Along the San Antonio River

A City Report, New Style

This is something new, I hope, in city reports.

I have read many city reports, and nearly all of them are very stuffy affairs. They get jumbled up with so many figures that you hardly ever finish the first two pages. This one will be neither stuffy nor statistical. It will carry but three simple financial items, and the description of the accomplishments on which it reports—the beautification of the San Antonio River—will be left to the book of which it is the introduction.

The book—prepared by the Texas Writers' Project, with a Foreword by the W.P.A. State Administrator for Texas—tells the story of the San Antonio River, and of the important and often romantic exciting and tragic events that have occurred beside it. And it describes how the City of San Antonio and the W.P.A. together have developed and carried out the River Beautification Project, by which the winding stream has been made a place of public enjoyment in the heart of a modern streamlined city.

During an earlier city administration, certain public-spirited citizens created a river improvement district and voted a bond issue of $75,000. The bulk of the work and planning was done under the present administration, and we take pride in it.

A city should be clean, sanitary, artistic—a place where people can live as decent human beings. It should have breathing spaces, where citizens and visitors can walk or rest, comfortably and without annoyance. Such spaces, in a thickly settled community, can only be the result of planning.

The large cities of America were not planned. Men built haphazardly, wherever they found what seemed at the moment to be suitable places. The result was ugly factory districts, and crowded and unsanitary residential sections which too often became hideous, unlivable breeding places of crime, sickness, and unhappiness.

Rivers within the cities have been left alone to become dirty canals, their banks occupied by the ugliest types of commerce or by housing that is unfit for human habitation. Their original beauty has been lost. Only planning can restore it.

The River Beautification Project is not a complete plan for San Antonio. It is, however, an important part of a plan to make the city more beautiful and more livable. We believe that in all the United States of America there is no city in which a river has been made a more attractive resort for all the people.

And here, in two lines, is the financial part of the report:
$75,000 was spent by the City.
$355,000 was spent by the W.P.A.
Throughout our nation the W.P.A. has given work and hope to millions of unemployed, and the projects it has undertaken have been useful works to all the people of America. Without it, San Antonio could not have made the progress that it has made, and we are grateful for the support that the Federal Government has given our city.

Following is a supplemental report by Jack White, Chairman of the River Beautification Board. His, most largely, was the energy which aroused public spirit and brought about, with City and W.P.A. aid, the actual fulfillment of the river improvement vision, and the great work that he has done should receive credit from all citizens of San Antonio for all time to come. In addition we want to thank the Junior Chamber of Commerce, the civic clubs and the many women's organizations for enthusiastic cooperation.

Maury Maverick,
Mayor of San Antonio

Citizens' Hopes Come True

Early civilization in Southwest Texas followed closely the rivers in this section because water was always important, not only for transportation, but also for irrigation to raise the things that the early settler had to depend upon for food.

Since the time of the first settlement, the San Antonio River has played many roles, from furnishing life-giving water to providing a setting for historic events.

In the early days it was naturally beautiful, winding its lazy way between narrow banks with their native foliage. Then as the city grew and the languid atmosphere of the town gave way to the rush of modern commerce, through neglect the river lost its charm and became almost a necessary evil. In fact at one time there was a movement by a group of businessmen to fill in the bed of the river through its great bend because it had become an eyesore.

Then came the flood of 1921, when this lazy little stream became a raging torrent that swept through the business district of San Antonio destroying millions of dollars worth of property. This was followed by a flood prevention program to protect San Antonio from such devastation again.

When the flood prevention work had become a reality, new impetus was given to the thought of beautification that had always been in the minds of those of us who appreciated how great a share the river had in the atmosphere that makes our city different from all others, and proposals to again make it attractive were started by a small group. Working hard and long, and with growing appreciation of what the river could mean to our city not only as a thing of beauty but as a recreation center, the River Beautification Board, assisted by many other interested citizens, moved toward turning a liability into an asset. The actual work on the River Beautification Project was carried out under the regime of Mayor Maverick. Due to his ever-enthusiastic cooperation, our board has been able to carry out its plans.

As it is today, the river has recaptured its charm and become a memorial to the past and a setting for the relaxation and enjoyment of present and future generations.

Jack White
Chairman, River Beautification Board


Generations of San Antonians have hoped that the slow flowing river which winds through the heart of their city would some day be transformed into a downtown park where they and their visitors could enjoy the native beauty which first attracted their forefathers, those pioneers who settled the City of the Alamo.

It remained for two practical men with vision to conceive the fulfillment of these hopes. The late Edwin P. Arneson, engineer, in whose memory the Arneson River Theatre has been named, and R. H. H. Hugman, architect, converted the hopes into plans which have now been developed into beautiful reality.

For the execution of these plans credit is due James Arthur Hazelrigg, District Manager of the San Antonio Work Projects Administration District, and to the members of the District Staff who assumed and capably discharged the responsibility for this great civic enterprise. However this could not have been done had it not been for the wholehearted and generous cooperation given by the City of San Antonio and for the vigorous, unselfish and untiring efforts of the River Beautification Board.

