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San Antonio: Cultural Gem Deep in the Heart of Texas

USA, Texas, San Antonio, The Alamo with ranger TX-28-7by

Thomas R. & Deborah A. Fletcher

            San Antonio is a city of rich diversity and some fantastic attractions; a real Texas treat. The Alamo is the first attraction one thinks of when considering San Antonio , but the Alamo is just a start.  There’s the San Antonio Museum of Art, representing one of the best collections in the southwestern US.  San Antonio Missions National Historic Park , covering several mission properties, is crucial for a proper understanding of the area’s history and the role played by these Catholic missions.  There’s the River Walk and Rio San Antonio River Cruises.  For the best view of San Antonio and the surrounding area, a trip to the Tower of the Americas is a must. 

            Bright sunshine and a pleasant climate cause many to consider making San Antonio home.  At least that’s what happened with one area resident; James Jacobs, a retired Air Force officer who has called San Antonio “home” for a few decades now (Deborah’s uncle).

“It’s the small town feel, the slower pace of life, the weather, and no snow to shovel.  I got tired of shoveling snow back east,” he said, when asked why he chose to live so far from relatives along the Mid-Atlantic.  Snow is a very rare thing in this sun-baked landscape, deep in the heart of Texas .San José y Miguel de Aguayo, Historic San José Mission, San Antonio, Texas TX-26-7

            A string of Spanish missions, established in the 18th century, were crucial to the founding of San Antonio .  Collectively, they formed the largest concentration of Catholic missions in North America .  Each of the missions was a self-sufficient community. 

In the 18th century, nomadic, hunter-gatherer bands of Native Americans roamed the regions that today make up south Texas and northeastern Mexico .  They moved with the seasons in search of food. Missionaries brought area Native Americans into the missions where they were taught useful trades such as stone-cutting, masonry, carpentry, and weaving.  Patterned after Spanish villages, each mission had its own economy.  The missions’ primary purpose was to extend Spanish culture.  They did so by bringing scattered bands of Native Americans into a central, permanent location in a church-based community.  The missions represented a welcome source of food and protection to the Native Americans.San José y Miguel de Aguayo, Historic San José Mission, San Antonio, Texas TX-25-11

            San José y san Miguel de Aguayo, Mission San José, known as the “Queen of the Missions,” is recognized for her unique architecture.  Protective stone walls encircling the community acted as a defensive measure, discouraging enemy attacks.  The mission still holds active church services today.  We joined a “Mariachi Mass” that we enjoyed greatly, though it seemed more Pentecostal than Catholic.  The most successful period for the missions was 1747-1775.  In 1793 the Spanish secularized the missions, which were closed.  The land was redistributed to the inhabitants.  The missions formed the foundation of what is San Antonio today. 

The Spanish stationed a cavalry unit at San Antonio de Valero in the early 1800’s.  The unit referred to the mission as the Alamo , Spanish for “cottonwood,” and the name stuck. The Alamo was occupied by Spanish, Rebel,  Mexican and finally Texas Revolutionary troops before having its place permanently etched in history in March 1836.  The Texas Revolutionaries took over the mission in December 1835, over-running the Mexican garrison stationed there.  Mexican General Santa Anna arrived on the scene February 23, 1836 and began his siege.  Santa Anna’s troops far out-numbered the 189 men holed up in the Alamo .  This brave band held the Mexican troops at bay for 13 days before the final fierce battle.  Early in the morning of March 6, 1836 the final assault began—as 1400 of Santa Anna’s troops stormed the Alamo —by 6:30 AM, it was finished.  Six hundred of Santa Anna’s men were numbered as casualties that morning before the mission’s walls were breached, the inhabitants slaughtered.  The Alamo marks the sacrifice of 189 men who valued freedom above life itself.

The historical significance of the missions resulted in Congress establishing San Antonio Missions National Park in 1978 through an agreement with the Arch Diocese of San Antonio.  The agreement with diocese was needed because the mission churches (with the exception of San Antonio de Valero) remain active parishes. Five area historic missions are included in the park; Conceptión, San José , San Juan , Espada, and San Antonio de Valero—better known as the Alamo .  San Antonio de Valero was the first Spanish mission founded on the San Antonio River .  Today the Alamo is a state historic site that has been under the care of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas since 1905. 

