San Antonio 'Tricentennial Minute' For July
From the announcement of HemisFair to San Antonio's short reign at Texas' most populous city to the last chili queens to the return of Juan Seguin, the Alamo City’s history is as varied and colorful as the people who inhabit it.
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.
July 2, 1731
The site for the church of San Fernando was selected when Juan Antonio Pérez de Almazán, captain of the Presidio of San Antonio, laid out a central square for the villa of San Fernando de Béxar. He followed the instructions by the Spanish government for the newly arrived Canary Islanders. The church was to be located on the west side of the square. The church was completed in 1755. The congregation chose Our Lady of Candlemas and Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe as patrons in addition to the town's official patron San Fernando or King Fernando III of Spain.
July 3, 1963
The location is announced for HemisFair. The 150-acre site for the proposed 1968 World’s Fair would supplant a neighborhood, known as Germantown, at the southeast corner of downtown. It was one of the oldest settled parts of San Antonio and had once been farmland for the Alamo mission. In 1963, San Antonio leaders saw Germantown as a slum and Mayor Walter McAllister called for immediate “horseback appraisals of the land” to start to the process of condemning and acquisition. Less than five years later, HemisFair opened and transformed San Antonio.
July 4, 1976
The remains of Juan Seguin return to Texas. Seguin was a hero of the Texas Revolution, a senator in the Republic and San Antonio mayor. A member of a leading ranching family in South Texas, Seguin fought for the rights of Tejanos. While mayor of San Antonio, Anglo squatters accused Seguin of being a traitor to Texas. He fled to Mexico, where he was imprisoned until he agreed to serve in the Mexican military. He died there in 1890. Eighty-six years later, his remains were buried in Seguin, the town named in his honor.
July 5, 2015
The San Antonio Missions are named a U.N.World Heritage Site. The Alamo and four Spanish colonial Catholic missions join other key landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. The designation is the first time that a Texas site is deemed of "outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity" by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The decision caps a nine-year campaign by San Antonio to have the early 18th century missions listed alongside the cultural landmarks.
July 6, 1939
The chili queens are suspended. Mayor Maury Maverick closed the chili stands at the Farmers Market for 10 days for health inspections. The chili queens were famous for their fare of chili con carne, tamales, and other regional offerings. It was this street food that gave birth to Tex-Mex cuisine. But the city’s health department and the chili queens were in a constant struggle over the stands. Despite public support for the chili queens in the early 1940s, the city’s health department deemed the dishwashing methods unsanitary and closed the chili stands permanently.
July 9, 1941
“Scrap to Scrap the Axis” was a slogan on the lips of San Antonians as they joined a local drive for aluminum for national defense. The attack on Pearl Harbor wouldn’t happen for another five months but it was clear that war was imminent. San Antonio police officers were taking the lead in the campaign to round up scrap metal. Twenty-six Lone Star Brewing Company drivers volunteered on their days off to collect the metal. Families were encouraged to drop off their old aluminum pots, pans and other articles in front of the Municipal Auditorium.
July 10, 2015
After 110 years at the Alamo, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas mark the end of their duty their custodianship. In an emotional service, the DRT recited prayers in English, Spanish, Danish, and German to remember the fallen Alamo defenders. As tourists continued their casual inspection of the Shrine to Texas Liberty, there was a solemn ceremony. The daughters turned over the authority of the hallowed grounds to the Texas General Land Office. Tears were shed in this changing of the guard as bagpipes played “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”
July 11, 1882
Jack Harris is fatally gunned down. Harris was a San Antonio businessman and political leader. In 1872, Harris opened the Vaudeville Theater and Saloon at the corner of Commerce on Main Plaza. It was the most notorious place in Texas for drinking, gambling and other vices. In 1880, gunslinger and Austin City Marshall Ben Thompson lost heavily at the tables and threatened revenge. July 11, 1882, Thompson returned, pulled his six-shooter and fired the fatal shots through the Vaudeville’s swinging door. Harris's obituaries saluted "his liberality, shrewdness, and tact."
July 12, 1936
San Antonio Mayor C.K. Quin fires the entire city board of health. The board was charged with finding ways to reduce the local tuberculosis death rate as well as dealing with outbreaks of polio and other infectious diseases. Its recommendation was to consolidate the city, county and school health departments and give the health board authority to hire and fire health employees. A system of corrupt patronage was deep rooted in San Antonio, where city jobs were provided as political favors. The local doctors who made up the board said Quin’s actions were “unethical.”
July 13, 1955
“How Kelly Field Spends Your Tax Dollars” was written and published by sheet metal worker Roy Harrington. The 15-page booklet cost 25 cents each but could have cost Kelly Air Force Base much more as it detailed idleness and waste. Harrington said workers would often stand around with nothing to do for days at a time. He said he wanted the facility to be more thrifty and efficient so he sent copies to President Eisenhower and Senator Lyndon Johnson. Johnson nixed an investigation into the allegations. Kelly officials said the pamphlet was untrue, misleading and ridiculous.
July 16, 1934
Pecan shellers go on strike. The Pecan Shelling Workers Union of San Antonio was formed in 1933 by Magdaleno Rodriguez. There were competing organizers of “los nuestros,” the pecan shellers. Julius Seligman, the major pecan shelling operator in San Antonio was paying Rodriguez to weaken rival shellers. Rodriguez did win some concessions for the workers. Later he was jailed for union activities and confined to a mental hospital. Four years later, Emma Tenayuca managed to unite San Antonio’s fractured labor movement and led the first successful pecan sheller strike.
