Saturday, December 28, 2013

El Mercado/Farmer's Market

Today this building is known as El Mercado, the home of the largest Mercado outside of Mexico, but it was originally a farmers' market. It was built as a Works Progress Administration project during 1938-1939 after the existing, nearby municipal market house (known as the Giles building) was torn down. 
Photograph of the Giles Building on display at El Mercado
The new market was originally named the Municipal Truck Market because it was designed with a wide entry so farmers could drive their truck into the market and sell their produce direct from their truck.  However, the market was commonly called the Farmer's Market. 
A photographic exhibit inside the S San Saba Street entrance has a picture of the new Farmer's Market with trucks in front and a small description about the history of the market. 
In 1975 the last produce was sold here and the market house underwent renovation to convert it into the air-conditioned El Mercado. The building was painted turquoise and the interior designed to resemble an authentic Mexican market.   
The wide opening on S San Saba Street was closed in and the front of the building slightly re-configured. The surrounding area is revitalized and referred to as Market Square.  In addition to the Mercado there are several well-known Mexican food restaurants in Market Square making it a most pleasant place to visit!

There are two markers on the W Commerce Street side of the building.  I learned a valuable lesson as I photographed and explored the building:  always go on every side of a building.  I almost missed these important markers.  As I was leaving (thinking there was no marker) I just happened to see the plaques! 

El Mercado is located at 514 W Commerce Street in San Antonio, TX

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mission San Francisco de la Espada

Mission Espada is the farthest south of the five missions the Spaniards established in the San Antonio area.  Today the peacefulness of the property conceals the troubled beginning of the mission and its struggle to survive. It is hard to imagine the raids of the Apache and Comanche Indians, the battle here just before the battle of the Alamo, and the mission buildings crumbling back into the South Texas brush land.  But the fruits of a hard working priest and dedicated preservations are visible today. 

The mission was established at this location on March 5, 1731, one of three missions being relocated from East Texas.  The mission had originally been established near present day Nacogdoches in 1690.  It was abandoned 3 years later and then re-opened in 1716 at another site about 10 miles away.  That mission would also be abandoned.  In 1721 the mission would be reestablished on the Neches River.  In 1730 the missionaries and some Indians left East Texas, hauling their goods and supplies in wagons with the livestock following along side.  East Texas had not been kind to the Franciscans; illness and hostility with the French forced their departure.
The door of the chapel is intriguing.  Its irregular arch has been the subject of much speculation.  The most popular theory is that the master stonemason had left Espada and the workers left behind were unsure of how to place the stones and reversed the two lower stones on each side.  However, the design has also been considered to be Moorish and has been compared to similar doorways and facades found in northern Spain.  It is one of my favorite parts of the mission.

By the early 1880's all that was left of the chapel was the crumbling fa├žade.  The missions had been secularized in 1824 and had all fallen into disrepair.  The Espada community remained active and vibrant, but the mission had almost completely disappeared when Father Francis Bouchu came to Espada in 1885.    Father Bouchu was a man of many skills and an efficient manager as well. Upon coming to Espada he embarked on a one man project of restoring the mission property.  He rebuilt the convent for his residence and added a general store on one end.  He managed the store at first and used the proceeds to purchase former mission tracts from private owners.  The chapel was re-built by 1887.  After his death in 1907 the chapel was closed and would not re-open until 1911 with  a new roof, ceiling, doors and windows as well as a brick floor.
Interior of chapel
The mission underwent extensive restoration in 1955.  Old walls were reconstructed and a public road that ran through the mission was re-routed.  In 1967 the Franciscans would return.  Restoration work was done again in 1984 by the National Park Service after the formation of the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park.  As with Mission San Jose, the Catholic Church owns and maintains the church to honor separation of church and state.

A fire in the chapel's roof in 1998 was quickly extinguished, but damaged the roof and interior. The restoration that followed restored the roof to a previous design and allowed for the small attic space to be converted to accommodate modern air-conditioning equipment.

One of the priests who lives in the Convento is an avid gardener; his love of flowers is evident around the convento.  I've never talked to him, but have seen him standing in the sun on a hot Texas day in his long priest frock coat talking gardening with visitors!  The changes which Father Bouchu made to the convento have been removed so that it resembles the original convento. The walls in the foreground of the above picture are the restored foundation walls of another chapel which started construction in 1762.  This structure was torn down sometime around 1777 when it was deemed as unsafe.
During the years the Mission was in use the convento building had two workrooms that housed weaving looms and spinning wheels. Each mission had to be self sufficient and Indians were required to learn trades and skills such as spinning and weaving.  Blacksmithing was another skill taught to the Indians.  The Spaniards felt that teaching European skills to the Indians was vital to the colonization process. 

The focus of the Espada visitor center is on the trades and crafts taught to the Indians.  On my last visit a kind docent who is a member of a local weaving guild talked with me at length about weaving and demonstrated the loom set up in the visitor center.

