Horse Feathers: Coming Full Circle

Wagon and carriage manufacturers failed to take the automobile seriously, at least in the beginning. More than one of them dismissed it as a passing fad like the 1860s “bone shaker” velocipede, or the 1880s high-wheel bicycle.

Thomas A. Kinney, The Carriage Trade: Making Horse-Drawn Vehicles in America

The Model T made its debut in 1908 with a purchase price of $825.00. Over ten thousand were sold in its first year, establishing a new record.

Henry Ford Changes the World

One-hundred years ago, automobiles began to crowd horse-drawn carriages off the streets of downtown San Antonio. Downtown retail flourished as people living on surrounding farms and ranches could actually make a round-trip to buy necessities and luxuries in less than a day. Car dealers replaced carriage sellers; parking lots replaced livery stables.

By the middle of the century, the automobile began to transport people farther and farther out from the center of the city.  Toward the end of the 20th century, the abundant car dealerships around the fringes of downtown had followed the customers outward in the sprawling city.

But lately, the horse seems to be having the last whinny downtown. The repurposing of Automotive Accents on Avenue B always makes me smile when I pedal by in the mornings.

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I enjoy the tortoise and hare concept of the slow-plodding horse taking over the automotive barn. The man managing the horses and carriages under the Mr. Goodwrench sign even wears a Star Motors shirt indicating his former occupation.

It’s not that I’m particularly fond of horses and carriages. Don’t recall riding  in one since I was a child in Colonial Williamsburg. But for me, their clip-clopping along Madison and King William Streets represents people slowing down to enjoy the city itself, people walking and riding bikes to appreciate San Antonio’s urban amenities instead of racing past them.

The horses better enjoy their hay while they can, though. Another cycle could be on the horizon. Some politicians in New York City are threatening to replace the horse carriages circling Central Park with hybrid replicas of vintage Model Ts.

The fight continues, but The Gothamist reported that the head of the Horse and Carriage Association summed up the feelings of many:

No one wants to replace clip-clop, clip-clop with chitty chitty bang bang.

Ban the Banner

It’s no secret I am upset by the overabundance of illegal signs in the Alamo Plaza Historic District.  But sometimes you are so pestered by fleas you fail to notice the Tyrannosaurus rex coming up behind you.                              

proposed life-size Alamo to hang next to the grounds of the Alamo itself


Well, this one happens to be 134-feet tall, and the staff of the city’s Historic Preservation Office has no problem with it hanging adjacent to the Alamo grounds for six or seven months.  Perhaps they were swayed because the application to install the banner on the Emily Morgan Hotel is coming from the caretakers of the Alamo itself, none other than the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, who brought us an earlier tasteful banner installation and a pop-up tent.                              

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have trouble understanding why a 2 1/2-story image of the Alamo needs to be installed within 1/2 block of the actual Alamo.  Is this new Alamo going to be bigger and better than the real one?                              

If the members of the Historic Design and Review Commission decide to follow staff’s recommendation and let this Behemoth banner sail through on the consent agenda at the August 4th meeting, I hope they at least attach a recycling amendment.  The used banner could be donated to the Women’s Pavilion; a banner that size would make a lot of tote bags.  Or probably more appropriately, the banner could be recycled to protect the Alamo roof from water seepage.  That way, the Daughters would not have to worry about increasing their preservation budget to anything above the three-digit numbers of the past several years.                               

P.S.  Sarah Reveley has started posting photographs showcasing Alamo Plaza intrusions on a new website.                              

P.S.S.  I would worry more about the tasteful banner on Main Plaza Ben Olivo posted earlier, but guess we should not stop to scratch a flea when a T-rex is barreling this way.                             

Update on August 3Scott Huddleston’s coverage                            

Update on August 4:  With instructions to lose the Emily Morgan logo, ditch the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s “Deep in the Heart” campaign image and send the little figures scurrying around the bottom of the banner – the ones that look like Mexican toy soldiers racing to escape the gift shop – packing, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas received approval for a scaled-down, 80-foot-tall banner to be hung on a historic landmark in a historic district for seven months.                           

The purpose of having a larger Alamo hanging next door to the real Alamo remains unclear after listening to the continually shifting explanations.  When the presenters realized the concept of advertising the Alamo (and thanking the Emily Morgan) to motorists on the highway was sounding exactly like a super-sized billboard to those sitting in judgment, the banner instead became an educational tool to inspire awe in pedestrians.  Bruce Winders, PhD, the Alamo’s historian and curator, said it would make children realize the Alamo is important and even labeled the banner “art.”  Tony Caridi, the Alamo’s director of development who designed the banner, might have beamed with pride, if not for board member Harry Shafer’s suggestion that it should then also go before the Public Art Board for review.                            

Caridi expressed his opinion that curtailing the size of the banner would make it look more like a sign.  It will not look more like a sign, it will just look like a slightly smaller sign with slightly less square footage than two highway-size billboards, still representing a major visual intrusion in the Alamo Plaza Historic District.                           

