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Arts & Culture

More Backstory On The Houston Street Bridge

Credit Denise De Leon
Mission Espada obelisk.

Last week I filed a story on how the Houston Street Bridge over the San Antonio River came to be the way it is today. I subsequently found out there was more to it that you might be interested in.

Architect David Lake of Lake|Flato Architects was out of town when I tried to reach him last week for that story. Then on Monday he called me back.

"Houston Street Bridge was part of the Tri-Party project which was started in 1989 and completed in 1991," Lake said.

Tri-Party was a combination of downtown business owners, VIA Transit and the city of San Antonio who together undertook a large scale redesign of Houston Street and other downtown locales. To Lake, the Houston Street Bridge itself presented an architectural opportunity.

“It just so happens that when we were studying the four piers that go into the river to hold up the bridge, just had this thought that wouldn’t it be great if the four down-river missions were celebrated at this crossing,” he said.

As you’ll recall, artist Malou Flato designed four concrete and tile obelisks, each depicting one of those missions, each containing a map of where that mission was, and each topped with a light. Lake said the tile motif wasn't by accident.

“We designed it in the spirit of the tiles found on the River Walk from the 20s and 30s,” he said.

San Antonio has a long history of tile murals along the river. But as far as the Houston Street Bridge itself, all Lake|Flato really had to do was make it structurally sound and light the upper portion.

“So why didn’t you just stick up four light poles?” I asked. He laughed.

“We could’ve stuck up four light poles, but then it would be a pretty generic experience," said Lake. It was an opportunity to tell a story that was unique to San Antonio, and made your experience of walking up and down the street more meaningful.”