This unique circular bastion was added by soldiers of the Mexican Army sent to Espada after a Comanche raid in 1826 destroyed crops, killed livestock and wounded several men. In 1915 the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word opened a school within the perimeter of the walls formed by the bastion.  It would operate here for 52 years while serving the many ethnic groups of the Espada community.
Perimeter walls
The original walls were built of bricks made on site and fired in a kiln just beyond the walls.  These bricks were thinner and wider than bricks of today.  The "ladrillos" closely resembled the size and shape of Roman bricks that had been brought into Spain more than two thousand years ago. The master craftsmen that built the missions were mestizos, part Indian and part European.

Ruins of Indian quarters

Monday, November 4, 2013

Joske Pavilion

The Joske Pavilion has hosted many events since its construction in 1926 and is regarded as one of Brackenridge Park's signature structures.

The pavilion was built with a $10,000 bequest to the city of San Antonio from the estate of Alexander Joske, a prominent retailer.  This bequest was given in memory of Julius Joske and Albert Joske. The nomination form for Brackenridge Park to the National Register of Historic Places describes the pavilion as being built of  "dark random course stone".  The pavilion was renovated as part of the city's park renovation project during 2003-2006; the funds came from a $6.5 million bond issuance.

The structure was designed by Emmett Jackson, a prominent architect in the San Antonio area.  He designed many buildings still in use today, and collaborated with other architects on major projects such as the Municipal Auditorium. He designed several structures for Brackenridge Park.

There is a very large fireplace on the south end of the structure.  It is topped with a dome cap with arched openings similar to the arches on the sides of the pavilion.  The north end of the structure has an Alamo-type parapet.

The buttresses appear to be wood but are really painted concrete.

The Alamo-style parapet was a very common feature on buildings built during the 1920's
This is the north end of the building, seen from the inside

The Pavilion has four windows patterned after the Rose Window at Mission San Jose.  This was another popular building motif in the 1920's.

The Joske Pavilion is located on the land inside a u-shaped curve of the river.  The river flows close to the east side of the pavilion and then curves around the little island to the west.

South of the pavilion are 19 picnic tables, benches and fire pits built by the Works Project Administration (part of the New Deal) during 1938-1940.  Like most of the picnic areas in this park, they are usually occupied.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Low Water Crossing Bridge

I have to offer a note of explanation before preceding with this post.  When I started this blog I had in mind that I would use it to share information about historical buildings I planned to visit.  I would photograph, research and report on my findings.  I had certain parameters that I set about what I would and would not post.  The result of my boundaries was that I found that I was so confined by them that I couldn't write. I was also frustrated because due to the heat, illness, work, school, and life that I had not been able to take all the little trips I had planned;  I felt that I could not write about just the things I was finding where I lived.  But this little bridge that I'm going to post on changed my whole perspective.  With its discovery I realized that I'm living in the middle of a vast amount of historical treasure that I need to discover and share.  So, there are no boundaries on this blog anymore.  I'm going to post it as I find it and I'm going to enjoy myself!

This little bridge crosses the San Antonio River at E Woodlawn and River Avenue.  It has been closed to traffic for many years, but previously it connected with the golf course.  It is part of Brackenridge Park, too. It was built in 1939 as a New Deal Project.  There is a faint imprint in the concrete that has the initials "NYA" (National Youth Administration) and the year 1939.
I had no idea this little bridge was nestled in this quiet neighborhood of Craftsman style cottages  until I saw it mentioned on the nomination for Brackenridge Park into the National Register of Historic Places.  With the help of Google satellite I found it on the map; it was just a short distance from my office.  This was my first realization of the nearness of history all around me.

I drove over after work that same day.  Even though I knew where it was on River Avenue my heart just skipped when I saw it.  There it is, there it is!  I had found my treasure.  I had to circle around and park on one of the streets of the neighborhood since parking is prohibited on River Avenue.  I'm sure if anyone went by they had a good laugh at a professionally dressed woman in 2 inch heels walking across the sidewalk on the left side of the bridge.  Equally funny, I'm sure, was the scene of me squatting down to make the picture of the imprint in the bridge! 

This was such a peaceful setting; the only sounds were birds calling and the ripple of water falling over the steps.  I could have lingered for quite a while to reflect on the scenes this little bridge had seen since its construction. I did wonder about the young men that helped to build it and the hands that had pushed the stamp with the NYA logo into the wet cement on a day long ago.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Brackenridge Golf Course

A recent post covered the history of the Borglum House.  I had a double surprise when I visited it to make pictures for the post (I love it when this happens!)  .  It was July 3rd and my office had closed at noon; since the Borglum House was just around the corner I headed out to find it.  I have to admit that although it is close to where I work and that I've been in and around this area for many years I had never been down on the golf course property where it is located.  