Despite being told by one of Davy Crockett’s descendants that a 13-story banner is what Davy would want, four board members dared to stand fast behind the newly revised Unified Development Code passed by City Council only this summer.  But, alas, the code was no more effective a shield than the crumbling Alamo walls in 1836.  They were outnumbered.  The banner will hang.                          

As for the banner’s future life, Caridi said they were lifting my earlier suggestion, which I lifted from the Women’s Pavilion, and plan to recycle the banner into tote bags to sell in the gift shop.  Guess he did not like the suggestion to recycle it as a rain bonnet for the Alamo roof.                          

Update on August 5:  Scott Huddleston of the Express-News on the shrunken banner:                         

Caridi and Bruce Winders, Alamo historian, said the banner would send a statement to visitors and locals that the landmark anniversary of Texas independence offers an exciting occasion to revisit true stories of the past.                         

“It’s the opportunity to say the Texas Revolution isn’t just a movie. It isn’t just John Wayne,” Winders said.                         

Now, when I first read about the theme for the Daughters of the Republic of Texas’ 175th Anniversary Gala, my thought was it was a guaranteed success.  But Dr. Winders’ statement confuses me greatly because the caretakers are centering much of the celebration on guess what?  John Wayne’s role in The Alamo.                           

To set the record straight, the following is lifted directly from the Daughters’ website:                         

Honoring the 50th Anniversary of John Wayne’s movie “The Alamo”. The sixth Alamo Gala will be held under the Texas stars on Alamo Plaza. All proceeds will go toward preservation, education, and maintenance of The Alamo Complex.                          

Silent and Live Auctions; Colonial Menu of appetizers and buffet dinner; Music and dancing to St. Vincent and the Grenadines featuring a custom arrangement of music from the score of the movie.                          

Reel History: John Wayne’s Alamo 50th Anniversary Exhibition will premiere the evening of the Gala. The exhibition will feature movie memobriila from around the nation including items from the DRT Library, John Wayne Enterprises private collection, and other collectors. Organized by John Farkis and Dr. Bruce Winders, Alamo Historian, the exhibit will be free to the public beginning October 10 – December 31, 2010.                         

Now I understand.  Since the exhibit housed in the Alamo compound will focus on the movie The Alamo, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas need a really, really, really big – a Behemoth – banner to try to remind people that, despite the exhibit on the movie they are showcasing, “the Texas Revolution isn’t just a movie. It isn’t just John Wayne.”                          

2nd Update on August 5:  Read the statement Rollette Schreckinghost, the president of the San Antonio Conservation Society, read at HDRC in opposition to the banner.                   

3rd Update on August 5:  And on KTSA Radio, Rolette Schreckenghost said:                 

Goodness knows I’m a native and I’ve never lived anywhere but San Antonio, but I don’t need a sign to remind me to remember the Alamo…. It’s the cultural integrity of San Antonio that people come to see.                 

A Milam descendant and, according to Veronica Flores-Paniagua, former Alamo committee chairman for the DRT weighs in on the issue.                

Update on August 7:  Veronica Flores-Paniagua of the Express-News questions the appropriateness of Caridi’s banner design:  “Why didn’t the DRT see that?”               

I keep wondering how in the world the DRT will possibly handle the potentially explosive land mines involved in mounting the 50th anniversary exhibit centering on The Alamo.  How will the DRT distinguish “real” from “reel” with appropriate respect for historical accuracy?   The banner does not seem like it is going to help; the curators have their work cut out for them.              

Update on August 12:  Revised on August 13 following article in the Express-News (Didn’t mean to jump the gun.  I think sometimes a request accompanied by a please receives more positive results than immediate escalation to threats of legal action.):          

The sound of Davy Crockett’s lone fiddle echoing from the ramparts of the wall around the Alamo will be multiplied ________________________ _________________   as part of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas’ celebration of the 175th anniversary of the battle,  ______________  _________  _________, maybe this will encourage a round-up and removal of all illegal signage prior to focusing that much national and perhaps international media attention on the plaza.           

Hey, I just barely escaped the MDA jail yesterday.        

Update on August 14:  The DRT does now have an image on its website promoting a March 5th “Symphony Concert.”  So that part is official and those who mention it need no longer fear legal action.       

Update on August 15:  Something was nagging me.  Personally, my concern is the proliferation of signage in the Alamo Plaza Historic District, not the anniversary celebration itself.  But somehow I remembered reading about the anniversary concert earlier.  Was Sarah Reveley really the one to spill the beans, or did someone else?  The following is from a July 6 article in the Dallas Morning News:       

Caridi said that the Alamo’s operations were not threatened by the current lull, but that new programs and offerings could be scratched.       

He said it has been difficult, for instance, persuading corporate sponsors to come on board for a nearly $400,000 concert being planned for next year’s 175th anniversary of the famous battle at the Alamo.       

