San Antonio History Lesson: The Alamo & So Much More

Our first visit to San Antonio was almost 20 years ago and we have always wanted to return. This time, our goal was to learn as much as we could. Excitedly, we began at The Alamo (a name that came later in the City's history). The actual founding of the city came in 1718 by Father Antonio Olivares when he established Mission San Antonio de Valero.
Most everyone "Remembers The Alamo" from their school days. It wasn't until we explored this place again that we understood what it really was all about. It helped that there was a living history demonstration, an incredibly thorough video and signage everywhere to help with the understanding of what the event of March 6, 1836 meant for Texas. It has come to symbolize so much. The Battle is remembered as a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds- a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason, it remains hallowed ground and the Shrine of Texas Liberty.

What I found hard to remember is that the Alamo was first a church. I thought this plaque, by the entrance door, emotional to read and also a reminder of that ultimate sacrifice. "Be silent friend. Here heroes died to blaze a trail for other men." Wow.

We also didn't remember that it is located right in the heart of San Antonio. 
A goal of the day was to dine along the famous River Walk (1941). Along the way we strolled and learned so much about The Father of the River Walk (Steve is in front of his office). Robert Hugman, the designer and architect said, "The river is one of nature's greatest gifts to San Antonio and should be appreciated and developed as such." His plan proposed a balance between commercial and park-like qualities while maintaining the river's natural character and preserving old world architecture.
Hugman was convinced that the ideal future of the Paseo del Rio rested in preserving the historic character, the flavor of the Spanish, Mexican, and Southwest traditions. He believed that the "little river" should be treated as a stage setting on which people are transported to the unusual; that the river's tempo must be jealously guarded, remaining slow and lazy, in complete contrast with the hustle and bustle of street-level modern city life. I think he captured it completely after we dined on its shores.

While this image is just one of the past, it provided us with yet another history lesson. San Antonio streetcar service began in 1878 and reached its peak at ninety miles of track in 1926. Sadly, the last car ran in 1933.
This city offers a variety of unique shopping places. That said, we tend to find ourselves at the Goodwill, whenever possible. This cool store was built as the La Feria department store in 1917.
There was something about this work of art that made me stop and admire it. Jesse Treviňo created the New Chapa Lion Mural on the side of the Goodwill building. The pride of lions is said to represent the growing community near El Mercado. The figures seen lifting the tile image in place represent the Goodwill’s mission, “To help change lives through the power of work.”
El Mercado or Market Square is a three-block outdoor plaza lined with shops, and restaurants right in downtown. Market Square is not only historic but the largest Mexican market in the United States.
And there was a great deal to see.
I mentioned O. Henry once before when we were in Asheville, N.C. in April when we visited his grave. Considered one of America's greatest short-story writers, William Porter (O. Henry) lived in this house in 1885. As editor of his newspaper The Rolling Stone, he used San Antonio as the setting of some of his most intriguing short stories.
This building is visible from all over the city. The Bexar County Courthouse, whose style is Romanesque Revival with the main material used being red sandstone, was fully completed in 1896. It is still an active government office building and truly beautiful to look at.

Our last shopping stop was at La Villita. This unique area was originally settled nearly 300 years ago as one of the city's first neighborhoods. In 1939, La Villita Historic Arts Village was established and the neighborhood was adapted into a center for teaching regional arts and crafts and to serve as an artists market.
Okay so this hotel actually helped to make the River Walk a success. Built in time for the San Antonio's World's Fair in 1968, it created new pedestrian traffic which brought the River Walk to life. Its success caused Robert Hugman to be recognized and honored in his last years for his creativity, persistence and foresight in designing what has become one of the world's most noted urban linear paths. 
And how totally incredible is this hotel? The Hilton Palacio del Rio, a 500-room, 21-story structure is notable for being a milestone in the use of Modular building construction techniques.

Traditional construction methods would not allow the hotel to be completed in the short time frame available before for the opening of the Fair so alternative methods were explored. The builder utilized traditional construction to build the first four floors. However, all guest rooms were constructed as modular units in a location 8 miles from the construction site. These modular units were built complete with plumbing fixtures, lighting, art work, furnishings and even ash trays. The structure was completed in a record 202 working days. I don't know if you can tell in this photo, but the builder and his wife were the first people to check-in to and "ride" their hotel room into the hotel. How very, very cool and so worth learning about.
While we didn't quite hit 150+ Fun Things to Do, we did do a lot. During our brief visit to San Antonio, our history lessons spanned 250 years. San Antonio is most likely the only Texan town we will thoroughly explore on our Westward migration. We chose well.

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Nesbit Library rocks! said...

We once had Australian guests who told of a time years ago when they traveled the U.S. in an RV for 6 months hitting the highlights of each state. I asked what was their very favorite and they said the San Antonio River Walk!

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