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Arts & Culture

Mystery Behind San Antonio's Miraflores Park Uncovered

Updated 2:47 p.m.

You may have seen it while driving on Hildebrand, approaching Broadway, there’s a massive, tiled gate. Inside are curious sculptures and benches. It’s called Miraflores, and its past is fascinating. Now it appears its future will be, too.

Four lanes of fast-moving traffic, where the University of the Incarnate Word ends at Hildebrand, suggest this has always been a busy place — but that's simply not the case.

Credit Jack Morgan / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
The Urrutia gate now stands in a courtyard at the San Antonio Museum of Art.

"We were sort of in the hinterlands of San Antonio," said  Lynn Osborne Bobbitt of the Brackenridge Conservancy.

"Hildebrand was known as Cow Street, and there were cows across the road,” she said. “It began about the same time that he began creating this space.”

"He" is the man who created this private park: Aureliano Urrutia, a doctor from Mexico who immigrated to the U.S. during the Mexican Revolution of 1910, said Bobbitt said from a sculpture garden created by Urrutia.Urrutia quickly established a medical practice.


"He was well-known for, once he arrived in San Antonio, separating Siamese twins, and he built his medical career and practice as a surgeon, into his late 70s," she said.

Elise Urrutia knows the history well. He was her great grandfather.

"The garden itself was a partially constructed as a memory of Xochimilco, which is where Dr. Urrutia was born," she said.

Credit Urrutia Photo Collection
A pond that used to exist within Miraflores.

Xochimilco is a world heritage site in Mexico City, known for its canals, man made islands and floating gardens. Urrutia originally bought 15 acres there at Hildebrand, but over time that was reduced to 4.5 acres.

"He purchased the land in 1921 and he developed it primarily from that time until about 1940. Dr. Urrutia was a physician — that was his profession — but his avocation really was gardening and landscape,” she said. “Miraflores was not his first garden. He also made a garden in Mexico in Coyoacán before he came to the United States."

Lynn Bobbitt said that what Urrutia created wasn't just a smattering of trees, sculptures and walkways. The landscape and its varied elements told a complex cultural story.

Credit Urrutia Photo Collection
The original tree-filled Hildebrand road entrance.

"It's an explanation of Mexican Culture, of Aztec culture, and his new culture he found here in San Antonio, Texas, and the United States," she said.

Urrutia invited Mexican artist Dionicio Rodriguez, whose work in San Antonio cemented a national reputation for unique sculptural art.

"We have the largest collection of Dionicio Rodriguez Faux Bois work, trabajorustico (rustic work), which is made to look like nature but is sculpted out of rebar and cement, to look like wood," Bobbitt said.

Rodriguez often created pieces that looked like large tree stumps — and one at Miraflores served a function.

"It's the Hollow Log Gate, and that was the third entrance into the site,” she said. “And then right below it is a saguaro cactus that was built to hide an electric pole, and it has been restored."

The single largest artwork is the enormous, tiled gate facing the Incarnate Word campus.

"The beautiful tiles tell the story of the conquest of Mexico, which occurred beginning in 1521. Once the property was acquired by the city, this was the first thing to be restored," Bobbitt said.

Credit Jack Morgan / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
another Dionicio Rodriguez faux bois bench

A 2007 land swap with Incarnate Word and a subsequent master plan began laying out the future of Miraflores. But the past played a key role to deciding its future. That’s because Elise Urrutia has something that no one else has: pictures of the property from a 1970s era photography class.

"My first project was that I wandered onto Miraflores and took photographs there and wonderfully, my negatives from that project survived," she said.

Urrutia is writing a book on Miraflores, and her research and period shots have helped the city navigate through changes to the property. Some sculptures have disappeared, others have been damaged. Still, dozens remain.  

“There are a couple of more statues — the ‘Moon Goddess,’ a little grotto that was done by Dionicio Rodriguez that has little cherubs in it. It's reminiscent of stalactites and stalagmites," she said.


Credit Jack Morgan / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
worker unearthing and restoring brick pathways

Forgotten brick pathways have been unearthed during recent excavation, delaying completion of this first phase until late this summer. Meanwhile, access will be carefully monitored through guided tours. The Conservancy aims to raise additional money for landscaping of Miraflores, including the large trees that once gave this property shade, as well as a sense of mystery. Elise Urrutia wants the restoration to honor her great grandfather.

"I hope that what we reconstruct there will evoke what Dr. Urrutia, his interests were, which basically were to remember Mexico," she said.

Bobbitt says this as the city reimagines the San Antonio River and the San Pedro Creek Culture Park. Now she said, is the time for this stretch of land on the river to finally be restored.  

"The Mission Reach is done. The Museum Reach is done. And this is the Brackenridge Reach. This is the last part of 15 miles of river," she said.

Bobbitt said guided tours will start at Miraflores by the fall.

Credit Jack Morgan / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
A statue of Dr. Urrutia looking towards the San Antonio River and what will be an entrance into the new park.

Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org

CORRECTION: The story has been updated with the correct spelling of the Mexico City suburb of Coyoacán.