A greater consideration, however, than this development of San Antonians' hopes into beautiful reality is that the work along the banks of their river provided many months of employment for hundreds of destitute men who had sought long and fruitlessly for private jobs. They labored faithfully and gratefully in the refuse-cluttered mud of the river bottom for meager wages. The result of their labor is eloquent proof of the fact that they did not shirk. What they have created by their toil will endure throughout the years as a tribute to their physical energy and to the wisdom of a government which provides honest work for its unemployed, destitute citizens instead of destroying their characters with the degradation of a dole.

H. P. Drought
State Administrator for Texas,
Work Projects Administration.

Along the San Antonio River

"Who drinks at San Antonio's River once,
will drink from it again."

—From an old Spanish legend.

Thus, in the eighteenth century, was recorded the yearning to return of those who had visited the green and fruitful valley of San Antonio and seen its winding stream. The city's residents do not drink of the river these days, but its charm has not lessened. On the contrary, an elaborate program begun in 1939 and completed in 1941 has made it even more attractive.

The river flows peacefully now, although in earlier times it has swept lives and property before it in uncontrolled floods. Tourists wander along its banks in the shadow of skyscrapers, where once through dust and mud plodded Spanish soldiers, brown-robed missionaries, Canary Island colonists, and daring pioneers who brought a new and clashing type of civilization from east of the Sabine.

In long past years upon a far frontier—first of New Spain and then on the westward march of Anglo-Americans—the stream wound through many a scene of violence and tragedy. The head of a revolutionist upon a pole once sickeningly disfigured it, and other revolutionists by hundreds were herded across it to swift trial and execution. Bugles have wafted from one side to the other a merciless message of extinction, to be followed by the roar of cannon and the crash of musketry. These banks have echoed Indian war whoops, the roisterings of a wild cattle capital, and the lethal crack of bad men's pistols.

It is a narrow river as it flows through San Antonio, for its headwaters are but a few steps beyond the city's northern limits. It twists and turns are so many that in crossing six miles of streets it passes under forty-two highway bridges, and there is a tradition that Indians, after they had become familiar with some of the less creditable habits of white men, called it by a name that meant "Drunken-old-man-going-home-at-night."

European eyes first fell upon it during the spring of 1536, in the opinion of eminent historians, when Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, who as a shipwrecked captive of Indians was the earliest Spaniard to see the interior of present-day Texas, visited a valley which, from his later written description, almost certainly was this one.

In 1691 a Spanish expedition halted here at an aboriginal village called Yanaguana, and on St. Anthony of Padua's feast day, June 13, Franciscan Father Damian Massanet celebrated Mass under a cottonwood arbor and named the place of San Antonio. A later expedition, in 1709, gave the same name to the waterway.

On one side of the river, in May, 1718, was established the Mission San Antonio de Valero, which long afterward became a fortress called the Alamo; on the other side, a few days later, the little Villa of Bejar. For more than a century and a half the spread of the town was almost wholly governed by the stream's meanderings, and few important events in the city's early history occurred far from its banks.

Old Scenes and New

Except at a few points where its channel has been moved or straightened, the river flows today in the same pattern as of old. Fed near its source by a creek called the Olmos—normally little more than a trickle but which, before control measures were established, contributed to dangerous floods—it winds amid picturesque surroundings through Brackenridge Park and towards the city's center.

"Who'll Go With Old Ben Milam?"

Near ninth street, it passes the area where Stephen F. Austin's little army of revolutionary Texans, in the autumn of 1835, laid siege to the Mexican-held city after a detachment under James Bowie, in October, had won the Battle of Concepcion in a bend of the river below the town.

The besiegers were ill-clad, ill-fed and insufficiently armed, and the city itself so well fortified that storming it seemed hopeless. Mexican reinforcements were near at hand. An officers' council, on December 4, decided to break camp, raise the siege, and go into winter quarters at Gonzales, but this plan was upset by the shouted challenge: "Who'll go with old Ben Milam into San Antonio?"

River Beautification Project

A short distance downstream, at a point 200 feet north of the Fourth Street bridge, is that first unit of a program launched in 1939 by the City of San Antonio and the Work Projects Administration, to increase the beauty of the river and its banks for more than a mile and a quarter and install flood control units for its protection.

Construction in 1940 included three dams, two large footbridges, and numerous flights of steps from the streets down the river banks. These steps, leading from almost every bridge in the improved area, vary in design and material. Rock curbs have been built along both banks of the stream, and extend well below the water level; they are three feet, six inches in width at the base, sloping on the land face to one foot at the top. Walks of flagstone, cobblestone, brick, cement inlaid with pebbles, and concrete blocks follow sometimes one bank, sometimes both, close to the water.