2nd Update on August 15:  Was struck by this photograph by Matt Wright-Steele to accompany the Observer’s article “Davy Crockett Tried to Trim his Myth, but It Grew Back.”  But, on the other hand, I also loved one of the online comments submitted by J. Norton-Keidel:     

My family history includes the story that when Davy Crockett came to East Texas, wearing a black stovepipe hat, en route he stayed with our family.  Legend is Crockett admired the coonskin hat worn by a young man of the household and offered to trade his black hat plus a gold piece for the young man’s coonskin hat.  The deal was struck and thus historical tableaus guaranteed!     

What’s real and what’s reel, and how does one ever distinguish myth from reality?    

Update on August 28:     

Weel, blude’s thicker than water; she’s welcome to the cheeses and the hams just the same.    

Sir Walter Scott, Guy Mannering, 1815    

Checked on membership requirements this morning.  As someone not from Texas, I always thought your proof of revolutionary bloodline was all that was needed to qualify for membership in the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.  But ancestry is the secondary half of the requirements for admission into the sisterhood of approximately 6,700.  While the organization professes to encourage “anyone with a love of Texas history to join us in celebrating and preserving this heritage,” the first part of its requirements is that a woman “is personally acceptable to The DRT.”    

According to the San Antonio Express-News this morning, the Daughters officially are disowning the Texas Centennial-obsessed, Alamobsessed, whistle-blowing daughter they wish they never had, Sarah Reveley – a rather late-term abortion.  Sarah is now severely sentenced to endure shunning by many of her former siblings for the rest of her life.  Never having been in a sorority, I am unsure how this would affect one.     

But do I believe banishment is an Alamoment for Sarah?  Don’t think so.  She is too busy dedicating her energies to tracking down missing monuments dating from the celebration of the Texas Centennial.    

You might question why I inserted the second part of Scott’s quotation, with good reason.  When I was looking for the meaning, I turned to the primary source.  It is hardly applicable.  But in wandering randomly through Guy Mannering, I found another reference to cheese with a footnoted explanatory text relating to small-town life that I loved more than Scott’s writing:    

The groaning malt mentioned in the text was the ale brewed for the purpose of being drunk after the lady or goodwife’s safe delivery. The ken-no has a more ancient source, and perhaps the custom may be derived from the secret rites of the Bona Dea. A large and rich cheese was made by the women of the family, with great affectation of secrecy, for the refreshment of the gossips who were to attend at the ‘canny’ minute. This was the ken-no, so called because its existence was secret (that is, presumed to be so) from all the males of the family, but especially from the husband and master. He was accordingly expected to conduct himself as if he knew of no such preparation, to act as if desirous to press the female guests to refreshments, and to seem surprised at their obstinate refusal. But the instant his back was turned the ken-no was produced; and after all had eaten their fill, with a proper accompaniment of the groaning malt, the remainder was divided among the gossips, each carrying a large portion home with the same affectation of great secrecy.    

Straying farther afield, Bona Dea was a Roman    

deity of fruitfulness, both in the earth and in women…. Her temple was cared for and attended by women only….    

Kind of like the Alamo.  Sorry for such unrelated rambling.  Or not.  And Sarah, lift a groaning malt, but maybe skip the cheese.   

Update on August 31:  Scott Huddleston reports the “reel” Alamo is closing, so those wanting that John Wayne-fix will be dependent on “Reel History: John Wayne’s Alamo 50th Anniversary Exhibition.”  

Update on September 24:  I felt Jan Jarboe Russell stayed so completely on the tightrope without tipping either direction in her Texas Monthly article about recent issues involving the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and the Alamo that I was left blogless.  The headline was the most sensational part of the article.  Shows it all depends on your perspective.   

According to a thread posted on Texas Centennial, the Daughters viewed the article differently:  

DRT Headquarters Board Room
Austin, Texas  

President General’s Remarks:
An expulsion hearing is set for October 29th for Sarah Reveley, DRT member.
Regarding the Texas Monthly article concerning the Daughters, the author had spent a full day at the Alamo seeing and hearing about all the good things happening at the Alamo, but he chose not to include the positive notes.  

Although, when Jan spent a whole day at the Alamo, seems they might have noticed she’s a woman.  

And, to further blur the line between reel and real, the DRT, the Alamo  and IMAX are partnering to bring John Wayne’s The Alamo to a theater near you on Friday, October 8.  Click here to get $1.50 off your ticket.

Update on October 19:  Phil Collins, Ricky Skaggs and the San Antonio Symphony finally confirmed for March 5 concert.  Daughters unfold expansion plans for Alamo grounds.  And the DRT disowns another child of the Republic of Texas.  Turned, once again, to an old John Branch cartoon to illustrate.

Update on December 30:  Did you know you can buy a genuine coonskin hat harvested from a now-deceased raccoon in the Alamo Gift Shop for $79?

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.