saavedra, Milk, acrylic on canvas, 2009

Another strong piece, also of progressive social relevance, in that Harvey Milk was the first openly-gay politician to hold office in California.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Hank Willis Thomas, Strange Fruit, photograph (digital c-print), 2011

A beautiful, yet harrowing image of a well-muscled black basketball player passively hanging as his right hand and basketball pass through a hangman's noose--the noose, a substitute for a basketball rim.

As Thomas once observed in reference to his art, "black male identity, as we know it started with slavery in the United States, not in Africa. I’m interested in the way that black men are the most feared and revered bodies in the world in this weird way."

How should we interpret this work? Does the noose represent the America's slave past while the player, the well-paid athlete of today?  The title--Strange Fruit--suggests otherwise.  It clearly alludes to Abel Meeropol's 1937 poem of the same name, a protest against racism and lynching of black Americans. Two years later, Billie Holiday would sing it [2:33]:

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood on the root
Black bodies swingin' in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin' from the poplar trees...

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Raul Castellanos, Post-Apocalyptic Fury of Alcoholism and Consumerism: an altar of martyrdom, rebirth, and process-based art, found objects on wood resurrected after original burned during ritual performance/recycled paints, 2012

Raul Castellanos is a deaf sculptor whose work deals with his own recovery from addiction and mental health issues as well as, so he says, our ecosystem's recovery from environmental disasters. Here he collages whiskey bottles, chains, wire, toy cars, shoes and other found objects and covers them with recycled gold paint.

For him, the making of art is salvation, or, as he puts it, "I have to do my art to stay clean."

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Ernest Lawson, High Bridge Harlem, 1912, oil on canvas

What a nice surprise to be visiting San Antonio and encountering this beautiful American Impressionist painting by the founder of the Harlem River School depicting a landmark less than two miles from where I live.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Robert Henri, Spanish Gypsy, 1924, oil on canvas

Robert Henri, a contemporary of Lawson and leader of The Eight, to which Lawson also belonged, shows his power as a portraitist in this work, inspired by his trips to Spain. 

The gypsy, in particular, attracted Henri, as he mentioned in his writings: “Always the hands of the gypsies are most interesting.... I always feel when in the presence of a gypsy, however uncouth he may be, that I am in the presence of an aristocrat.”

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Irene Rice Pereira, Pillar of Fire, 1955, oil on canvas

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #53, 1972, oil on canvas

Two gorgeous examples of American Abstract Expressionism: the geometric abstraction of Irene Rice Pereira, and the luminous abstractions of Richard Diebenkorn from his years painting in Santa Monica.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Diego Rivera, The Bricklayer, 1904, oil on canvas

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Diego Rivera, La Siesta, 1926, oil on canvas

Here is a telling contrast in styles between an early Diego Rivera and a later one with its powerful, reductive and more confident forms.  As Rivera commented on his return to Mexico in 1921 from Europe, "I painted as naturally as I breathed....The secret of my best work is that it is Mexican."

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Irma Palacios, Cipactli, 1992, oil on canvas

A beautiful abstraction, but I can find little about the artist. The title, however--Cipactli--comes from classical Nahuatl and refers to the crocodile which, in Aztec cosmology stood for the earth floating in its primeval waters.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Claudio Bravo, Venus, 1979, oil on canvas

The Chilean, Claudio Bravo, offers a stunning Latin beauty as his Venus.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Anonymous (Mexican), Bust of a Woman, late 20th Century, wood

Even more beautiful in some ways than Bravo's Venus is this bit of folk art from Mexico.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, James Surls, Dragon Lady, 1973, wood (Ponderosa & Yellow Pine)

I love the jagged, tortured bends of the pine trunk of this piece, located on the second floor landing of the museum. I think that the natural wood generates a powerful dialogue with the artist that I find more compelling than his more monumental pieces in bronze, such as those installed temporarily on Park Avenue in New York in 2009.

As to the characteristics of Dragon Lady, which Milton Caniff first introduced to the world in 1935 in his comic strip, Terry and the Pirates, Surls' piece possesses one in abundance: prickliness; others, such as vampish and exotic, are less in evidence.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Dionicio Rodriguez, Urrutia Arch, 1930

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Dionicio Rodriguez, Urrutia Arch, detail, 1930

Tucked away in the Museum's Luby Courtyard is this gorgeous tiled gate. It once marked an entrance to a 15-acre garden built by Doctor Aureliano Urrutia on land that he purchased in 1921 between Broadway and the San Antonio River. The garden served as his private retreat.