Along the part of the river included in the project it was necessary to dredge to a depth of from three to five feet in the river bed, to remove a centuries-old accumulation of silt and rubbish. For long stretches it was possible to uncover the old gravel bed of the stream. Dark stains on pillars supporting bridges indicate the depths of dredging at various points. Thousands of truckloads of refuse and muck were removed. Old buggy beds, broken wagon wheels, tangled barbed wire, sunken barrels—once the floats of bathhouses—were uncovered. There were also wrecks of bicycles and parts of automobiles, even a few battered tonneaus. Old guns, rusted pistols, and a few cannon balls were found.

Employed on the work were surveyors and engineers, landscape architects, nurserymen, tree surgeons, rock masons, carpenters, painters and plasterers, electricians, plumbers, a drag line operator, laborers and truck drivers.

The extensive improvements included the planting of flowering shrubs of various kinds, trees, bushes, vines, and water growths. In many places repairs with cement and structural steel were necessary to protect certain trees. Along both banks, in the shade of trees and beneath bridges, were placed benches of stone, cement, or rustic cedar.

Floodlights, indirect lighting equipment, and many decorative stand lanterns were installed at a cost of $19,000. Colored lights were placed at points where they could be used effectively. Hidden bulbs beneath the water were set amid thick growths of cannas, flag lilies and hyacinths. The lighting system is controlled by eight switches placed at intervals along the improved section.

A Riverbank Stroll

At the check dam near the Fourth Street bridge, which maintains the natural water level above this point and assists in controlling the artificial level in the area covered by the project, the river walk begins, but it is by no means necessary that one who wishes to stroll beside the stream should start from here. Tourists will find, convenient to their downtown hotels, steps leading from street level to river walk at the Travis, Houston, St. Mary's, Commerce, Navarro and Presa Street bridges. Visitors at La Villita will find the Arneson River Theatre, at the rear of the Cos House, an excellent spot from which to start. Short strolls from any of these points will skirt interesting sections of the river.

At its northernmost beginning, near the Fourth Street bridge, the walk follows the south bank. Across the stream a broad expanse of smooth lawn sweeps down from the old Nat Lewis house, built in 1848, to a fringe of trees along the water. Nat Lewis was a pioneer cattle king and merchant, who bore the nickname "Don Pilon," probably because of his custom of making a gift with each purchase, however small, such presents being by Mexicans called pilon.

A flight of cement steps guarded by stone railings winds down from the east end of the Fourth Street bridge.

Midway between Fourth and Richmond Streets is the site of an old swimming hole of the 1870's and 1880's.

The walk passes in the shadow of a high retaining wall at the rear of the Municipal Auditorium, which stands in what was once the river bed. There is no stairway at the Richmond Street bridge.

Just west of the Navarro Street bridge a flight of cement steps curves down to the path through a stone-arched doorway in the retaining wall. Here the trend of the river is slightly south of west. From where the concrete retaining wall ends, the high bank of the river is supported by an old wall of heavy stone blocks set without cement.

A straight flight of stone steps leads down from the south end of the upper North St. Mary's Street bridge, the first of the three St. Mary's Steet bridges within the project. From its north end, in the rear of one of the old buildings of the Ursuline Convent, another flight of cement steps, decorated with railings of stone masonry, curves gracefully around a chinaberry tree to a boat landing. Here is the beginning of the walk along the north bank.

An Ancient Convent

The central stone building in the convent grounds was built by a Frenchman who expected his wife to join him, but she refused to quit France for the Texas wilderness and the mansion remained deserted until Ursuline nuns from New Orleans converted it into the city's first boarding school for girls and built the convent and chapel, in 1851. The clock tower has faces on three sides. There is no face on the north, because the convent was so far out in the country that no one could imagine enough people living beyond it in that direction to make it of value.

At the Augusta Street bridge are two flights of stairs, one from each end of the structure. The one at the north is of cement with stone railings. At the south end a steep, narrow flight of old stone steps has been utilized. The age of this stairway is indicated by its worn condition.

Just downstream from the Augusta Street bridge the river turns sharply southward. What has been the south bank now becomes the east.

Around this bend moved Ben Milam's three hundred, to enter the city along the Calle de Soledad—the Street of Solitude, because those who had homes there were outside the town's bustle—which is still Soledad Street, a stone's throw from the river at this point.

Project workers dubbed this curve "Crawfish Bend" when the dredged thousands of those crustaceans from the mud of the river here.

On the right, at the turn, short flights of steps drop down from the east end of Rodriguez Street over a series of rock-walled terraces. They end at the river bank, in a little parked area shaded by a leaning oak. Downstream, as the river curves first easterly, then westerly, although still flowing toward the south, the walks continue on both banks, beneath the Convent Street, East Martin Street and East Pecan Street bridges. No steps from the streets above are at these points. Climbing ivy covers the high old retaining walls along this section.

