From the reopening of the San Fernando Cathedral to the grand opening of the Witte Museum to the birth of Texas Public Radio news, San Antonio’s history is as varied and colorful as the people who inhabit the Alamo City.
This is Texas Public Radio’s San Antonio Tricentennial Minute, a look back at 300 years of Alamo City culture, one day at a time, written and produced by David Martin Davies and narrated by contributor Yvette Benavides.
This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
The first of three major floods in one year hits San Antonio. The first, rainfall of over 7 inches in 24-hours caused major flooding along the San Antonio River, San Pedro Creek and Alazán creeks. The second, on Dec. 3, takes one life and inundated local waterways and downtown. And the third on Oct. 23, 1914. A solution is considered, building Olmos Dam. Yet it would take the loss of 54 lives with the September of 1921 flood to convince city leaders to fund the dam.
San Antonio Police raid a northside residence suspected of being a top-shelf brothel, arresting the alleged madam, Theresa Brown. Police also confiscated a list of “customers” — with over 3,000 names, including a number of local and state VIPs. A partial list was published in the local media. Police, acting under a court order, torched the confiscated client list. But rumors persisted that Brown had a backup list. Brown later unsuccessfully ran for City Council, challenging a council member who was rumored to have been one of her clients.
— TPR News (@TPRNews) October 3, 2018
San Antonio gets an NPR news station, KSTX. For years, San Antonio public radio supporters had clamored for a local provider of National Public Radio but funding the construction of the station was almost out of reach. Then, as the broadcasting license application was about to expire, it was switched on. The new station was paired with local classical music station KPAC to form the nonprofit Texas Public Radio. Since first signing on, KSTX has been the San Antonio home of NPR’s flagship news magazines. Through listener support, KSTX later added local newscasts and programs to its schedule.
— TPR News (@TPRNews) October 4, 2018
After extensive renovations, San Fernando Cathedral is consecrated and reopened. The site for the Church of San Fernando was selected on July 2, 1731, and was the center of life for the growing community. However, by 1840, the church had fallen into a state of disrepair. Half of its roof was gone and birds and bats made it their home. The original bell tower and part of the nave were razed. The new Gothic Revival design included a gable roof, twin bell towers, and buttresses. The second tower would not be completed until 1902.
— TPR News (@TPRNews) October 5, 2018
The Mission Reach segment of the San Antonio River Improvements Project opens to the public. The plan for the Mission Reach was to take the concrete-channeled San Antonio River south of downtown and restore it to its natural contours with a riparian woodland ecosystem of native plants. The eight-mile stretch provides a historic view of San Antonio that leads to the Spanish Missions Trail. The $271 million dollar project was funded by Bexar County, San Antonio, the Army Corps of Engineers and private donations from the San Antonio River Foundation.
The Witte Museum opens. A San Antonio museum was the dream of Ellen Schulz Quillin, who was a botanist and high school teacher. Despite her dedication, the dream seemed out of reach. But then unexpectedly, $65,000 was bequeathed to build a museum at Brackenridge Park by businessman Alfred G. Witte. With additional funds from the city, the museum was built at the location of the original Spanish Acequia Madre de Valero. Through the late 1920s and 1930s, Schultz Quillin worked tirelessly to build and managed the Witte while paid a dollar-a-year.
Governor Sam Houston speaks at San Pedro Springs Park. Despite being a slaveholder, he was hoping to persuade San Antonians to join him in opposing the Confederacy. In the two-hour speech, the leader of Texas independence and the former president of the Republic addressed the throng at the park and warned them of the deadly consequences of attempting to leave the union. And as he delivered the line: “political platforms will not stand,” the wooden platform he was standing on collapsed. The 67-year-old, however, continued his speech.
— TPR News (@TPRNews) October 11, 2018
After being rented from Dallas, the Chaparrals, now the Spurs, play their first ABA game. The matchup against the San Diego Conquistadors was played in front of 6,000 loud new fans who rattled the rafters of the HemisFair Arena. The roster featured George Karl and James Silas. George “The Iceman” Gervin joined the team soon after. The Spurs lost that first game, 121–106, but they would finish the first season with a 45-39 record. The Spurs were then bought by a local ownership group and, in 1976, joined the NBA.
— TPR News (@TPRNews) October 11, 2018
The U.S. Supreme Court hears the case Espinoza v. Farah, which asked if refusing to hire someone who is a legal resident alien but is not a U.S. citizen is a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which protects against discrimination based on national origin. San Antonio resident and a citizen of Mexico Cecilia Espinoza brought the case after she was refused employment by Farah Manufacturing because she was not a citizen. The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of Farah Manufacturing. It held that employment discrimination against non-citizens is allowed even if they have legal work status.
San Antonio has its first official Indigenous People’s Day. The designation occurs on the traditional day once set aside to celebrate explorer Christopher Columbus. However, in November of 2015, the San Antonio City County designated Oct. 12 a day to recognize the sacrifices and contributions of the original inhabitants of the San Antonio area. A growing number of cities and states recognize Indigenous People’s Day but the state does not.
— TPR News (@TPRNews) October 15, 2018
A new footbridge is opened at Commerce Street over the San Antonio River. The Commerce Street river crossing is the site of the historic main ford, across the river, and has long been the focal point for the city. In 1880, an iron truss bridge was built but it was replaced by the present concrete bridge in 1915. This was part of a major improvement project to widen Commerce Street. The south side of the bridge contains a sculpture that was once a drinking fountain of an Indian brave entitled, “The First Inhabitant.”
