San Antonio 'Tricentennial Minute' For June
From the reimagination of the River Walk, to one record store owner's fight to protect the right to sell the classic rap album "As Nasty As They Want To Be," to the Spurs winning their first title, 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.
June 1, 1929
The Tower Life Building is completed. Originally dubbed the Smith-Young Tower, the building rises 403 feet and has 30 floors. Until the late 1950s, it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. The eight-sided, neo-gothic brick and terra-cotta tower — complete with gargoyles — has helped define San Antonio’s skyline. In the 1940s, the building was renamed the Transit Tower for the San Antonio Transit Company, which the Smith Brothers purchased. The building is now named for its current owner, Tower Life Insurance Company. In 1991, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
June 4, 1917
San Antonio is told to shut down its brothels. City leaders agree to the demands of the secretary of the Army, who was concerned with the high rate of venereal disease with troops stationed in San Antonio. The city was told to shut down the “sporting district” or else the army would move its divisional training camps elsewhere. Mayor Sam C. Bell immediately reacted and ordered the police to close the red light district west of San Pedro Creek. Six months later, the joint city-military committee found that prostitution was still raging unencumbered and declared that “the police department was derelict in its duty.”
June 5, 1969
The University of Texas at San Antonio is established. At the time, San Antonio was the only major American city without a public university. In a ceremony in front of the Alamo, Governor Preston Smith signed the law creating UTSA on the back of State Representative Frank Lombardino, who Smith said carried the bill on his broad back through the legislature. UTSA’s first administrative offices were set up in 1970 at Hemisfair Park. Classes began at the 1604 Main Campus in 1975.
June 6, 1836
Roughly 118 years of presidio presence in San Antonio comes to a close. After the victory of the Texas revolution, Captain Francisco Castañeda withdraws from San Antonio and turns the city over to Captain Juan Seguín, who was the commander of the Republic of Texas forces in San Antonio. As Castañeda led his small detachment out of Béxar he left behind the presidio’s extensive historic archive and records. Perhaps he thought his absence from San Antonio would be temporary, but in abandoning the presidio’s historic library, he gave San Antonio ownership of its documents and its story.
June 7, 1968
Students protest Bexar County Commissioner A.J. Ploch. The students were demonstrating against the long-time politician for comments he made in the CBS documentary “Hunger in America,” which showed the disturbing poverty with Mexican Americans living on San Antonio’s Westside. In the CBS interview, Ploch said there was no poverty in San Antonio but the people who are poor, refuse to work and, he said, “aren’t worth a dime.” The documentary was controversial in San Antonio. The local CBS affiliate refused to air it during primetime and scheduled it for 11 at night.
June 8, 1937
A cenotaph controversy. Pompeo Coppini is named the sculptor for the monument to the heroes of the Alamo. The $100,000 contract is awarded over the objections of celebrated Texas author and historian Frank J. Dobie, who was also on the historical advisory board for the cenotaph commission. Dobie called the deal with Coppini a betrayal to the Alamo. He said the Alamo didn’t need a monument because the Alamo is its own monument. Dobie complained the politics had tainted the process in creating a public space for future generations to honor the heroes of the Alamo.
June 11, 1955
Silent integration. The first African American student enrolls at San Antonio college and is greeted by stunned silence. Dean of school W.P. Moody refused to comment saying he’ll see what the college board decides. Hubert F. Lindsey was the barrier breaking student. He was seeking pre-med night classes not available at St. Phillips College, the local historic Black college. School officials said Lindsey was carefully screened and met all the criteria to be admitted.
June 12, 1990
San Antonio’s war on rap. The San Antonio police department ordered record stores in the area to stop selling the album “Nasty As The Wanna Be” by 2 Live Crew. All but Dave Risher of Hogwild Records complied. On June 20, Risher was arrested on the charge of distributing obscene material after he sold a cassette of “Nasty” to a 20-year-old who was part of a local anti-pornography crusade. Risher refused to plead guilty and fought the charge on constitutional grounds. Six months later, just as the case was heading to court, the charge was suddenly dropped.
June 13, 1945
An Alamo City salute to war victors. Downtown San Antonio was turned into a celebration for war heroes from Europe. V.E. Day was May 8 when the allies accepted Germany’s surrender. But the war in the Pacific still loomed. That victory would come in September. Meanwhile, San Antonio held a ticker tape parade for the returning warriors. The parade route went in front of the Alamo where a corral of cattle was set up for the occasion. In one of the parade cars was a smiling freckled faced soldier from Farmersville, Lt. Audie Murphy, a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
June 14, 1937
Charles Bellinger dies. A successful businessman, gambler and political force, Bellinger was known as the “Black Boss” of San Antonio. Bellinger paid poll taxes for thousands of African American voters and they followed his recommendations at the ballot boxes. This gave Bellinger the power to swing local elections for a price that included paving streets in front of African American churches and improvements for black education. Bellinger pleaded guilty to tax evasion and was sentenced to 18 months. FDR commuted his sentence after San Antonio leaders petitioned for a pardon. Critics say his prosecution was politically motivated.
