Kicking off the year with biannual list of your favorite posts

The topics of posts you have been reading most over the last six months are wide-ranging. Concerns about the Alamo and Alamo Plaza tend to be remain your high priority, and the primary battle between Jerry Patterson and George P. Bush for Land Commissioner will keep these issues on the front page. I love it that you continue to help me promote Helen Madarasz as a ghost actively haunting Brackenridge Park.

The interest in our favorite restaurant in Budapest might arise not as much from regular followers as from Fricska’s loyal fans on facebook. San Antonio’s current Tricentennial Celebration seemed to send more people in search of “The San Antonio Song” written in 1907 by Williams and Alstyne. Thanks for your interest in my quest for a mini-Kate, and it makes me happy some of you heading to Guanajuato were aided by our restaurant suggestions.

So here’s your top 12, with the numbers in parentheses representing the rankings from six months ago:

  1. Dear Mayor and City Council: Please don’t surrender Alamo Plaza, 2017 (1)
  2. The Madarasz Murder Mystery: Might Helen Haunt Brackenridge Park?, 2012 (2)
  3. Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: Currently suffering from case of miss-you-Fricska blues, 2017

    Fricska Gastropub in Budapest

  4. Please put this song on Tony’s pony and make it ride away, 2010 (11)

    Chorus of “The San Antonio Song” written by the Tin Pan Alley pioneer team of Harry Williams and Egbert Van Alstyne in 1907: “San An-to ni An-to-ni-o. She hopped up on a pony and ran away with Tony.”

  5. Brackenridge Park: ‘Is it still a postcard place?,’ 2017 (4)
  6. What’s up top counts, 2017 (3)
  7. Thanks to the Mister on his day for persistence in obtaining my Mother’s Day present, 2017 (8)

    3-D representations of Kate

  8. Postcard from Guanajuato, Mexico: Wishing these dining spots were not 600 miles away, 2016 (6)
  9. Postcards from San Antonio a Century Ago, 2016 (5)

    San Antonio’s love affair with fresh corn tortillas is nothing new.

  10. How would you feel about the Alamo with a crewcut?, 2011 (7)
  11. Postcard from Campeche, Mexico: Sittin’ on Campeche Bay, 2017 (12)
  12. Postcard from Bergamo, Italy: Bidding Italy ciao, for now, 2017

    Bergamo, Italy

And the best part of number 12 on your list is that our bidding ciao to Italy “for now” appears accurate. Will be taking you there through pictures later in 2018. For now, though, delivery of postcards from the fall trip to Mexico City was delayed by the holidays. They will be dribbled out over the next month.

Thanks for dropping by periodically. Always welcome your feedback.

Brackenridge Park: ‘Is it still a postcard place?’

Colonel George W. Brackenridge, one of our oldest, wealthiest and most prominent and respected citizens, has tendered to the city a handsome gift in the form of a 200-acre tract of land near the head of the river, to be dedicated to the use of a public park. Colonel Brackenridge acquired the property some twenty years ago, but beyond enclosing it with a wire fence, has never improved it.

The tract is heavily wooded and susceptible, at considerable outlay, of being transformed into a beautiful and inviting “breathing spot.” Not unnaturally, Col. Brackenridge has been the recipient of many complimentary utterances….

San Antonio Light, November 12, 1899, page 2

In Brackenridge Park, San Antonio has one of those places nature made beautiful. Its two hundred odd acres are wild and picturesque, a primeval forest which has not been spoiled by the hand of man…. you will find a beautiful natural woodland with winding driveways overarched with splendid live oak trees festooned with hanging moss. Here in captivity live elk and deer and buffalo. Here the squirrels chatter at play, and the wild beauty of this spot makes it one of the most attractive parks in America. San Antonio, Chamber of Commerce Booklet, 1909

Well past her century mark, it is not surprising that Brackenridge Park is overdue for a facelift. Recognizing this, San Antonio City Council unanimously approved a master plan for the park on March 2, and approval of funds via the upcoming bond election on May 6 will jumpstart the plan’s implementation.

A day-long summit presented by the Cultural Landscape Foundation and Brackenridge Park Conservancy on March 3 represented a thoughtful approach to the ongoing planning process for the park. Panels focused on what could be learned from other recent improvement projects in San Antonio as well as park projects in other cities.

Kinder Baumgardner, managing principal of SWA in Houston, pointed out that the beauty of Brackenridge Park often was spotlighted on postcards visitors would purchase to send home. But, he posed, “Is it still a postcard place?”

Of course, once home, that sent me scrambling though my folder to look, because, as you can tell by the masthead of my blog, I like old postcards.

Charles Birnbaum of the Cultural Landscape Foundation recognized the Japanese Tea Garden as the first quarry in the United States to be transformed into a garden.

The answer to Baumgardner’s questions is parts of the parkland and its extensions are postcard-worthy: the Japanese Tea Garden, the San Antonio Zoo, the Witte Museum, the San Antonio Botanical Garden. But shouldn’t all the remaining 115 acres of admission-free parkland be equally as photogenic?