At Armistead Street a flight of cement steps curves down from the highway level, through a rock-arched doorway in the retaining wall, to a boat landing guarded by cedar posts. A little farther on, a tall, gnarled old cottonwood growing above the wall overhangs the walk along the west bank. Opposite it ancient fig trees hug the east wall, their upper branches topping its crest.

The Heart of the City

Now the stream is entering the business heart of the city. From a rocky opening beneath the walk on the west bank gushes a noisy cascade that foams and gurgles around three artificial boulders; it comes from the outlet of the air-cooling system of the Milam Building. At the east end of the East Travis Street bridge another stairway descends.

Between East Travis and East Houston Streets, cantilever walks at the street level follow a graceful, shallow reverse curve of the river. A short distance below East Travis Street a flight of cement steps comes down from a path that leads to Soledad Street, passing beneath the cantilever walk to end at a boat landing.

Two stairways descend at the East Houston Street bridge, at which point the river walk continues along the west side of the stream only. Near the foot of the stairway on this bank is another boat landing, and cement benches are shaded by a row of slender cypress trees.

The first bridge at this point was built in 1853, prior to which the river had been crossed by a ford. Near here the city's first bank was established in 1808 by Don Antonio de la Garza, and it is said that he minted money by permission of the Spanish government. A little beyond, to the west, was the Buffalo Camp Yard, made use of in the early 1870's by traders in buffalo hides.

A short distance below East Houston Street, above the east bank, appear the tops of trees that stand where once was the patio of a house occupied in 1859 by Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee.

Palace, Figs, and Tree of Heaven

Along the west bank, as early as 1740, gardens spread behind houes along Soledad Street. Only a few yards downstream stood the residence of Don Juan Martin de Veramendi, who became vice governor of Texas in 1830, a building so large and luxuriously furnished that it was called the Veramendi Palace. Here the aristocracy gathered for lavish social events, and here the great frontiersman James Bowie wooed and won Ursula Veramendi, the vice governor's daughter. During the Battle of San Antonio this house was occupied by some of Ben Milam's men, and Milam was killed near the front doorway by a Mexican sharpshooter on the third day of the battle. He was buried that night not far from where he fell, with military and Masonic honors.

In the former garden of the Veramendi Palace is a building that housed the Bexar County Court in the 1880's, now used by a department store. Between that building and the river are fig trees of great size, said to have been planted by the Veramendis, two of which, growing above the stone retaining wall, rise to a height of more than two stories of the surrounding buildings. A third, its gnarled roots prying apart the rocks, juts out midway between the top and bottom of the wall and turns sharply upward to merge its branches with those of the trees above. From across the stream the combined branches and huge leaves appear to be one giant fig tree. A little farther along is an ailanthus or "tree of heaven," planted by an early Spanish settler.

Presently the river turns at right angles toward the east. On the west bank just before the course of the stream changes, stood the house built by Samuel A. Maverick in 1839, in which San Antonio men gathered for defense when the city was seized and briefly held by the Mexican Gen. Adrian Woll in 1842. Maverick, whose small herd of unbranded cattle brought into the English language the descriptive common noun "maverick," became mayor of San Antonio in 1839, and 100 years later his grandson Maury Maverick was inducted into the same office.

In what was once Samuel Maverick's riverbank garden grows a towering willow that stretches its twisted arms far out over the stream. On the opposite bank is a retaining wall, heavily overgrown with ivy, that was built by John Twohig in 1869, and from beyond the wall rise the roof and tall chimneys of the remains of the Twohig house, which date from the early 1840's. Twohig operated a bank, and gained the name "the breadline banker" for his custom of distributing each Saturday barrelfuls of bread to the city's poor.

On the river bank here is a cypress from whose trunk a "twin" tree lifts feathery branches on the other side of the retaining wall. Tradition says that from this tree Mexican soldiers fired on Texans who went down to the river bank for water during the Battle of San Antonio, and that the sharpshooter who killed Ben Milam did so from its branches.

A Center of Exciting Events

West and southwest of the river at this bend as established the Villa of San Fernando, when colonists from the Canary Islands were brought in by the Spanish government in 1731, and the center of their little community was the San Fernando Church which now, as San Fernando Cathedral, is still at the city's geographical center. Near it is the old Spanish Governor's Palace, and west of that is the great Mexican quarter.

Just beyond where the Maverick house was later built is the point at which victory for the Texans in the Battle of San Antonio was assured when, after four days' desperate fighting, they reached the fortified plaza at the end of Soledad Street. General Cos raised the white flag of surrender on the morning of the fifth day.

At this same point, in the "wild and woolly" period of the 1880's was the "fatal corner" near which occurred many major homicides, including the sensational killing of Ben Thompson and King Fisher in the Vaudeville Theatre. A little beyond was Santa Anna's headquarters during the siege of the Alamo, in which he is said to have had a bogus marriage to a San Antonio girl performed by henchmen attired in vestments stolen from a priest. And less than two blocks from the river started the Council House Fight of 1840, in which 33 Comanches and seven white men were killed.