            The University of Texas at San Antonio ’s Institute of Texan Cultures is a museum focusing on the cultural diversity that formed Texas .  An education center, the Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC) is “dedicated to enhancing the understanding of the history and diverse cultures in Texas …through exhibits, programs, and publications that encourage acceptance and appreciation of our differences as well as our common humanity.”  The institute’s 50,000 square feet facility features an eye-opening array of permanent displays illuminating the 26 various cultures that settled Texas in the 1800’s.  This multitude of various ethnicities formed the foundation of the multi-cultural society we find in Texas today.  We were vaguely familiar with the German influence in the settling of Texas , but quite surprised to learn of other groups such as the Japanese, Lebanese, French and Irish.  The institute offers daily tours of the exhibit floors, publications, audiovisual productions and other teaching tools, a library focusing on ethnic and cultural history, an historical photo collection (more than 3,500,000 photos documenting both special events and everyday life from the 19th century to the present), teacher training programs and workshops.  What started as a fair exhibit (an exhibit in the 1968 HemisFair, the World’s Fair.) is now the state’s mandated center for the interpretation of the history and culture of Texas .

    San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in the former Lone Star Brewery building. Deborah takes in art display D-TX-03-0782        The San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in the old Lone Star Brewing Company building (dating from 1884) features an amazing collection that spans centuries of history.  The museum opened in 1981 and is one of the best collections in the southwestern US.  The 30,000 square foot Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art that opened in 1998 was a welcome addition to the museum.  It was the first US center for the study of Latin American art.

The museum contains a wonderful collection of American 18th and 19th century paintings reflecting that period.  The Ancient Art section contains an impressive collection spanning 5,000 years of history, with a great emphasis upon Egyptian, Greek and Roman pieces.  The Asian Art section includes paintings, ceramics, and sculpture from India , Japan , China , and Korea . The European Art segment is a collection of French, Dutch, British, and Italian works from the 12th through the 20th centuries.  The Latin American Art collection spans 4,000 years. The pre-Columbian collection consists of treasures from the Andean region of South America, Central America, and Mesoamerica . The Modern and Contemporary Art section is largely devoted to post-World War II American painting and sculpture.  The Near Eastern and Islamic Art collection includes metal work, traditional ceramics, jewelry and calligraphic works covering the birth and spread of Islam.  The Ocean Art collection comes from the Pacific—ranging from Australia to Hawaii covering Melanesia , Micronesia , New Guinea , and Polynesia .  The San Antonio Museum of Art is an unexpected cultural gem.

            Located at the southern end of the Historic King William District a mile below the Alamo is the historically significant Guenther House.  The historic district contains a varied collection of 19th century German family homes.  The Guenther House was built by Pioneer Flour Mills founders, the Guenther family.  Guenther’s Mill was renamed Pioneer Flour Mills in 1898 and continues to operate today, claiming to be America ’s oldest continuously operating flour mill.  Construction on the home started in 1860 shortly after German native Carl Hilmar Guenther founded his mill.  The home was built of stone quarried from the current location of the San Antonio Zoo. 

            In 1902 Carl’s youngest son Erhard Guenther, took over as president of Pioneer Flour Mills.  He also undertook the remodeling of the family home where he and his six siblings were raised.  He changed the metal roof for the green tile, added two stories and a side verandah giving it the look maintained today.  Originally designed as the home library, the house contains a small museum of mill memorabilia collected over the years.  Located on the second floor in what once was the music room and a bedroom, the River Mill Store carries a selection of gourmet baking mixes produced at the mill today.  A good selection of stoneware containers and cookware produced by local artisans is available in the store.  The house’s real treat however is the Guenther House Restaurant featuring hearty traditional fare.  

IF YOU GO:

USA, Texas, San Antonio, The Alamo with ranger TX-28-7 San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau

PO Box 2277

San Antonio, TX 78298

Phone: 800-ALAMO-07

Web: www.sanantoniovisit.com 

San José y Miguel de Aguayo, Historic San José Mission, San Antonio, Texas TX-26-12 San Antonio Missions National Historic Park

2202 Roosevelt Ave.

San Antonio, TX 78210

Phone: 210-9322-1001

Web: www.nps.gov/saan 

San Antonio Museum of Art D-TX-03-0786 San Antonio Museum of Art

200 West Jones Ave.

San Antonio, TX 78215

Phone: 210-978-8100

Web: www.sa-museum.org 

E-mail: info@sa-museum.org 

Emily Morgan Hotel from The Alamo,  San Antonio, Texas  TX-28-12 The Alamo

300 Alamo Plaza

PO Box 2599

San Antonio, TX 78299

Phone: 210-225-1391

Web: www.thealamo.org  

USA, Texas, San Antonio, San Antonio River Walk from passing boat TX-26-16 Rio San Antonio Cruises

315 East Commerce Street

San Antonio, TX 78205

Phone: 800-417-4139

Web: www.sarivercruise.com 

View of Tower of the Americas from El Mecado, san Antonio Texas D-TX-03-0842 Tower of the Americas

