San Antonio 'Tricentennial Minute' For November
From the groundbreaking of the Alamo Dome to the Camel Corp to serving as the backdrop to R.E.M.'s music video for "Everybody Hurts," 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.
Nov. 1, 1992
San Antonio’s telephone area code is changed from 512 to 210. The 512 area code was shared with Austin and Central Texas until then. Southwestern Bell said the growth in population and in telecommunications services in San Antonio had depleted the available number supply. One explanation as to why Austin was able to keep the 512 was that it would be too expensive for Texas state offices to make the transition. In 2016, the creation of the 726 area code forced local residents to dial a 10-digit phone number.
Nov. 2, 1892
The San Antonio Light mentions in a brief local news item how Día de los Muertos was being marked. It read, “The decorations of the graves at the Mexican cemetery were many and beautiful.” The newspaper reported the occasion as being All Saints’ Day. The Day of the Dead observance goes back over 3,000 years in the Americas and with the arrival of the missionaries, it was blended with the feast day of all souls along with colonial Catholic teachings.
Nov. 5, 1990
Ground is broken on the Alamodome. The city moved forward with the fanfare and construction despite ongoing legal and personality clashes over the facility’s proposed name. After the city had announced it was naming its new multi-purpose center The Alamodome it came to light that the name was trademarked by another company. The city then floated to little enthusiasm other possible names including The Fiesta Dome and the MegaDome. A deal was eventually struck to purchase the name Alamodome. It didn’t matter that the facility is not an actual true architectural dome.
Nov. 6, 1931
Congressman Harry Wurzbach dies while in office. Representing the 14th district of Texas, Wurzbach — a rare Texas Republican — was an attorney based in Seguin. His sudden death created a political earthquake in Washington D.C. A special election was held in San Antonio, which was won by Democrat Richard M. Kleberg. That gave the Dems a one-seat majority of the House, which they held for the next 15 years. However, Kleberg was not keen on the day-to-day job of being a congressman so he delegated much to his administrative assistant Lyndon Johnson.
Nov. 7, 1835
The Declaration of Nov. 7, 1835, is adopted by the Consultation at San Felipe. This document was a declaration of causes for Texas to take up arms against Mexico. This is while the rebellion had already begun and Mexican troops were marching against San Antonio. The justification provided was not secession but Mexico’s abandonment of its Constitution of 1824. It’s not clear if this argument was sincere or a strategic bid to win support from factions in Mexico and native Tejanos against the dictator General Santa Ana.
Nov. 8, 1966
Texans voted in favor of repealing the state poll tax. The issue was Proposition 7 on a state ballot and it passed with 59 percent. The U.S. Supreme Court had already ruled in February 1966 that the state poll tax violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. Additionally, the federal poll tax was abolished two years earlier with the ratification of the 24th Amendment. In 1963, Texans were able to vote on a repeal of the poll tax but that failed statewide. However, Bexar County voters supported the repeal.
Nov. 9, 1859
A caravan of camels is led down the middle of Commerce Street in San Antonio to take their place in one of the strangest experiments by the U.S. military. The vast waterless land of the Southwest was a puzzle for the Army that Secretary of War Jefferson Davis figured to be the soled with camels. The desert pack animals were shipped to Texas and then marched to San Antonio, where they were led to San Pedro Springs to camp. The Camel Corp outperformed mules in every category but they weren’t able to traverse the prejudice against the animal by military commanders.
Nov. 12, 1914
Otto Koehler is fatally shot by one of his mistresses. Koehler was the head of Pearl Beer. His invalid wife and his two German mistresses were each named Emma. Koehler was distraught when one of his lovers, Emma Dumpke, suddenly eloped and decamped to St. Louis. Koehler then turned his full attention to Emma Burgemeister, nicknamed “Hedda.” But that affair soured and ended with Hedda on trial for murder. She was found not guilty and ended up marrying one of the jurors. Emma, the wife, rose from her sick bed, took over the brewery and ran the business with spectacular success.
Nov. 13, 1917
Sidney Johnson Brooks Jr. dies in his final training flight at Kelly Field. Brooks was completing his final training flight for a commission as a military aviator when his Curtiss JN-4 suddenly nose-dived into the ground. The 22-year old Brooks was well known in the community. He was the son of a local judge and had worked as a reporter for the San Antonio Light. He was a law student at the University of Texas where he volunteered and answered the call for the American Flying Corps. Brooks was awarded his wings and commission posthumously. Brooks Air Force Base was named in his honor.
Nov. 14, 1964
The Brackenridge Skyride takes to the sky. The attraction was the vision of Randall Clay, president of the Aerial Transportation Company. The idea was pitched to the San Antonio City Council as a ride that would stretch 1,200 feet and cost 50 cents for a round trip ticket. The council approved the idea on the terms the city would get a quarter of the profits. The tramway stood 100 feet tall and stretched from the entrance of the zoo to the top of Gorilla Hill at the Japanese Tea Gardens. The Skyride ended its run in 1999.
Nov. 15, 1926
A French village outside of San Antonio was attacked, bombed and set on fire — all for the filming of the movie “Wings.” The classic silent war film “Wings” was shot on location in San Antonio with hundreds of extras and some 300 military pilots using planes from the U.S. Air Corp. The climactic battle of Saint-Mihiel was rehearsed for 10 days using Camp Stanley as a stand-in for the battle-scarred French countryside. “Wings” was an immediate success upon release and became the yardstick against which successive aviation films were measured. Wings went on to win the first Academy Award for Best Picture in 1929.
