San Antonio 'Tricentennial Minute' For May
From the opening of the San Antonio Botanical Garden to the battle of Adams Hill to the student walkout at Edgewood and Lanier high schools, 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.
TPR's San Antonio Tricentennial Minute is made possible by:
May 1, 1946
The Federal Communications Commission grants a broadcasting license to radio station KCOR AM 1350 to Raoul A. Cortez. This was the first full-time Spanish language radio station in the U.S. Cortez was a journalist, a civil rights leader and an entrepreneur. He first applied for the license in 1944, but non-English broadcasting was banned during World War II. Cortez argued that Spanish language news would bolster Mexican-American support for the war. Nevertheless, he had to wait for the end of the war till he could sign on. In 1955, Cortez launched KCOR-TV Channel 41, the first American TV station aimed at serving Latino viewers.
May 2, 1940
San Antonio expands. Since its founding, the map of the city was perfectly square with the center point being the top of the dome of San Fernando Cathedral. In May of 1940, that square was six miles each way, totalling 36 square miles, but with this first set of city annexations that symmetry ended. Seven new areas were added, including Los Angeles Heights, Jefferson Manor, Olmos Terrace and Harlandale. These additions broke the boundary into an irregular shape to the northwest and southeast. By 2014 San Antonio’s footprint swelled by 497 square miles and was the seventh largest city in the nation.
May 3, 1980
The San Antonio Botanical Garden officially opens to the public with the mission to inspire people to connect with the world of plants, and understand the importance of plants in our lives. The land at the eastern end of Mahncke Park had been a limestone quarry and in 1877 it was the site of the San Antonio Water Works, eventually owned by George Brackenridge. In 1899, he deeded it to the city. In 1970, voters approved a quarter of a million dollars in bonds for the garden project. With additional funding from the Ewing Halsell Foundation and others, the dream of a garden showplace took root and bloomed.
May 4, 1991
San Antonio voters say “no” to Applewhite. In 1979, City Hall recommended building an artificial lake for future water needs. That would be known as the Applewhite Reservoir. It would cost $180 million and be located on a 7 mile stretch along the Medina River. A petition drive brought the issue to the voters. Supporters of Applewhite were the city’s establishment. They claimed its water was absolutely needed for the well-being of San Antonio. Opponents said the project was wasteful and a giveaway to the city’s special interests at the cost of water ratepayers. In 1994, Applewhite returned to the voters. They again said no.
May 7, 2008
The day after a devastating fire San Antonio’s Catholic leaders and community vow to rebuild Our Lady of the Lake University. The four alarm blaze gutted the university’s gothic main building and administrative offices. OLLU was founded in 1895 by Sisters of the Congregation of the Divine Providence to bring education and service to San Antonio’s Westside. In 1919, it was admitted into the Texas Association of Colleges. A decade after the fire enrollment has climbed and new academic programs have been added. The rebuilt main building has been modernized and its iconic profile continues to standout in the San Antonio skyline.
May 8, 1861
Texas Confederate and Union forces meet in the battle of Adams Hill. The confrontation wasn’t actually a battle since no shot was fired, but the two armies met on the military road 15 miles to the west of San Antonio. After a six week march back from El Paso, the federal forces met the Rebels and took a defensive position on Adams Hill. They were tired, sick and outnumbered five to one. After negotiations, they surrendered. The Union’s soldiers were taken as prisoners of war and held for 21 months.
May 9, 1942
San Antonio tests it’s new air raid sirens. In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Military City USA prepares for the possibility of a sneak attack with new gasoline-powered air raid horns. The two sirens were placed at Alamo Stadium facing south and at the Hays Street Bridge. On October 24, 1962, the San Antonio sirens were accidentally activated and residents ran to area nuclear bomb shelters. It was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The alert system continued through the 1970’s with tests at 10:30 AM every second Friday of the month.
