Picturing the City’s Past Just Got Easier

sacs-libraryTucked away on the top floor of the Anton Wulff House, the headquarters of the San Antonio Conservation Society, is a library. This library is stuffed with all things San Antonio – 3,900 books, historic maps, oral histories, 13,000 photographs – tracing the city’s past.

Although the library is only open 24 hours a week, this valuable resource has thrown open its doors to researchers everywhere. Not only is the collection catalog online so researchers know what is available, but 475 of the library’s historical photographs have been scanned in for viewing. These are photos difficult to share even in person because they require white-glove treatment for preservation purposes.

The society’s entire Raba Collection has been digitalized. Taken or reproduced by Bohemian-born photographer Ernst W. Raba (1874-1951), these images document the physical attributes of the city, and some of its citizens, between the 1850s and 1930s. Additional rare images now available online focus on events, from everyday scenes to historic ones.


According to Librarian Beth Standiford in the Conservation Society’s newsletter, The Preservation Advocate, this first step toward making the library’s collection more accessible was made possible with Capital Club funds. These gifts are provided by “friends” and include recent large donations from H-E-B; GLI Distributing, Inc.; Valero Energy Foundation; Jabby Lowe; Ann Griffith Ash; Kathleen and Curtis Gunn, Jr.; The Steve and Marty Hixon Family Foundation; Karen and Tim Hixon; The Joan and Herb Kelleher Charitable Foundation; Patsy Pittman Light; and JoAnn Boone and Rio San Antonio Cruises.

The Capital Club allowed the society to hire intern Elizabeth Pople to scan these initial photographs, add them to the online catalog and improve descriptions of them. As additional funds are available, the library will enter these into the template for uploading to the University of North Texas’ Portal to Texas History to broaden access. Future plans also include using Virtual Exhibit software to create online photo exhibits and to begin digitizing the 1982 San Antonio Downtown Historic Resources Survey.

Part of the purpose of the San Antonio Conservation Society is:

…to keep the history of Texas legible and intact to educate the public, especially the youth of today and tomorrow with knowledge of our inherited regional values.

This project certainly fits the bill by making a giant leap in the number of people who can be made aware of the rich heritage of the city. Awareness of San Antonio’s historical assets leads to appreciation of them. If they are appreciated, they are preserved without question – no need to resort to expensive legal battles or to throw oneself in front of bulldozers Wanda-Ford-style.

As someone who spends much time digging through historical graveyards of all kinds, my hat’s off in gratitude to contributors to the Capital Club at all levels. Good friends can be hard to find, but here’s hoping the society finds additional generous ones to further these efforts.


6 thoughts on “Picturing the City’s Past Just Got Easier”

  1. Thanks so much to the Capital Club for sponsoring this important research tool, and thanks, Gayle, for publicizing it.


  2. Fabulous! There is such a strong connection between Mexico and San Antonio, I”m sure the photos such as the two women and boy with the birdcages in the 1870’s will be a treasure trove of documentation…..thanks so much for sharing.


  3. Thanks Elizabeth and all the rest for the desire, spirit, dedication and hard work in accomplishing this task. Preserving history is crucial to trying not to repeat the bad parts, and hopefully improving on our futures.


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