Among the tile decoration, we the Virgin of Guadalupe (top center) flanked by peacocks (which Urrutia kept in his garden) and  
decorative vases. On the vertical piers, among other things, one can make out floral motifs and rampant, yellow lions. I found one tile, signed "I. Uriarte, Puebla MX." 

As to the gate's designer, it may be Rodriguez, who made his name as a faux bois designer. But it may also have been another Mexican artist, Marcelo Izaguirre, a reference to whom I discovered in this National Register source. This source by Walt Lockley provides some interesting and informal biographical information on Doctor Urrutia, who died in 1975 at the age of 103.


San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio Museum of Art, Fernando Botero, Venus, bronze

I conclude my look at art in the Museum with a most unlikely piece of sculpture, this Venus by the Colombian artist, Botero. I say "unlikely" because I have very little affinity with Botero's public sculptures, in particular his monumental bronze pieces. Yet, the scale of this Venus is less monumental, and this makes her more accessible, almost a bit precious. So, the fact that even a Botero caught my eye reinforces my impression that the San Antonio Museum of Art collection has been wonderfully curated.  

River Walk:

The San Antonio River issues from several springs located about four miles north of the city. From there, it flows south through the city until, 240 miles later, it feeds into the Guadalupe River and then into the Gulf of Mexico.

These springs are part of what is known as the Edwards Aquifer, reputed to be “one of the most prolific artesian aquifers in the world.”  The Edwards Aquifer is a water-bearing formation of limestone about the size of the State of Connecticut, and its enormous discharge made this naturally arid area of high evaporation rates a particularly inviting place for the Spanish missionaries to establish settlements which could support large populations.  Well before the arrival of any western explorers and settlers, however, the Springs were a gathering place for several different native groups and they offer evidence of this, dating back 11,000 years.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio River Walk, 1929ff, Map

A glance at at the San Antonio River Walk plan (above) shows the River [blue line] flowing south from the upper right to the lower left. We also see a type of irregular oxbow in the center of this plan which branches east for several blocks, turns south, and then flows back to the west to join the “main river” on its southern course. A third section continues east in a straight line from that oxbow and then forms what looks like north and south dead-end branches. 

The original and natural path of the San Antonio River is essentially what we see from the top down to just below Houston Street. It then turns east to form that oxbow, or what the locals call the Great Bend. The straight north-south section south of this turn is an artificial cutoff channel that was built in 1929, along with a floodgate at its north end and an adjustable weir at its south end.  With these engineering additions, the city could close off the entire Great Bend during times of flooding and allow the cutoff channel to take most of the flow of the flooded river. This became a necessary solution after a particularly disastrous flood in September of 1921

The straight run which extends east from the Great Bend and then south to dead end in Hemisfair Park was added in 1968.  Its northern extension, dead-ending in a lagoon at the Rivercenter Mall (and a Marriott Hotel), was completed in 1988. Both of these are additions to the original River Walk, which had its conceptual start with those 1929 flood improvements and its actual start as a carless paseo below street level in a March, 1939 groundbreaking ceremony. Two other extension were begun in 2007-2008: the Museum Reach to the north, and the Mission Reach to the south.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio River Walk, Grotto beginnings joining HemisFair Park and the Convention Center

A rocky path accompanied by small waterfalls and a flowing stream leads down from HemisFair Park to suggest a beginning of the River Walk--even though we already know this as that southern "dead end" that connected the River Walk to the HemisFair in 1968.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio River Walk, Grotto below the Convention Center

After descending from HemisFair Park, we follow the water north to this peaceful grotto underneath the Convention Center. In this photograph, we are looking north towards Market Street.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio River Walk, view south (back to Grotto) from Market Street

In this photograph, we are standing on Market Street, looking south through the Convention Center towards HemisFair Park. 

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio River Walk, Intersection of Alamo Street with Market & Commerce Streets, Torch of Friendship by Sebastián, 2002

In this photograph, we are looking down from street level onto the head of the Great Bend. That 1968 extension of the River Walk that runs parallel to Commerce and Market Streets is on the upper right. 

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio River Walk, Section between Market & Commerce Streets

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio River Walk, below Commerce Street, Saint Anthony of Padua, Leopoldo de Almeida, 1968 (statue gift of Portugal)

This bronze statue of the city's namesake was presented to San Antonio by the Portuguese government as part of the 1968 HemisFair celebrations. Its inscription reads: “San Antonio - For whom the city and the river are named – Gift of Portugal.”