As an introduction to the first session, Charles A. Birnbaum, president and CEO of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, pointed out that some of this “vacant” space has been plagued by a “plop and drop” approach to developing the parkland without enough planning focused on the importance of visual and spatial relationships. He stressed that “edge matters.” The park needs to be without borders, “porous.”

Speaker after speaker echoed this. Andres Andujar, CEO of Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation, noted the importance of “connectivity and porosity.” As the park is hemmed in by its neighbors and proximity to Highway 281, Douglas Reed, principal of Reed Hilderbrand, was among those looking eastward to create connections. The edges of Brackenridge Park should be opened up from Broadway.

Opening up the parkland is a major planning challenge facing the Brackenridge Park Conservancy because the blockage originated at the time of the original gift. The 1899 article about Brackenridge’s gift quoted above continued:

These kindly utterances are probably deserved, I assume, but doubly so would they have been, to my mind, had the colonel’s generosity gone but a step further and alienated the entire tract to the city, instead of reserving a strip of 300 feet wide, running the entire length of River avenue (now Broadway). Of course this strip can be platted into most beautiful and eligible residence lots, and by reason of their proximity to the park grounds, be made to net an aggregate probably in excess of the present value of the entire tract. But, I am not one to “look a gift horse in the mouth.”

San Antonio Light, November 12, 1899, page 2

With its origins at the Blue Hole on the property of the Sisters of Incarnate Word, the San Antonio River runs through the park. Archaeological studies trace man’s history in proximity to the river back 11,000 years ago. Birnbaum observed this contributes to making the parkland a suitable portal for viewing the story of water in San Antonio. With its early acequias and later waterworks supplying the city’s needs, Birnbaum believes redevelopment of the historic park has the potential to qualify it for designation as a national heritage area.

The city at times abused and overused that source of water. Water rights remained privately held after the donation of the parkland, with water pumped up to the area of today’s Botanical Gardens for distribution to the city. Artesian wells of the breweries downstream also tapped into the river’s underground resources for replenishment. Later flood control efforts led to inartistic intrusions in the park, such as the concrete Catalpa Pershing channel.

Still, the park has always been regarded as a resort for citizens.

Gina Ford, principal of Sasaki, identified the river as the building block for a cohesive network in the park and the surrounding areas. While the natural ecosystem should be cultivated, “the life of a city and the life of a river should interact.” Opportunities for engagement with the river should be fostered.

Everybody, young and old, rich and poor, the lame, the halt – even the blind – as well as the robust, athletic swimmers, have made a trysting place of Lambert Beach in Brackenridge Park. San Antonio Light, August 29, 1915

Returning to the historical levels of interaction people enjoyed with the water is complicated by the behavior of the park’s users. Before even the once-popular paddleboats can be reintroduced, people must stop feeding the resident ducks, said Suzanne Scott, executive director of the San Antonio River Authority. She has waged war against duck dooty for years, but people continue to bring their stale loaves of bread to the river’s banks. The availability of an unnatural abundance of food leads to an unnaturally high population of floating fowl fouling the water. This translates into an e coli count making the river too dangerous for humans to come in direct contact its waters.

Brackenridge Park remains “the people’s park,” but the implementation of its master plan promises to enrich our experiences in this precious urban oasis.

 

P.S. Don’t forget a few old souls from the past who might still haunt the park. I know, I am the only person trying to populate the park with ghosts, but here are some of my nominations: Helen Madarasz, Ernest Richter, Otto Goetz, Sam Wigodsky, William Berger and Martha Mansfield.

Might Helen Madarasz haunt Brackenridge Park?

Postcard from Parma, Italy: Reclaiming the stage from ancient ghosts

There is the Farnese Palace, too, and in it one of the dreariest spectacles of decay that ever was seen – a grand, old, gloomy theatre, mouldering away…. Such desolation as has fallen on this theatre, enhanced in the spectator’s fancy by its gay intention and design, now but worms can be familiar with. A hundred and ten years have passed, since any play was acted there…. If ever Ghosts act plays, they act them on this ghostly stage.

Pictures from Italy by Charles Dickens, 1846

Cosimo II de Medici (1590-1621) was going to be passing through town, and Ranuccio I Farnese (1569-1622), the duke of Parma and Piacenza, was eager to make a major impression. Ranuccio’s eagerness was enhanced by his desire to arrange a marriage between his son and one of Cosimo II’s daughters to fortify relations between the two families.

The huge Farnese Theatre was commissioned in 1618 in honor of the visit that actually failed to occur. But, never mind, the marriage did happen within a year or two anyway.

The massive theatre was made of wood with faux-marble plaster ornamentation. The theatre was used less than 10 times, only for lavish, expensive weddings and productions, including one during which the ground floor was flooded with water to make depiction of a naval battle more convincing. Following a grand finale in 1732, the stage indeed was abandoned for more than a century before the visit of Charles Dickens.

Allied bombing destroyed much of the Farnese Theatre in the spring of 1944. Even though it had not been in use for years, the decision was made in the 1950s to rebuild the theatre on the same grand scale as before.

Classical music resounds from concerts presented on the stage several times a month, much higher usage than the theatre ever experienced during its first three centuries.