Nov. 16, 1926
The Nix Professional Building is opened with great fanfare. The gothic style 23-story building was promoted as the first of its kind in the world. The Nix’s innovation was the first “medical mall.” Conceived by Joseph M. Nix as a building that not only housed a hospital but also doctor’s offices and other medical support facilities and even a parking garage. Among the notables born at the Nix are comedian Carol Burnett, former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros and Iran-Contra conspirator Oliver North.
Nov. 19, 1939
J. Frank Dobie, a famous Texas author and historian, publishes a scathing criticism of the Alamo Cenotaph. Dobie’s argument was that the memorial didn’t capture the spirit of Texas and it was unnecessary since the Alamo itself was the true memorial. He wrote, “the very idea of a monument to the Alamo right beside the Alamo bordered the act of lighting a candle in order to illuminate the sun.” Also known as “The Spirit of Sacrifice,” the monument was erected in celebration of the centennial of the battle.
Nov. 20, 1909
The Gunter Hotel opens. Built on the site of the earlier Mahncke Hotel, there has been a hotel or inn on the same site since 1837. Before that, it was the location of an army barracks used by Robert E. Lee. The eight-story, 301-room hotel was built by the San Antonio Hotel Company and named for Jot Gunter, a local rancher and real estate developer who was one of its major investors. The Panic of 1907 delayed the construction. It was the largest building in San Antonio at the time and deemed a skyscraper by the local press.
Nov. 21, 1992
The band R.E. M. shoots the music video “Everybody Hurts” on Interstate-10, between Fredericksburg and Colorado streets. A handful of San Antonio residents were hired as extras in the video, which shows people stuck in a traffic jam with their inner monologue appearing as subtitles. Hal McCloskey, who was spotted while working on the River Walk selling flowers, was cast as a man ripping pages out of a bible onto the traffic jam. The song has become an anti-suicide anthem.
Nov. 22, 1963
Catholic churches and other houses of worship across the city overflowed as news spreads of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. JFK and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy had been in San Antonio just the day before but 24 hours later the scene along the same parade route was one of the people overcome with grief and disbelief. Over 100,000 jubilant San Antonians lined the 26-mile route that the presidential motorcade passed. Kennedy was so moved by the enthusiasm that he vowed to return.
Nov. 23, 1936
Robert Johnson is recorded playing the blues in room 414 in the Gunter Hotel. This is one of the most momentous dates in the history of recorded music. The mysterious Mississippi bluesman recorded eight songs during this first session including “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Terraplane Blues.” After the recording session, Johnson went out on the town and got crosswise with the law and wound up in the Bexar County Jail. After his stay in the calaboose, Johnson returned for two more sessions at the Gunter to record other songs including the legendary “Crossroad Blues.”
Nov. 26, 1835
The Grass Fight was the last engagement in the siege of San Antonio before the final Texan assault on the town. That morning, Erastus “Deaf” Smith rode into the Texas camp with news that the Mexican cavalry was approaching San Antonio. Thinking the column was carrying silver to purchase supplies and pay the Mexican Army, Jim Bowie attacked at a ravine near the Alazan Creek. The Texans defeated the Mexican forces and captured the pack animals only to discover their prize carried grass to feed the army animals.
Nov. 27, 1980
The first official Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving dinner is served to the San Antonio community. Jimenez was a magnate in the food industry known for his magnetic personality. The year earlier, he personally paid for and served a Thanksgiving meal for 5,000 seniors. Seeing a greater need of those who were along on Thanksgiving in 1980, he opened the event for the entire community and a local tradition was born. In 1980, 6,000 received Turkey and all the trimmings. In 2018, over 25,000 guests were served and entertained.
Nov. 28, 1975
The city’s first holiday lighting ceremony on the River Walk. The idea was conceived by Bill McCormick, who was president of Joske’s department stores and a member of a downtown merchants association. McCormick was concerned about the trend of holiday shoppers skipping downtown and going to malls. He suggested a spectacular on the first Friday after Thanksgiving to dazzle the consumers back. McCormick sold others on the plan of spending about $25,000 to string 35,000 white decorative lights on the River Bend.
Nov. 29, 1963
The greatest Texas high school football game ever played. The Lee Volunteers faced the Brackenridge Eagle at Alamo Stadium. There were 17 kickoffs, no punts and only three penalties. Lee went 10-0. Brackenridge, with an 8-2 record, was the defending state champ. The game was played against the backdrop of the Kennedy assassination a week before. The final score: Lee 55, Brackenridge 48. Lee’s Linus Baer went on to play for the University of Texas Longhorns. Brackenridge star player Warren McVea played for the Kansas City Chiefs and won a Super Bowl.
Nov. 30, 1860
Attorney and rancher Charles Anderson delivered a fiery abolitionist speech in Alamo Plaza. Anderson’s ranch covered what is now Alamo Heights and his ranch house is now the Argyle. His pro-union speech stirred up an angry mob. The Golden Circle, a secret society that supported secession, arrested Anderson. He managed to escape to Mexico with his family and sold his San Antonio land. After President Abraham Lincoln sent him on a pro-union speaking tour of Europe, Anderson joined the Union Army and, after the war, he served as governor of Ohio and Kentucky.
Vince Kong can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @teamvincek