That Crabby Old Colonel Cribby Condemned the River Walk to Years of Lowlife Nightlife

Blue Book No. 4, "Go West Young Men," Digital Collage by Gayle Brennan Spencer. Early 1900s' postcard of some of San Antonio's blue ladies is combined with a period mini-postcard image of "Roll Call at Fort Sam Houston" and a page from "The Blue Book."  The page is headlined "Directory of Houses and Women - Class-A" and lists the names and addresses of some of San Antonio's welcoming women in 1911.  Visit www.postcardsfromsanantonio.com.

Blue Book No. 4, “Go West Young Men,” digital collage by Gayle Brennan Spencer. Early 1900s’ postcard of some of San Antonio’s blue ladies is combined with a period mini-postcard image of “Roll Call at Fort Sam Houston” and a page from “The Blue Book.” The page is headlined “Directory of Houses and Women – Class-A” and lists the names and addresses of some of San Antonio’s welcoming women in 1911. Visit http://postcardssanantonio.com.

I had always heard the banks of the San Antonio River Walk were declared off-limits after dark for members of the military in San Antonio for many years, but I had never seen proof:

The area known as the “River Walk” is “Off Limits” during the periods 2400 hours to 0600 hours daily. It begins at Lexington Street, near the Auditorium, and extends about three hundred yards west of St. Mary’s Street, near the Plaza Hotel.

Office of the Provost Marshal, Fort Sam Houston, December 20, 1945

Melissa Gohlke, blogging for the Special Collections at the UTSA Libraries this morning, posted a 1945 list enumerating San Antonio’s lewd spots, so declared by order of Colonel Cribby.

off-limits-list

Although designed to serve as a warning to soldiers, this list was almost as efficient a guide for “those seeking a good time while in San Antonio, Texas,” as the 1911-1912 guide, The Blue Book. Col. Cribby’s list not only identified which places around town were “off-limits,” but why – whether because of immorality, prostitution, danger of venereal disease or gambling.

Gohlke’s post pertained to “San Antonio’s queer community,” but the list aided those in search of bisexual entertainment as well:

All a GI or WAC need do is read the list, understand the codes, and head out for a night of same-sex recreation. Ironically, the military imperative to regulate deviance facilitated the very behaviors such regulations were designed to stamp out.

Some of the same neighborhoods identified in The Blue Book were still hot spots flourishing under the eyes of lax local law enforcement three decades later.

The Blue Book No. 1, "See Sallie after the Alamo," digital collage by Gayle Brennan Spencer. The back cover of the 1911-1912 edition of "The Blue Book" reads "For Information of the Red Light District Ask Me. Meet me at the Beauty Saloon."  This image is combined with advertisements, including Sallie Brewer's, from an inside page of the guide to San Antonio's "Sporting District," a red light and an early 1900s' postcard of The Alamo. Visit   http://www.postcardsfromsanantonio.com/blue_book.htm.

The Blue Book No. 1, “See Sallie after the Alamo,” digital collage by Gayle Brennan Spencer. The back cover of the 1911-1912 edition of “The Blue Book” reads “For Information of the Red Light District Ask Me. Meet me at the Beauty Saloon.” This image is combined with advertisements, including Sallie Brewer’s, from an inside page of the guide to San Antonio’s “Sporting District,” a red light and an early 1900s’ postcard of The Alamo. Visit http://postcardssanantonio.com.

But what about today? This is from the fact sheet for visitors of participants in Lackland Air Force Base’s Basic Training Program:

Off Limits Areas and Establishments

The San Antonio Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board has placed establishments off-limits to help maintain the health, morale, and welfare of Armed Forces personnel. Your Airman may not visit these  establishments and will know which ones they will not be able to service prior to town pass.

The River Walk has been family-friendly for decades, but now I am curious about what places in San Antonio are deemed too or lascivious or dangerous for today’s military. This list, not nearly as clear and complete a guide to local entertainment as the 1941 blacklist, is from a 2009 edition of the Lackland Talespinner:

The following locations are off-limits:

• Cracker Box Palace – 622 W. Hildebrand • Planet K – all locations in the following counties: Bexar, Atascosa, Wilson, Guadalupe, Comal, Kendall, Medina and Bandera • Voodoo Tattoo Parlor – 202 Aransas • Players Club (PC) of San Antonio – 8235 Vicar • Boys Town – Acuna, Mexico • Widows Web Bar and Night Club – Acuna, Mexico • The Up and Down Club – Acuna, Mexico

With no Blue Book or more detailed list available on base, what’s a newcomer in search of a little lascivious behavior to do?

It’s so simple nowadays. Just follow those huge “come-hither” billboards around north Loop 410 or grab a free issue of San Antonio Current for pages and pages of full-color “service” ads.

Does god really need a billboard?

Someone seriously expects us to believe god loves billboards, particularly one lording over the river?

Time for an intercession?

According to one website, the patron saint of advertising, Saint Bernadine of Sienna:

…was accustomed to preach holding a board on which were the first three letters of the Savior’s name in its Greek form–‘IHS’–surrounded by rays, and he persuaded people to copy these plaques and erect them over their dwellings and public buildings.

Oh, Saint Bernadine, what did you unleash?

Maybe we need an intervention by Panchito instead?

Note: Read about the St. Catherine of Bologna-pleasing bridge railing by George Schroeder here.

Update on June 15, 2012: Seeking a poem by Yeats I cannot remember, I came across an assemblage of tree quotations at garden digest containing the most obvious one to have included with this post:

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.

Ogden Nash, Song of the Open Road, 1933

And then this by extension:

No wonder the hills and groves were God’s first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself.

John Muir

Lest you think this was an attack on religion, war has broken out in San Antonio. Atheists have launched a counter-attack, mounting their own billboards along major arteries. Claiming nonbelievers are ostracized in San Antonio, the billboards invite them to “join the club.”

Two wrongs definitely do not make a right; they just make more wrong things.

Wish Lady Bird Johnson would fly up out of her grave and haunt them all.

Update on February 2, 2013: Oh, no. They are multiplying. Billboards “showing the way to God” are so abundant, they qualify for Clear Channel’s “volume discount,” according to the San Antonio Express-News.

“Upsize your life,” reads one.

Like fast-food burgers and fries, signs are among things that shouldn’t be upsized.