May 10, 1911
George Edward Kelly was killed during his primary pilot qualification flight at Fort Sam Houston. The second lieutenant was flying a Curtiss aeroplane. This was the third aviation accident to happen at Fort Sam in the span of 10 days — all of them in the same plane. Kelly was the first American military aviator to be killed while piloting a military aircraft. In 1916, the Army created an airfield in San Antonio initially called Camp Kelly, and then Kelly Field. In 1948, it was renamed Kelly Air Force Base.
May 11, 1738
The cornerstone of the San Fernando Cathedral is laid. The cathedral was first completed in 1755. It was named for King Fernando III of Spain, who was canonized in 1671. While the building’s current structure has been greatly rebuilt, renovated and expanded over the years, the walls of the original structure still form the sanctuary of the cathedral. The church was greatly expanded between 1868 and 1873. The original tower used by Santa Anna during the battle of the Alamo was torn down. In 1874, it became an official cathedral when Pope Pius the 19th named San Antonio a diocese.
May 14, 1716
The Domingo Ramon expedition reached the source of the San Pedro Springs. The Spanish company was made of explorers, friars and, for the first time, soldiers with their wives. They were heading to the Spanish territory of East Texas to counter the encroachment of the French. Domingo Ramon noted in his diary how clear and sweet the spring water was and how abundant the fish were. And like the Espinosa-Olivares-Aguirre expedition of 1709, he also specifically identified the location as a prime spot to establish missions and a village.
May 15, 1861
The Alamo Express is set on fire. Publisher James P. Newcomb was a rare voice of opposition to the secessionist Knights of the Golden Circle, which used terror tactics to enforce its rule in San Antonio. That night the Golden Circle came to the newspaper’s office to lynch Newcomb. Tipped off, he went into hiding. The mob then torched the building. The next day Newcomb was seen on horseback in a full gallop down Commerce Street shouting obscenities at his enemies and fled to California. In 1867 Newcomb returned to San Antonio and bought an interest in the San Antonio Express.
May 16, 1968
Students at Edgewood and Lanier high chools walkout. It was a year of protests across America against the Vietnam War, poverty and systemic racial prejudice. In San Antonio, the demand for change came with the 10 a.m. bell at the underfunded school campuses. That was the signal to rise up, leave the classroom, grab a protest sign and march. The list of demands included improvements to the dilapidated facilities, access to college prep courses and the lifting of the prohibition of speaking Spanish on campus. Soon parents and others joined the cause, pointing out the chronic underfunding of the schools and demanding change.
May 17, 1976
The U.S. Army Arsenal property is offered for sale by the Texas National Guard. The Army established the Arsenal in 1859 for a support guarding settlements in the frontier. But with the outbreak of the Civil War, Confederate forces claimed the property and ousted the Union troops. When the U.S. regained control, the complex manufactured cavalry equipment. It was closed in 1948. In 1985, the H.E. Butt Grocery Company bought 10 acres of the Arsenal complex, rehabilitated the existing buildings, and moved their corporate headquarters to San Antonio from Corpus Christi.
May 18, 1987
The Spurs Lucky Day. It was on this day that the struggling San Antonio Spurs drew the No. 1 pick in the NBA lottery. There was no question who they would draft — a once in a generation franchise player from the Naval Academy: David Robinson. He wouldn’t be available to suit up until after his two-year commitment to the Navy. Then the Admiral played in San Antonio for 14 seasons. Ten years later, to the day, the Spurs won the No. 1 pick again — this time the lottery provided Tim Duncan. Both are two of the greatest players ever to play in the NBA.
May 21, 1991
Confederate flags and symbols are removed from Robert E. Lee High School. Principal Bill Fish decided to ban the Confederate flag from the school’s athletic and band uniforms, and activities sponsored by the school. The St. Andrews Cross flag was not banned from student use. Fish said he made his decision after students said it was a symbol of racism. It was in 2017 that the name of the school was changed to L.E.E. an acronym for Legacy of Educational Excellence. The new name goes into effect in the fall of 2018.