June 15, 1903
San Antonio gets a library. Steel baron and billionaire Andrew Carnegie provided San Antonio $50,000 for a library if the city would provide the site and if it would budget $5,000 a year for maintenance. The Kampmann family donated the land at the corner of Market and Presa streets. The grand building was badly damaged the 1921 flood. The library was rebuilt in 1930 in an art deco style. In 1968, it became the home of the Hertzberg Circus Museum and today it’s the site of the Briscoe Western Art Museum.
June 18, 1856
A caravan of camels. An ambitious project to introduce camels to Texas came to San Antonio with an impromptu parade down main street on their way to Camp Verde, near Kerrville, with a stop at San Pedro Springs. In 1860, the camels were ordered to Big Bend by Col. Robert E. Lee. On the way, several died of thirst. The camels also smelled horrible. They frightened horses. They bit their handlers, and the cantankerous creatures made the typical stubborn mule seem cooperative by comparison.
June 19, 1954
A fiery cross is discovered in front of Woodlawn Pool. The trademark symbol of the Ku Klux Klan was planted at the public pool the day after six African American youth defied Jim Crow and went swimming. As a result, city leaders discovered there was no segregation ordinance on the city books and they ordered all city pools closed for “maintenance and repairs.” The City Council met in an emergency meeting and voted to ban people of color from city swimming pools. After a lawsuit was filed the ordinance was repealed two years later.
June 20, 1922
An insurance company is born. Twenty five Army officers were unable to purchase auto insurance because of the perception they were a high-risk group. Their solution was to form a pool to insure each other’s vehicles. Major Walter Moore had the first policy for his 1922 Elcar and became the first member of the United States Army Automobile Association. In 1924, the name was changed to United States Automobile Association or USAA for short. The organization started offering homeowner's and life insurance in the 1960s, and banking in the 1980s. USAA employs more than 32,000 people throughout the world.
June 21, 1882
A Wilde night in San Antonio. Oscar Wilde, the Irish poet and playwright, gives a lecture at Turner Opera House at the corner of St. Mary’s and Houston streets. Admission was $1. At 27, Wilde had yet to write his most noted works like “The Picture of Dorian Gray” but he was already famous for being famous. The newspaper account paid special attention to Wilde’s appearance, which included shoulder length hair, a black velvet suit, silk stockings, and a large white ribbon on his neck. In 1895, Wilde was put on trial for “gross indecency.” He would serve two years in prison and die soon after, at the age of 46.
June 22, 1878
Streetcar service begins in San Antonio. The transportation enterprise began rolling just over one year after the first railroad — the Galveston Harrisburg and San Antonio — reached the city. For the first few years, the cars were pulled along rails by horses or mules. The very first line created ran from Alamo Plaza to San Pedro Park. Soon other lines were added and real estate values soared along the routes which connected parts of the city which were essentially empty prairie up until this time.
June 25, 1999
The Spurs win their first NBA championship. Because of a labor disagreement, 1999 saw a shortened season. The Spurs’ had a 6-8 start, but went on to win 31 of their last 36 games and have the league's best record. When it came to the finals, there was no shortage of intensity. With 47 seconds to go in Game 5, Avery Johnson hit the game-winner and the Spurs beat the New York Knicks to clinch the championship. Tim Duncan was named the series MVP. The Spurs would go on to win five NBA rings.
June 26, 1917
Thirty-three veterans of the Spanish-American War join together to form Veterans of Foreign Wars Post — the first in the state of Texas. During its first three decades, VFW Post 76 was without a permanent home. In 1946, VFW Post 76 leased and then bought for $15,000 a Queen Anne-style home that was built in 1895. The two story white building, with its impressive columns and wraparound veranda, backs onto the San Antonio River’s museum reach.
June 27, 1884
The last members of the notorious Helotes Gang are captured. Desperados Lewis Potter and James McDaniel were known as “holy terrors” along the San Angelo-Abilene trail, where they would prey on stage coaches and mail delivery. The two were captured near San Angelo, then transferred to Bexar County, tried for murder and sentenced to life in prison. But before he could be sent to prison, McDaniel escaped and fled to the Hill Country. He was tracked to a goat camp near Boerne and refused to surrender. In the resulting gun battle, the outlaw was killed.
June 28, 1929
Following a series of disastrous floods, including one in 1921 that killed 50 people, San Antonio planned to pave over the downtown portion of the San Antonio River. But a young architect, Robert Hugman, presented an alternative. The proposal calls for upgrades to the San Antonio River’s downtown bypass to control flooding but also maintained the natural beauty of the river. Although not as extensive as his original proposal, the controversial project resulted in the improvement of more than 21 blocks along the river known today as the Riverwalk.
June 29, 1956
Rock ‘n’ roll records were removed from juke boxes at city swimming pools because, according to the assistant parks director, of “undesirable incidents” which allegedly were caused by the music. The complaints focused on the wild dancing while in swimming suits and quote “rougher elements loading around and causing trouble.” The records were replaced by singles that officials said “were not designed to set one’s feet on fire.”
Vince Kong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @teamvincek