600 HemisFair Park

San Antonio, TX 78205

Phone: 210-223-3101

Web: www.toweroftheamericas.com 

Mi Tierra Café and Bakery San Antonio Texas D-TX-03-0833 Mi Tierra Café and Bakery

218 Produce Row

San Antonio, TX 78207

Phone: 210-225-1262

Web: www.mitierracafe.com 

Emily Morgan Hotel from The Alamo,  San Antonio, Texas TX-28-16

Southwest Airlines

Phone: 800-435-9792

Web: www.southwest.com 

Institute of Texan Cultures

801 South Bowie Street

San Antonio, TX 78205

Phone: 210-458-2257

Web: http://www.texancultures.com/ 

Hotel Valencia

150 East Houston Street

San Antonio, TX 78205

Phone: 210-227-9700

Web: www.hotelvalencia.com 

Texas Land & Cattle Steak House

201 North Saint Mary’s

San Antonio, TX 78205

Phone: 210-222-2263

Web: www.txlc.com 

Biga on the Banks

203 South Mary’s Street, Suite 100

San Antonio, TX 78205

Phone: 210-225-0722

Web www.biga.com 

San José y Miguel de Aguayo, Historic San José Mission, San Antonio, Texas TX-26-5 # TX-26-5 San José y Miguel de Aguayo, Historic San José Mission, San Antonio, Texas  San José y Miguel de Aguayo, Historic San José Mission, San Antonio, Texas TX-25-11 # TX-25-11 San José y Miguel de Aguayo, Historic San José Mission, San Antonio, Texas
Antonio de Valero, "The Alamo," San Antonio, Texas.  "The Cradle of Texas Liberty" TX-28-8 # TX-28-8 San Antonio de Valero, "The Alamo," San Antonio, Texas.  "The Cradle of Texas Liberty" Emily Morgan Hotel from Hudson Street, San Antonio, Texas TX-27-12# TX-27-12 Emily Morgan Hotel from Hudson Street, San Antonio, Texas
San José y Miguel de Aguayo, Historic San José Mission, San Antonio, Texas TX-25-16 San José y Miguel de Aguayo, Historic San José Mission, San Antonio, Texas TX-25-20 # TX-25-20 San José y Miguel de Aguayo, Historic San José Mission, San Antonio, Texas 
San José y Miguel de Aguayo, Historic San José Mission, San Antonio, Texas TX-26-7 # TX-26-7 San José y Miguel de Aguayo, Historic San José Mission, San Antonio, Texas  San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in the former Lone Star Brewery building. D-TX-03-0830 # D-TX-03-0830 San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in the former Lone Star Brewery building.
San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in the former Lone Star Brewery building. D-TX-03-0829 # D-TX-03-0829 San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in the former Lone Star Brewery building. Mariachi Mass San José y Miguel de Aguayo, Historic San José Mission, San Antonio, Texas D-TX-03-0891 # D-TX-03-0891 Mariachi Mass being celebrated at San José y Miguel de Aguayo, Historic San José Mission, San Antonio, Texas 
San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in the former Lone Star Brewery building. D-TX-03-0786# D-TX-03-0786 San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in the former Lone Star Brewery building. San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in the former Lone Star Brewery building.  Deborah takes in art display D-TX-03-0782 # D-TX-03-0782 San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in the former Lone Star Brewery building.  Visitor takes in art display.
San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in the former Lone Star Brewery building.  Deborah takes in art display D-TX-03-0784 # D-TX-03-0784 San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in the former Lone Star Brewery building.  Visitor takes in art display. San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in the former Lone Star Brewery building D-TX-03-0785 # D-TX-03-0785 San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in the former Lone Star Brewery building.
 San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in the former Lone Star Brewery building D-TX-03-0780 San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in the former Lone Star Brewery building D-TX-03-0779# D-TX-03-0779 San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in the former Lone Star Brewery building.  
Poncho Clause in El Mercado,  San Antonio, Texas D-TX-03-0858 # D-TX-03-0858 Poncho Clause in El Mercado,  San Antonio, Texas.  Bazar Sabado, A Christmas Market of authentic Mexican folk art held once a year by the San Antonio Museum of Art  D-TX-03-0817 # D-TX-03-0817 Bazar Sabado, A Christmas Market of authentic Mexican folk art held once a year by the San Antonio Museum of Art 
Shoppers in El Mercado,  San Antonio, Texas D-TX-03-0843 # D-TX-03-0843 Shoppers in El Mercado,  San Antonio, Texas. San Antonio's Riverwalk, decked with Christmas lights. TX-29-6 # TX-29-6 San Antonio's Riverwalk, decked with Christmas lights.

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