Where the river turns eastward, an artificial cut-off channel runs due south. This is a unit of the city's flood control project of 1922, which takes care of the steam's overflow in times of high water. The River Beautification Project has supplemented this flood prevention measure with a floodgate dam and 48-inch water-level gate into the cut-off. Across an isthmus that is but little more than three blocks wide, the straight artifical channel rejoins the river, which to cover the same distance has wound and twisted east and south and west, beneath nine highway bridges, to make of the land within the great loop a hammer-headed peninsula.

A walk from West Commerce Street leads across the floodgate dam and down a short flight of steps to a circular, rock-walled observation point. Set in the wall of the superstructure is a tile panel—a creation of the Work Projects Administration Arts and Crafts project—picturing in colors the story of the Mexican snipers in the near-by cypress tree.

Three of the four graceful arches in the dam contain heavy steel doors or gates, operated by hand, which shut off or regulate the flow of water. Gates in the two middle arches span the river, while the one at the south end affects the cut-off channel. In times of heavy rain and abnormally high water, the closing of the river dam diverts the flow into the old cut-off; the river itself below this point receives the drainage of a relatively small area, which in turn is controlled by a floodgate at the terminal dam where the beautification project ends.

It is within the great three-sided bend between these two dams that the most extensive improvements of the project have been made. This section also contains many benches, which at shady spots invite the stroller to rest and are popular at lunchtime with downtown store and office workers.

In the River's Big Bend

At the upper dam the river walk passes beneath one of its arches, near which a flight of cement steps with stone railings curves down from West Commerce Street at the dam's south end.

The old rock walls of building foundations along the south bank are covered with heavy growths of climbing ivy. Midway between the dam and the north St. Mary's Street bridge a wrought iron fence tops the wall of a terraced cafe garden. Through a little arched gateway and up a short flight of steps are visible bright-colored tales and the green of potted shrubbery. Just beyond, an old, overhanging balcony with a railing of decorative wrought iron work clings to the ivy-covered wall high above the walk.

On the north bank of the stream the old Twohig retaining wall continues for a short distance until it is joined with the foundation of the San Antonio Public Service Company Building. The bank has a carpet of grass, with clumps of cannas and water lilies growing along the water's edge. Giant willows, cypress trees and cottonwoods line both banks in this section. About midway between the dam and North St. Mary's Street, John Twohig had a private footbridge which for years connected his residence with his place of business on West Commerce Street.

It was along Commerce Street near here that, nine days after the Council House Fight in 1840, the Comanche Chief Isimanica, almost naked and in full war paint, rode, shaking his clenched fist and shouting defiance at the citizens, at which, wrote Mrs. Mary Maverick, many of the soldiers "were with difficulty restrained."

The walk continues along the south bank beneath the North St. Mary's Street bridge, from the south end of which a flight of steps leads down to a boat landing guarded by a cedar railing. Approximately a hundred yards farther on the river is spanned by the curve of a Venetian-type stone bridge. Above and beyond the old rock retaining wall on the north bank rise the stone buildings of the former St. Mary's College, established in 1852, now the night school of St. Mary's University, and where this bridge touches that bank was the college boat landing. Many of the students in the 1860's and 1870's came to school by water.

From this point the riverbank walks are on both sides of the stream.

On the north bank, a short way downstream from the footbridge, water from the cooling system of the Majestic Theatre Building gushes from an opening arched with rough rocks, and tumbles, foaming, down three uneven steps of a moss-covered cascade. Back of the opening rise the weathered stones of an old retaining wall. Banana trees and decorative shrubs flank the cascade. Between North St. Mary's and Navarro Streets, the walk along the south bank at the street level is of cantilever construction.

A square-block stairway of cement steps and rock walls leads down from the south end of the Navarro Street bridge to a boat landing guarded by round-topped cement posts and an iron railing. Near by, a bracket of cedar holds an arc light. Beneath the south end of the bridge is a drinking fountain, set in the top of an artificial boulder. The steps at the north end of the bridge are of cement with a wrought iron handrail, and descend in a sharp reverse angle.

On the north bank, just east of the Navarro Street bridge, a huge cottonwood lifts high a tall, straight trunk before it spreads its broad-leafed branches. Close by is a great cypress, more than nine feet in circumference at the base, whose topmost branches rise to a great height. Here was once the garden of the old Herff residence, and it is said that this cypress was planted by members of the Herff family, who were leaders among the cultured Germans, refugees from their homeland, whose exodus to Texas began in the 1840's.

Near at Hand, The Alamo

Now the river is swinging toward the northeast, and presently, when it has passed beneath the North Presa Street bridge, it turns abruptly to run south. But a block and a half distant, here, is the Alamo, the mission-fortress in which in 1836, William Barret Travis, James Bowie, Davy Crockett, James Butler Bonham and more than 180 others resisted the overwhelming Mexican forces of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and died to the last fighting man.