Ground is broken for the Toyota truck manufacturing plant in South San Antonio. Local leaders say bringing Toyota is the single biggest economic issue the city has ever undertaken. The first Tundra truck rolled off the assembly line on Nov. 17, 2006. The arrival of Toyota changed the economic picture San Antonio, which had been losing manufacturing jobs and witnessed a string of factory closures.
— TPR News (@TPRNews) October 17, 2018
President William Howard Taft arrives in San Antonio. While in San Antonio, Taft laid the cornerstone for a new chapel at Fort Sam Houston. Called the Gift Chapel, it was a gift from the people of San Antonio to the Army post. Taft was on a coast-to-coast train tour of the nation in a specially built rail car for the 13,000-mile journey. On the previous day, Taft was in El Paso where he shook hands with Mexico President Porfirio Diaz and the topic of discussion was improving trade relations.
The Mexican commandant of San Antonio Martin Perfectro de Cos rejects an offer of truce from Stephen F. Austin. Cos was in Texas to end the rebellion. Cos replies to Austin that he refuses to acknowledge the Army of Texas so he will not enter into negotiations. Cos called Austin an ignorant traitor who would lead his people into a disastrous war. Weeks later — Dec. 11, 1835, during the Siege of Bexar — Cos and his garrison took a defensive position inside the Alamo Mission. They were outmatched by the Texicans and surrendered. Cos was defeated and returned to Mexico.
— TPR News (@TPRNews) October 19, 2018
The League of Women Voters of Texas is formed in San Antonio. The nonpartisan political organization was created after a woman’s right to vote was recognized in Texas. This was a year before the right was recognized nationally with the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment. The mission was to educate all voters of their rights and of the issues and candidates on the ballot. The newly enfranchised women decided they would dissolve the Texas Equal Suffrage Association and reorganize as the Texas League of Women Voters
— TPR News (@TPRNews) October 22, 2018
A Confederate invasion of the Western Territory marches from San Antonio. Known as the New Mexico Campaign, 3,200 men were led by Henry Hopkins Sibley with the mission to conquer and occupy the West, all the way to San Diego Bay. In San Antonio, Sibley raised three regiments — the Fourth, Fifth, and Seventh Texas Mounted Volunteers. Sibley underestimated opposition to the Confederates in the West and the invasion was an unmitigated disaster. After being forced to retreat, only half of the brigade made it back to San Antonio, having failed at all of their goals.
San Antonio was gaga for John Wayne and his movie “The Alamo.” The Alamo City staged a three-day celebration for the Duke, including a 20,000-person square dance and a 30-foot cake in the shape of the Alamo that Wayne carved up with a bowie knife — all leading to the world premier of the film at the Woodlawn Theater. The Alamo epic was Wayne’s personal dream and ambition. He was the producer, director, and the star in the role of Davy Crockett. Wayne said he wanted the movie to inspire Americans during the Cold War era.
— TPR News (@TPRNews) October 24, 2018
San Antonio buys the local electric utility San Antonio Public Service Company, which today is CPS Energy. The purchase was a $34 million, no cash deal. The utility ran the electric power plants, gas lines and streetcars and was owned by the American Light and Traction Company. It was forced to sell because of federal antitrust laws. The purchase was controversial; doubters said city hall had no business owning a utility. But 76 years since, CPS energy has generated over $7 billion dollars for the city and is a leader in energy production.
An election is held to improve the San Antonio River. The election would allow the sale of $75,000 in bonds which would be matched with $325,000 dollars in federal funds. Plaza Hotel Manager Jack White pushed for the plan, which passed 74-2. Coincidentally, 71 of the voters lived in White’s hotel. The engineer of the project, E. P. Arneson, said the project would include an outdoor performing theater with walks built along the river banks. He promised that, when complete, the river would be a useful as a street.
Events were leading up to the Battle of Concepcion, which is the opening engagement of the Siege of Bexar in the war for Texas independence. On Oct. 27, Stephen Austin ordered James Bowie to lead 90 men from Mission Espada to find a position closer to San Antonio. They reached Mission Concepcion and camped there for the night. In the morning fog, the Mexican cavalry attacked. Outnumbered three to one, Bowie drove back three more charges and counterattacked, forcing a Mexican Army retreat. The Texans captured a cannon and about 50 Mexican soldiers were killed. Texas losses included one killed and one wounded.
— TPR News (@TPRNews) October 30, 2018
The day after the Texan victory at the Battle of Concepcion, the Mexican army fled back into San Antonio where the Texans dared not chase them. The final tally left some 60 Mexican soldiers dead and one dead Texan. The victory seemed to confirm what was suspected about the Mexican soldiers — that they were poorly armed and trained and didn't really want to be fighting in Texas. And the Texans were proving to be highly motivated, well armed and with solid leadership. The battle also proved to the world that the Texans were serious about their independence.
A tragic fire sweeps through an orphanage, and kills three children and five nuns.
The blaze ignited at about 4:30 a.m. at the Saint John’s Orphanage. It was home to a total of 90 boys along with eight nuns, who cared for them.
During the blaze, the nuns had nearly all the children out of the building when they noticed a toddler was missing.
One of the nuns, Mother Mary of the Cross Rossiter ran back in to save the boy and became trapped. They both perished in the fire.
The orphanage was eventually rebuilt and renamed St. Peter-St. Joseph’s Children’s Home.
One of the biggest scares in the city’s history was during the lifting of the Hemisfair Tower. The cupcake-shaped structure was built on the ground and was to be hoisted the 579 feet into position. But halfway up, on Halloween night, some of the lifting rods snapped and almost sent it crashing to the ground. The next few days were critical to secure the top house in place and then resume the lift. Construction cranes from around the state were scrounged and the job was completed in time for the fair’s opening six months later.
Vince Kong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @teamvincek