After I finished making pictures I noticed this clock by the clubhouse and decided to walk over.

There was a marker with information about the early history of the golf course. As I stood in the hot sun reading and photographing the marker I saw a small building sitting to the side.  I probably wouldn't have paid it much attention except that it had several plaques embedded in the wall and that means it might be a building with a story.


It is a building with a story, it was part of the New Deal.  It was one of several projects done on the golf course by the National Youth Administration and is referenced in the Park's nomination to the National Register of Historic Places (see below). This simple marker is the only clue to the building's past.
View of the back of the clubhouse, seen from the course

The nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places summarizes the history of the golf course so well that I have to quote it here:

Noted golf course architect A.W. Tillinghast of Philadelphia designed the eighteen‐hole Brackenridge Golf Course, which was completed in 1916. The wooded site, filled with native trees, spanned both sides of the river and the water works channel that ran directly through the course. Footbridges spanned the river and channel. The course has been extensively remodeled since its completion, most notably in the late 1960s when US Highway 281 cut through the park’s western edge. The Tillinghast layout was left intact with the exception of the twelfth and thirteenth holes. The course was redesigned to fit the reconfigured site by course manager Murray Brooks and consultant George A. Hoffman. A major course renovation in 2008 restored Tillinghast’s design, to the extent possible.

Three stone bridges, built to span both the old water works channel and river, still stand at various points on the golf course. Originally there were five of these structures, all likely built by NYA workers; NYA construction of the bridge over the water works channel on hole number three is documented in newspaper accounts. NYA workers also completed a starter house (standing), caddy house, tee boxes and drinking fountains.
The Tudor style clubhouse of rubble stone, concrete, and wood was designed by local architect Ralph Cameron and completed in 1923. The main entrance to the building is on the north through an arched doorway topped with a fanlight. The west elevation features a tall chimney and rounded tower with conical roof. The tower is topped with an original weather vane depicting a golfer. An open porch and doorway on the east elevation has been closed in. A gable‐roofed room projects from the east elevation, connecting to a second story gabled dormer with tall chimney.  Walls are of rubble stone and the east elevation features half timber finishes on the upper level. Chimneys are of brick and stone. Windows and doors have a combination of curved and flat brick lintels and arches and brick and concrete sills. Windows are a combination of wood casement and steel frame. The original shingled roof has been replaced with asphalt shingles. The building was remodeled in 1968 by Johnson and Dempsey architects.

The Tudor style of the clubhouse is obvious from both front and back. 
 I have been unable to confirm that this is one of the three remaining bridges, but suspect that it probably is

I stepped inside the pro shop to ask if anyone knew about the history of the little, at that time, unidentified building.  One of the guys walked out to look at it with me; he didn't know what the building originally was, but he did know about the history of the course and explained how the construction of the freeway altered the course design! The inside of the building was beautiful, too but I was so distracted thinking about the little building that I didn't look around or make any pictures!

Some interesting facts: 1)  The golf course, and much of this area, has been the subject of numerous archeological studies and surveys that turned up valuable information about earlier cultures. 

2) In February 1922 the course was host to the first Texas Open tournament.  Other tournaments followed and eventually led to the creation of the PGA Tour.  Mike Souchak set a PGA Tour record  for lowest 72-hole score in the 1955 Texas Open played on this course; that record stood for 46 years. 

3)"Old Brack" had the honor of being the first course listed in the National Registry of Historic Courses.

Today the course is managed by the Alamo City Golf Trail, a non-profit management group that oversees seven courses. 

The view of the course from the Borglum House looks at the 17th hole

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Little Church of La Villita

There are many delightful surprises awaiting the visitor who passes through these gates into the La Villita Historic Arts Village. One of the pleasant discoveries in the Village is the Little Church.

The cornerstone of the church was laid on March 2, 1879.  Today it is a non-denominational church, and is a favorite setting for weddings.

In 1846, the Rev. J.W. De Vilbiss had bought a  site across the street from the current day church with the intention of building a Methodist church . He set up a bell, to denote the worship site, but did not build due to a problem with the title to the lot.  In 1879, German Methodists erected this Gothic Revival style church. 

A Norwegian Sailor named Olaf carved pegs and hinged the lancet shaped casement windows. The Episcopal diocese of West Texas bought the church in 1895 and in 1945 the title of the church property was acquired by the City of San Antonio.  (The church is a designated Texas landmark, but the medallion is missing.)


The Little Church holds regular services, but it is not unusual to pass by and see a wedding in progress.  Many years ago I had my little Brownie Scouts on a Saturday tour of downtown and we came upon a bride about to go up the steps to make her walk down the little aisle.  We quickly hushed the girls and told them to watch.  Most of the girls had never seen a real live bride, so they were quite impressed.  The adults were reaching for tissues to dab our eyes!

 An early picture of the church can be seen at History of La Villita.