A cement stairway with a wrought iron handrail leads down from the north end of the Presa Street bridge, supported by two graceful cement arches. At the foot of the stairs is a reproduction of one of the square-faced street lamps that were used in the gas-light era. Along this section of the north and east bank ran the corrals and stables of the cavalry detachment of Department Military Headquarters, U. S. Army, which in the 1870's occupied a building at the corner of Presa and Houston Streets.

Along the south bank of the river—which around the curve becomes the west bank—a widening of the stream necessitated the construction of a cement cat-walk over the water. Beneath its low surface are concealed electric lights. At the edge of the walk runs an iron handrail supported by squat cement columns. The rail is painted a bright blue to match the color of heavy beams beneath the Presa Street bridge. This walk spans more than 150 feet of water, and leads to the foot of stairs at the west end of the Crockett Street bridge.

Among the more than 30 flights of steps utilized in the project—no two stairways being exactly alike—this one, of composite design and construction, is unusually notable. The upper part is of cedar, hand-hewn and notched, and the huge logs that form the quaint, inverted tripod supports are bound with iron bands. Steps and railings are of cedar. The supports and guards of the mid-landing and of the lower steps are of stone, and the steps are of cement. The handrail is of wrought iron.

The walk that follows the east bank has a rustic cedar railing. At the east end of the Crockett Street bridge a reverse-angled stairway is supported by a twisted column constructed of brick.

First Public Utility

In 1786 a grant of land on the city side of the river at about this point was made by the Spanish authorities to one Francisco Calaorra, in consideration of his agreement to use his boat as a public ferry to the Alamo side. Thus, oddly, the first public service transportation in this inland city was by water.

Along the section between Crockett and West Commerce Streets are overhanging balconies on some of the older buildings. High retaining walls are covered with thick growths of climbing ivy, and there are willow, pecan and cypress trees, one of the pecans leaning far out over the stream in a leafy arch that reaches nearly to the opposite bank.

From both the east and west ends of the West Commerce Street bridge, flights of cement steps curve down to broad boat landings. Here is the site of the first bridge ever to span the San Antonio River, built in 1736. One hundred years later, on the west bank close to the bridge, stood the Mexican battery from which, at Santa Anna's orders, was sounded the no-quarter bugle call, the deguello, which was the signal for the Alamo assault.

Beneath the east end of this bridge the water from the cooling system of the Joske Building flows from beneath an arch of honeycombed rock, flanked by beds of ferns. Within the arch are hidden colored lights which at night are reflected in the tumbling spray.

A few feet south of the bridge, on the east bank, stood a house reputed to have been the boarding place of William Sidney Porter (O. Henry) during the brief time that he worked as a reporter in San Antonio.

At the east end of the Market Street bridge is a flight of cement steps, its cypress handrail supported by wrought iron balusters. There is also a stairway with stone rails at the west end of the bridge, at the foot of which the walk along the west bank temporarily ends. The walk along the east bank continues.

On the west bank, south of the Market Street bridge, stands a row of cypress trees planted at about the turn of the century, their feathery tops reflected in the water. On the crest of the grassy bank behind the trees the profusion of blossoms and ordered greenery is the garden of the headquarters building of the City Water Board.

A long, steep flight of steps leads down to the east bank between the walls of two buildings in the 200 block of South Alamo Street. A few steps south is the arch of an old drain made of loose stone construction laid without cement.

As the river turns sharply westward, the east bank becomes the south bank, and runs parallel to Villita Street. Two worn and broken flights of stone steps come down from the rear of old houses. From beneath the low wall at the foot of the bank a spring, uncovered by project workers, trickles into a shallow rock basin built for it.

A City Outdoor Theatre

Just around the Villita bend is the Arneson River Theatre. Its concession house and projection room is at the top of the high south bank, and below it, down the slope of the bank, are tiers of grassy seats from which an audience of close to a thousand can view the action of play or motion picture across the river, where a concrete stage stands before a permanent backdrop of three narrow, mission-type bell arches above a stone wall. Adjacent, on the downstream side of the stage, is a building housing the dressing and property rooms, on the roof of which is a dove cote. Mission architecture prevails in both the concession house and the dressing room structure.

Old Villita

Along the south bank near this point La Villita (The Little Town) had its beginning with a few huts early in San Antonio's history, probably in 1722. At first its houses were crude jacales that sheltered Indian converts of the Mission San Antonio de Valero. These were replaced by structures of adobe with thatched roofs. With the passing of the mission era the place was occupied by the families of the Spanish soldiers then stationed in the Alamo. It was a humble little community until a disastrous flood in 1819 almost destroyed the Villa de San Fernando, downstream across the river. On its higher ground La Villita escaped the flood; to it migrated the aristocratic families of San Fernando, and the little village became an exclusive residential area.

