Saturday, September 26, 2015

Playland Park

From 1943 to 1980 the corner of North Alamo Street and Broadway was home to Playland Park, one of the first real amusement parks in San Antonio.  Today all that remains is a vacant lot surrounded by chain link fence and the remains of the original gate into the amusement park.  Soon the Alamo Community College District will begin construction of a new support operations facility on this property.

James E. Johnson had come to San Antonio in 1941 and opened a penny arcade followed by an amusement park in Brackenridge Park.  Due to George W. Brackenridge's stipulations about no park usage by for-profit businesses he was forced to relocate.  He re-opened in 1943 at this corner.  The first year of the park's existence was difficult; World War II was raging and shortages of everything, including spare parts for the rides, were commonplace. It seemed frivolous, but the park finished its first year with a successful profit. 
Following the war Mr. Johnson constructed a wooden roller coaster and named it "The Rocket".  It was full of thrills and chills!  Many San Antonio natives have fond memories of riding it during their early years.  When the park closed in 1980 an amusement park in Pennsylvania, Knoebels, purchased the Rocket.  It was disassembled with each piece carefully labeled and numbered.  It was reassembled at its new  home and re-named as The Phoenix.  It is still running today!
I visited the park once in the mid-1970's with a group of people.  They were gushing about the rides and the park, but I could only politely respond as I had visited Disneyland on many occasions and this little park just didn't measure up to me!  But to them it was the place to come for rides, mid-way games, and a little fun. It was a place that represented another era in entertainment and time over came it as preferences changed.
In addition to the  Rocket, the park offered rides for children and adults, a place to picnic, a fun house known as the Dipsy Doodle, a midway with games, miniature golf, and a small chapel that featured a religious movie.  There was more:  a shooting gallery, an archery range, a penny arcade, a fortune teller, and of course, refreshments were available. After the park closed and the Rocket removed, the buildings were allowed to deteriorate and were removed sometime in the last few years.

Playland Park is just a memory.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Alamo Stadium part 2

In Alamo Stadium, part one I discussed the many plans and proposals that eventually led to the final approval for a municipal sports facility in San Antonio, Texas.  The funding was provided by the WPA ($370,000) and from revenue bonds issued by San Antonio ISD ($107,000).  The stadium was designed by Phelps, Dewees, and Simmons.  Henry T Phelps designed many prominent buildings and homes in this area (Atascosa County Courthouse and other projects ) were featured previously on this blog. 

During renovation


The nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places states that the stadium's design is consistent with the Art Deco period. The linear entrance canopy of the west (main) entrance and curved pillars are examples of the Art Deco influence.  This entrance is situated at the highest point of the old rock quarry and gives a breath taking view of San Antonio's skyline to the south.  A wide concrete promenade leads up to the entrance from Stadium Drive.

The east entrance, often referred to as the visitor side, is not as impressive as the west entrance. I didn't photograph this, but as you approach the east entrance there is a set of rather steep concrete steps to the left.  If you venture up the steps you arrive at the south entrance where there is also a nice view of downtown as well as an overlook into Highway 281! This entrance has a lower height as it follows the topography of the old quarry along its perimeter.

The crown jewel to me are the four tile murals above the main entrance that depict scenes of sporting events in San Antonio. Henry Wedemeyer, assisted by Leonora Feiler, designed the murals.  Ethel Harris served as the supervisor of the local WPA Arts & Crafts Division and coordinated 60 WPA workers from her Mexican Arts & Crafts studio to create these stunning panels.  Each mural contains 192 tiles and measures five feet high by 13 feet wide; each tile is 6 inches square and 3/4 inch thick. The murals were removed during the renovation and restored before being re-installed.

Ethel Harris' signature maguey craftsman's mark (modified for the WPA) appears in the lower right corner tile of this picture

The City of San Antonio also applied for WPA funding to improve the streets in the surrounding neighborhood of the stadium. Streets were widened and repaved and simultaneously were developed into a new system of more convenient routes to the new Stadium. This was done in anticipation of the vehicles that would be coming on game days to the facility and appeasing the surrounding neighborhoods.

You have to look close to see this marker - it is embedded in the curb in front of this building on North St. Mary's Street.

The marker is partially obscured by subsequent layers of asphalt. It gives a date of 1938-1940.

The opening night game was a double header:  Jefferson vs Corpus Christi followed by Reagan-Houston.  You certainly would not see this today, but the San Antonio Brewing Association (Pearl Beer) was one of local businesses who sponsored advertisements in the paper supporting the new stadium prior to its opening!  And, not surprisingly, traffic that night was a mess taking over an hour for it to clear.  Have you ever been to a football game and didn't have to wait in a lengthy queue of traffic to get out of the stadium?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Alamo Stadium part 1

May 2013
Alamo Stadium is a well known school sports venue in San Antonio, Texas.  Many local people have fond memories of playing football or participating in high school sports activities here.  When it underwent a $35 million dollar renovation thousands of people crowded into the stadium to participate in its rededication ceremony in August 2014.
April 2013 during renovation
The stadium was built in an abandoned rock quarry to the west of Brackenridge Park and the Sunken Garden Theater.  Present day U.S. Highway 281 runs to the east of the stadium property.  As early as 1921 the concept of a municipal sports facility for the city of San Antonio had been discussed and the old rock quarry was the first proposed site.  In the ensuing years many proposals for funding and different locations would be introduced, but each in turn would fail.  Finally in July 1938 an application was submitted to the Works Progress Administration asking for funding $202,000 of the estimated $347,980 cost to build a stadium in the rock quarry.  The local funding would come through the issuance of revenue bonds by San Antonio ISD.

There would be obstacles to this to proposal including getting approval from the legislature to issue the bonds and satisfying a neighborhood group that the stadium had plenty of parking and convenient access that would not disturb their neighborhood.  In April and May of 1939 both issues were resolved and groundbreaking took place in August. Construction would take just a little over a year and was completed with little drama compared to the previous years!

Per the nomination to the National Register of Historic Places: Work began immediately to prepare the site for construction of the 22,700 seat stadium. The final estimated cost had risen to $477,000, and WPA had increased its grant from $202,000 to $370,000. Designed by the architectural firm of Phelps, Dewees and Simmons in collaboration with W.P. Simpson and Company, consulting engineers, the stadium was a product of its natural limestone setting. Built directly into the old quarry, the structure was finished in limestone and surround by a perimeter limestone wall. Tiered seating varied in height depending on the contours of the site. A forty-foot limestone bluff on the west face of the old quarry formed the base of the main seating area where bleachers were forty-one tiers high. On the east there were twenty-two tiers and on the south, sixteen tiers. Visitors entering through the main, west entrance therefore descended to their seats, while those coming in on the east side entered at playing field level and climbed to their seats.

The stadium's elevation gives visitors a stunning view of the San Antonio skyline.(To be continued)