May 22, 1846
James L. Trueheart is named the first U.S. postmaster for San Antonio. In 1841, Trueheart became the local district clerk. A year later, the entire court was captured when Mexican troops invaded and plundered San Antonio. With others, Trueheart was taken to Mexico as a prisoner and incarcerated for two years. He returned home in 1844. When Trueheart was named postmaster, Texas had just joined the U.S. Mail routes had existed during the Republic but, at this time, the U.S. post office introduced its first prepaid adhesive stamps which seemed to announce the new statehood status of Texas.
May 23, 1984
Edgewood v. Kirby is filed. The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund sues Texas on behalf of Edgewood ISD. It charged the state’s education funding method violated the state constitution — particularly the state’s reliance on local property taxes. This created inequality in education in property poor districts like Edgewood. In 1990, the Texas Supreme Court unanimously declared the system unconstitutional. Since then, there have been multiple attempts at fixing school funding but the problem persists.
May 24, 1911
A park by any other name. When San Antonio Mayor Bryan Callaghan changed the name of Brackenridge Park to “Waterworks Park,” the public reacted with outrage. Callaghan and George Brackenridge had long squabbled over water and whiskey. Some had jokingly called Brackenridge Park “Prohibition Park” over its deed restriction that said if alcohol was sold at the park the land would be given to the University of Texas. Callaghan ordered new signs for “Waterworks Park” but the public never took to the name and over a year later the city council changed the name back to “Brackenridge Park.”
May 25, 1894
A public hanging. A crowd gathers outside the Bexar County Jail yard on Military Plaza to witness the execution by hanging of Austin Brown, an African American man who had been convicted of stalking, ambushing and murdering a black former police officer named Anderson Harris. It was common for public hangings occur in San Antonio and across Texas. The last Texas execution by hanging was in 1923 in Brazoria County. It was in 1923 that Texas changed its execution law requiring the death penalty to be carried out with the electric chair at the state penitentiary in Huntsville.
May 28, 1988
SeaWorld of Texas makes a splash. SeaWorld’s presence was welcomed as an opportunity to level-up San Antonio’s tourism economy. The 250 acre marine-mammal center and amusement park welcomed 75,000 people on its grand opening, and saw 3 million visitors in its first year. In 2013, the documentary “Blackfish” was released concerning the controversy of captive killer whales which were the main attraction for SeaWorld. In 2016, SeaWorld announced it was ending the in-park Orca breeding program and would eventually phase out the theatrical killer whale shows. It would now focus on a “Shamu-Free future.”
May 29, 1857
A wild west shootout. Outlaw Bill Hart and two of his companions are confronted by Assistant City Marshal Frederik Vilhelm Fieldstrup at the corner of Market and Alamo streets. After an exchange of words, they pulled their pistols. Fieldstrup killed Hart’s companions but was fatally shot. Fieldstrup, a native of Denmark and a veteran of the U.S.-Mexico war is considered to be the first San Antonio police officer to die in the line of duty since the establishment of a police department. Hart fled but was chased by vigilantes who cornered him. After another shootout they riddled him with bullets.
May 30, 1858
Four men are found hanged to death from a tree near San Jose Mission. The four were Mexican and were Francisco Huizan, Pablo Longoria, Felipe Lopez and Nicanor Urdiales. They were seized by a band of 30 masked men and were accused of being horse thieves. But without evidence, documentation and due process it’s unclear what was truly behind the lynching. This hanging was attributed to the secret “Vigilance Committee.” In September of 1858 a Bexar County grand jury reported a plague of “summary vengeance” and vigilantism in the community.
May 31, 1874
Congregation Temple Beth-El is organized — the oldest Jewish congregation in South Texas. The opening of Temple Beth-El's first building in 1874 was celebrated by local church choirs singing together with the temple's choir. A second building was built in 1902. During its construction, the temple met in a neighboring Baptist church and, in turn, various Christian congregations held their services in the temple building for many years. From 1897 to 1920, the rabbi was Samuel Marks, who was an active participant in the civic activities of the state.