The fortunes of war during the hectic years of the Mexican and Texas revolutions brought strife to the village. The aristocrats fled and the houses were deserted or occupied by Indian or lowly peon. Then came new people from the Old World. German, French and Polish settlers—many of them well born—made their homes here, halfway between the battered ruins of the Alamo and the crowded plazas of the business district. The transplanted home life of these Europeans blended with the Spanish and Anglo-American in a harmonious mixture of cultures, and again the place became a center of prosperity and the more exclusive social life.

With the passing of years came decay. Families that had given culture, refinement and art to the Little Town moved elsewhere as the city grew. The section's buildings fell slowly into disrepair and neglect. The architectural record of La Villita's history was in danger of being forever lost when Mayor Maury Maverick, in 1939, proposed the restoration of a city block—on Villita Street, between Nacional, King Philip V and South Presa Streets—that should authentically exhibit all the influences of the past. Carried out as a National Youth Administration project, the undertaking was far advanced at the beginning of 1941.

Directly behind the concession house of the Arneson River Theatre, and reached by a walk beneath an arched gateway, is the first unit of restored La Villita—the residence at 513 Villita Street that is called the Cos House, in which Gen. Martin Perfecto de Cos, Santa Anna's brother-in-law, signed the formal articles of capitulation after the Texans had won the Battle of San Antonio.

The building's restoration is as near as possible to its early design. Ancient fireplaces remain, and interior woodwork is replaced in the early manner. Modern improvements, in the interest of public service, include rest rooms for men and women and a fully equipped kitchen for the preparation of luncheons and dinners. A wide, tile-floored porch on the east side faces a garden courtyard landscaped with native trees and shrubs and containing a concrete dance floor and a raised pool. The surrounding wall is six feet in height, with panels designed to be set along its inside surface depicting in bas-relief incidents of local history.

Preservation of the Past

Diagonally across Villita Street from the Cos House is the principal group of the La Villita restoration. In the old buildings that have been preserved and renewed every effort has been made to retain as nearly as practicable the architecture of the various periods represented, and such buildings as are new are designed to harmonize with and supplement them. Several of the structures are to house native arts and crafts, visitors being able to observe, as it was done in earlier days, the fabrication of wrought iron, the weaving of rugs, blankets and draperies, and the making of native pottery and tile. Original designs for the workers employed are to be created in an art department.

Names that honor patriots of South and Central America have been given to some of the buildings, and Argentinian being commemorated by the Jose de San Martin House, and a Brazilian by the Caxias House, the furnishings for which are expected to be supplied by the government of Brazil. There is also a Canada House, and other names are to be similarly selected.

Occupying the southeast corner of the restored area, the largest structure of the group will be the Bolivar Building, named in honor of Simon Bolivar, the South American liberator. A combination library, museum, and community center, this two-story, squared-stone edifice of 120 by 30 feet was designed to follow the architectural style of the United States frontier military posts of the 1850's. The basic funds for its erection were obtained from the Carnegie Foundation, and work had been started at the 1941 New Year.

Along the north front and around the west end of the building will run broad upper and lower galleries. Two steps will lead down from the ground level to the floor of the downstair porch, on which will open five sets of double doors, each of the half-door type to permit the upper sections to be thrown open for light and ventilation even though the lower sections may not be in use. The lower floor is planned to contain the library and museum, a large reading room, a smaller research room, storerooms and workrooms. It is intended that the museum shall exhibit interchangeable collections of Spanish, Mexican, Central American, South American, and Texas relics, arts and crafts, and that the library shall contain books, archives, records and manuscripts on Spanish, Mexican and Texas history. Museum display racks and cases, and library book shelves, will be arranged for correct lighting and public convenience. The reading room at the west end with a large fireplace set in a tile panel of flower-bud design, will have comfortable chairs and tables, and the research room at the southeast corner, with a smaller fireplace, is to be furnished in much the same manner.

Two long outside stairways will lead from the lower gallery to the upper, from which five sliding doors, guarded by iron grille work, will open into a second floor entertainment hail 84 by 30 feet. Equipped with folding chairs and a movable stage, the hall will be available for concerts, lectures, plays, and meetings.

In Villita is a heroic statue of the Mexican patriot, Hidalgo, who raised the standard of revolt against Spain in 1810. The statue was presented by President Manuel Avila Camacho and Col. Gonzales Santos to Mayor Maverick for Villita.

The purpose of the re-creation of La Villita was thus expressed in the city ordinance which sanctioned it.
Above all, this project will be for human good, for letting people learn to make a living, to have a way of life; for constitutional democracy, peace and freedom. . . . Among the high. . . purposes is the promotion of peace, friendship and justice between the United States of America and all other nations of the Western Hemisphere. . . . The heritage of early Texas must be preserved.
Once City's Social Center

At the downstream edge of the Arneson Theatre an arched footbridge of stone masonry connects the two units of the theatre, and at its north end is another old street lamp standard. Beyond this footbridge the riverbank walks are again on both sides of the stream.

