New River Crossing

When the Drury family decided to convert the former Alamo National Bank Building into the Drury Plaza Hotel Riverwalk, there was a problem with the location.  The 24-story building overlooks the river, but it is on the flood channel.  No River Walk passed by its doors. 

So they paid for and built one themselves.  The Drurys transformed the sidewalks skirting the banks of the San Antonio River from a horseshoe shape into a full circle in the heart of downtown.   And in the stretch of River Walk they added, they spared no expense in following the original Robert Hugman concept of making it varied and interesting along the way.

But eliminating those deadends was not enough.  Across the river from the hotel the River Walk came to a halt at Main Plaza.  The Drurys wanted a footbridge to stimulate foot traffic to and from the recently reconfigured Main Plaza.  (We’re not entering the fray about what one preservationist now calls “Maimed Plaza.”)  I suggested Rick Drury install one of those coin-tornado gravity wells like the Witte Museum has but with a sign reading “Wishing I could cross here” – thereby enlisting kids to convince their parents to part with every bit of change in their possession.

But the Drurys decided to forge ahead and remedy the situation themselves.  The extremely chunky main support post stood forlornly in the river for several years awaiting its reason to exist.  Its bulkiness makes it appear as if it was built to withstand a flood, which of course it was. 

Then a stark-looking bridge was installed with yellow tape at each end prohibiting crossing for months on end.  The bridge is a bit shoehorned in, but again, of course, isn’t the entire Paseo del Rio awkwardly confined in a tight and narrow space?  The intimacy created by this is a major part of what makes the River Walk such an incredibly successful urban park.

But finally the aha! moment has arrived.  It is now clearly evident what the Drurys were awaiting – the installation of copper panels designed by Isaac Maxwell Metal, a studio where architect Judith Maxwell carries on the tradition of fine craftsmanship nurtured by her late husband.  Gentle light shimmers through the pierced panels at night.

While the panels seem overly ornate juxtaposed with the heavy support column (remember, though, its flood-channel location), the metalwork theme is already in place a little upstream in the form of punched-pendant lights the Drurys commissioned.  The panels also reference the spectacular original ornamental metalwork and trim filling the hotel’s lobby up to its soaring 50-foot-high ceiling. 

Finally, thanks to the Drurys (Father David blesses you), one can actually circle the full river bend on foot and emerge at the doors of San Fernando Cathedral.  And parents do not have to empty every nickel and dime out of their pockets for children wishing they could cross there.

P.S.  Don’t forget to bail Gayle out of jail!

Note Added on December 2:  The footbridge that Drury built finally will be dedicated on Monday, December 13, at 10 a.m.

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