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio River Walk, view West from St. Mary's Street to Bexar County Courthouse, 1892-1897, James Reily Gordon

This is the lower leg of the Great Bend, looking west; beyond the distant bridge, the River resumes its southern course.  The red brick, Romanesque revival courthouse to be seen in the distance is west of the River.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio River Walk, View from St.Mary's Street

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio River Walk, Barge

Even as all these buildings have façades which front on city streets and sidewalks one level above, none of them can be accused of "turning their backs" on the River Walk. Arcades, stairs, windows, and porches open up to the pedestrian paths flanking the River, as do restaurants, bars and other businesses.  More than twenty bridges and thirty stone stairways enable connections with the streets above. 

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio River Walk, Commerce Street, Twin Cypress Trees of Ben Milam Legend

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio River Walk, Commerce Street, Tile Commemorating Ben Milam Legend

This plaque and the photograph above it of a large Cypress tree mark the spot where, on December 7, 1835 a sniper in this tree shot Colonel Benjamin Milam, so giving specific context to an event in the Texas Revolution.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio River Walk, Commerce Street, Restaurant and Mariachi Band

At a time when most American cities were turning their backs on their waterfronts or closing them off to pedestrian access by building highways, San Antonio bought into a romantic proposal to create this pedestrian esplanade. Today we can marvel at the city's enlightenment, as the River Walk attracts over seven million visitors annually who spend in the neighborhood of $800 million.

The idea, first floated by a young landscape architect, Robert H. H. Hugman in 1929 and supported by such such traditionally conservative groups as the Daughters of the American Revolution and the San Antonio Real Estate Board, took hold and became a reality in 1938. Given the political mood today, particularly in southern states, it may be hard to believe that local businesses approved a self-tax of 1 1/2 cents per hundred dollars to issue a bond that provided the seed money for a $3.5 million WPA grant.

Of course, eighty years ago there was no Tea Party to contend with in America, and people had a better understanding that taxes actually served beneficial purposes.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio River Walk, View from Navarro Street to North St. Mary's Street

Views like this make one realize that the River Walk is the equivalent of San Antonio having a magical garden in its back yard, a garden which it generously opens up to the public.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio River Walk, View from Navarro Street with Palmetto Palm Trunk

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio River Walk, Navarro Street Arch

I suspect that this beautiful arched stone portal leading up to Navarro Street is one of the many specific designs proposed by Robert H. H. Hugman in his 1929 River Walk proposal, which he called The Shops of Aragon and Romula. "Aragon" evokes the medieval Spain with its narrow pedestrian streets that inspired Hugman. 

But in the case of this arch, I suspect Hugman was not emulating any specific work of Spanish medieval architecture. This arch looks less like any Gothic pointed arch and more like an ideal catenary arch--that is, an arch whose form places every stone in perfect compression. It thus functions as good engineering as well as a bit of historical romanticism.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio River Walk, Steps to Ursuline Academy

Here we encounter stone wall, a built-in bench with mosaic offering the famous aphorism of Hippocrates, in Latin, Ars Longa Vita Brevis, and steps lead up to the Ursuline Academy, now the Southwest School of Art and Craft, as we make our way north of the city center.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio River Walk, Martin Street Bridge, Mosaic by Oscar Alvarado, 2002

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio River Walk, Travis Street Bridge, Mosaic by Oscar Alvarado, 2002

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio River Walk, Museum Reach, The Grotto by Carlos Cortés, 2009

The new sections of the River Walk to the north display works of public art funded by the San Antonio Foundation, a private organization founded in 2004. This surreal grotto by Carlos Cortés is done in carved concrete, a craft known as El Trabajo Rústico that had been practiced for generations in his family.

This photograph also illustrates another special quality of the River Walk--its pedestrian friendliness. Here we see it passing under some major roads as well as the I-35 overpass. But because it is on a lower level and has created its own environment, the River Walk erases the conflict and alienation that pedestrians feel whenever they encounter large roads and interstate highways.

San Antonio, Texas, San Antonio River Walk, Mission Reach, Arsenal District [L] and King William District [R]

My final photograph is of the River Walk about a mile south of the  Great Bend, as it slowly makes its way down to the Missions. The city has been left behind and the Paseo has become a place of contemplation, jogging, hiking or dog walking. There are no commercial barges to board down here, so boating becomes private affair, as long as one owns a canoe or kayak.

What amazes me most about the River Walk is how early the people of San Antonio began to resurrect its waterfront for general public use. Even if 1929 is seen as the start of what we today call the River Walk, city citizens were already pushing for more thoughtful maintenance of the river's beauty as early as 1904. Most American cities only began to develop their waterfronts for leisure activities in the last three decades. San Antonio took the lead in this regard a half-century earlier.

1 comment:

  1. I posted this link on Facebook, "I just fell in love with my town all over again." Thank you for loving my town too.