On the north bank, the City Water Board building is in part the Old Casino Club building and opera house, built in 1858, which for many years was a social and entertainment center. In the rear of this structure a large granjeno tree trails its tangled branches far out over the walk, to dip its dark green, artificial-looking leaves and sprays of yellow berries into the water. The small berries are edible, and there is a folk belief among local Mexicans that captive mockingbirds fed granjeno berries sing more sweetly than others.

Stone stairways lead down from both ends of the South Presa Street bridge, just west of which a tiny island close to the north bank on which grows a leaning cypress, is reached by a low—arched footbridge. This island marks the approximate site of the dam which served the old Nat Lewis mill, built in 1847. Near by, set in the top of an artificial boulder, is a drinking fountain.

Opposite, on the south bank between South Presa and Navarro Streets, a level area is covered by a concrete floor, to which steps lead from the south end of the Navarro Street bridge. It is marked off into stalls—separated by lengths of only iron railings once used in San Pedro Park, which were salvaged and reconditioned by project workers—from which curios are sold during the week of the annual Fiesta de San Jacinto. Each stall has water and light connections in the stone wall at is rear.

The Old Indian Ford

Very close to where the Navarro Street bridge stands, an old Indian ford in the early days of the settlement was the only crossing of the river used by all travelers from the north and east. Down past the Alamo came the Nacogdoches road, to turn westward around the river bend through La Villita—where it was joined by the road from La Bahia—and then swing northward across this ford and then westward again to enter the Villa of San Fernando.

On a day in 1811 a grisly warning to all who might be tempted to revolt against Spanish rule was posted here. San Antonians had participated in an ill-starred Mexican revolution earlier in the year, and when Spanish soldiery came to inflict punishment the severed head of Colonel Delgado, one of its leaders, was displayed on a pole where all who crossed the river at this point could behold the lesson.

Here, on the north bank of the stream, long before there was a bridge, stood the old Nat Lewis mill. From above that bank, steps come down to a boat landing that extends beneath the bridge and is guarded at the water's edge by a row of round-topped tie posts, each provided with a large iron ring. Here is a covered slip that houses the maintenance craft of the project. A 16-foot motorboat, equipped with a pump and three hose connections through which the grass, shrubbery and flowers along the banks can be watered from the river, is in operation daily along the project. A hand-operated drawbridge in the river walk gives access to the slip. Along the south bank is a cement rail of a design that resembles small millstones.

Along this section of the river commercial bathhouses were operated in the 1870's and 1880's well patronized by residents who, not owning property on the stream, did not have their own private bathhouses.

Into "Bowen's Island"

The river and its walks now pass into the area once called Bowen's Island—not in fact an island, but nearly so; an irregular peninsula formed by erratic twistings of the river that now have disappeared.

In early days San Antonions hunted, fished, and swam at the "island." Later, in the middle 1870's, Wolfram's "Central Garden," a place of convivial entertainment, was established here and gained great popularity. Still later the area became the favorite lot for visiting circuses and carnivals, and for outdoor rodeos, and continued to be principally so used through the period of the World War. With the adoption of measures for adequate flood control, the river here was straightened. The 31-story Smith-Young Tower Building, which between Navarro and South St. Mary's Streets looms above the south bank, and the Plaza Hotel just beyond, both stand in what was the old river bed.

Enclosed stairs lead down from the north end of the South St. Mary's Street bridge to a boat landing beside which is another reproduction of the old gas street lamps, and along the edge of the landing is another section of San Pedro Park railing. Here the walk along the north bank terminates.

The stairway at the south end of this bridge is of interesting construction, made necessary because quicksands presented a problem as to securing foundations. The stairs spiral downward in delicate design, guarded by a wrought iron railing. From the street level no support is visible, and it is only from the river walk that novel, egg-shaped buttresses can be seen, close to the water line.

Along the north bank at street level, west of South St. Mary's Street, runs a cantilever walk along which are spaced cedar light brackets. And now the river's big bend has been traversed, and the stream is approaching the terminal dam structure, where the beautification project ends.

This terminal structure is a double dam—a set of two falls. At this point the cut-off channel which left the river near West Commerce Street rejoins it, and this double dam operates for flood control in conjunction with the unit at the northern end of the cut-off.

The upstream dam is semicircular, with an arc of about 40 feet. A gently sloping concrete apron is on the upstream side, and the water flows over the smooth rim of the arc in a transparent curtain to a foam-flecked pool below, with a drop of about four feet. The pool or catch basin is roughly oval in shape and about 20 feet long. Its downstream end is flattened by the straight-edged rim of the lower dam, from which the second waterfall drops about eight feet.

Over the lower dam arches a footbridge, its railing on the upstream side of the same millstone design that is used near Navarro Street, which connects walks that northerly lead to Market Street and southerly to Villita Street. From the south end of this bridge steps descend to the flagstoned area beside a basin between the waterfalls.

Past the dams and the cut-off channel, the river moves southward, to wind toward the city limits and thence on its 100-mile journey to the Guadalupe River, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico.

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