July 17, 1924
San Antonio is the largest city in Texas. The Federal Bureau of the Census pegged San Antonio’s population at 191,398. The second largest city in Texas at the time was Dallas, at just over 189,000. Mayor John W. Tobin predicted that by 1950 the city would hit 600,000. But San Antonio’s population growth stalled in the 1930’s during the depression while Dallas and Houston saw rapid growth due to the oil boom. San Antonio’s population wouldn’t hit the 600,000 mark until the 1960’s.
July 18, 1970
The Great (Little) Train Robbery. The Brackenridge Eagle had just pulled out of the park’s tunnel when it was stopped by two gunmen. Many of the 75 passengers thought the hold-up was part of a show and laughed when the pistoleros demanded their valuables. But when the marauders started to get rough the passengers realized they were part of the first train robbery in Texas in the last 50 years. The thieves got away with about $500 dollars. After a manhunt, the culprits were found to be soldiers stationed at Fort Sam Houston.
July 19, 1885
Uninterrupted collection of weather data begins for San Antonio. The first official weather observation for San Antonio in the National Climatic Data Center was on Jan. 1, 1846, by the U.S. Army Medical Department at Camp Almus, near the Alamo. But that effort lasted just two months. The signal service began the current streak of weather data collection and, in 1893, the U.S. Weather Bureau took over observations. The hottest day in San Antonio records was 111 degrees on Sept. 5, 2000. The coldest day recorded was zero degrees on Jan. 31, 1949.
July 20, 1956
As a Civil Rights Act is debated in Washington D.C., two burning crosses are discovered in San Antonio. San Antonio Police report the burning of a cross. It was six feet tall, wrapped in burlap and soaked in gasoline. The cross was found shortly before 10 p.m., near the corner of Hildebrand and McCullough. This was the second cross burning in a week in San Antonio. The first one was at Highway 90 and Commerce Street. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 was the first federal civil rights legislation passed since 1875.
July 23, 1937
San Antonio discovers and corrects a plumbing problem that allowed the waste from the Brackenridge Zoo’s bear pit and monkey island to flow into and contaminate the city’s drinking water. The problem was discovered as the city conducted a city wide plumbing inspection while it pursued a vigorous campaign to force local homeowners to install sewage backflow preventers. The city also discovered that untreated sewage water was seeping into the municipal swimming pools.
July 24, 2002
San Antonio begins the process of adding fluoride to the public water supply. At the time San Antonio was the largest city in the U.S. without fluoride. The proposal to add the teeth strengthening mineral to the water system was put to voters in 1986 and fell short. However, on Nov. 7, 2000, the fluoride referendum passed with less than 53 percent of the vote. The U.S. Center for Disease Control lists water fluoridation as one of the great public health achievements of the 20th century.
July 25, 1820
Erasmo Seguin is sworn in as alcade of San Antonio de Bexar. Seguin was the head of a prominent ranching family in Texas. After Mexico achieved independence from Spain, he was named the sole representative from Texas to the constitutional convention, where he helped to draft the Constitution of 1824. Seguín assisted Stephen F. Austin, establishing the first colony of American settlers in Texas. He later supported the Texas Revolution, providing political as well as material support. His son Juan was also a leader of the Texas Revolution. After the revolution, Erasmo Seguín was named a chief justice of Bexar County.
July 26, 1940
The Works Progress Administration fires 13 employees for failure to pledge loyalty. The WPA was one the largest new deal agencies during the depression, employing 71,000 men in Texas to carry out public works. However, 13 workers refused to sign statements that said they were not Communist members, part of any Nazi bund or connected to any other subversive organization. A year earlier, all employees were removed from the rolls who were not citizens.
July 27, 1970
Protests begin at the downtown offices of the San Antonio Savings Association over remarks Mayor Walter McAllister made in an NBC News report on San Antonio poverty. McAllister commented that Mexican-Americans lacked ambition and were more concerned with gardening. The comments were called derogatory and racist by La Raza Unida. McAllister said his statements were taken out of context. During the summer of 1970, the anti-McAllister protests became a fixture in local news. He defied calls for his resignation and served out his term to 1971.
July 30, 1982
With its Spanish-Moorish architectural design, the campus of Thomas Jefferson High School is named a state landmark by the Texas State Historical Society. When Jeff was constructed in 1931, only two high schools existed in San Antonio – Brackenridge High on the south side, and Main Avenue in the north. SAISD purchased the 33 acres for the school in a planned housing development known as Spanish Acres. At that time, it was only accessible by horseback because there were no roads past Fredericksburg Road. In 1937, Jefferson was named the outstanding high school in America.
July 31, 1955
The San Antonio Chamber of Commerce announces a weeklong celebration for the “King of the Wild Frontier.” In 1955, all things Davy Crockett were red hot, sparked by Fess Parker starring in the “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” TV programs. San Antonio wanted its piece of this first baby boomer merchandising bonanza and the city organized a massive Crockett birthday party, which included an hour-long downtown parade, a bear grinning contest and plenty of coonskin caps.