Flip side of above postcard: “The Mexican Candy seller is a typical sight on the streets of San Antonio. Dressed in his native garb and selling a kind of pecan candy peculiar to Mexico which he alone seems to have the secret of making more toothsome than anyone else.”
Pecan pralines that melt in your mouth. The perfect finishing taste after overdosing your Mexican food with spoonful after spoonful of addictive salsa and jalapenos.
In 1910, there was one praline vendor who dominated the market in San Antonio, Tomas Contreras (1847-1912). I “met” him when I was researching my recent book, An Ostrich-Plumed Hat, and Yes, She Shot Him Dead. I stumbled across a full-page obituary for the Candy King in one of the local newspapers.
Tomas was born in Guanajuato and arrived in San Antonio with his mother Juanita in 1877. In the kitchen of their rented house on Matamoros Street, Juanita made what everybody claimed was the best pecan candy. She would dispatch Tomas to sell it downtown. He would take his basket and head to Alamo Plaza near the Menger Hotel. The Menger soon invited him to sell inside the lobby, positioned next to their popular blind harpist.
Andy draws open the heavy drapes and, despite the crisp winter day, cracks two of the windows. He hauls a heavy brass ashtray stand out of the depths of the closet and places it between the two chairs in front of Mr. Koehler’s massive walnut desk. Both his older brother, John, and Mr. Wahrmund are right-handed though, so he fetches another.
He does not want to have to answer to Mrs. Koehler if one of the men carelessly allows a burning ember to drop from his cigar onto the Oriental carpet. But, if the men are drinking, which they will be, they might smoke with their left hands. One more stand is in order. Mrs. K terms them hideous, hence the closet hide-away, but the elegant Meissner ashtrays she brought back from Germany are far too shallow-bowled to serve any purpose aside from collecting dust.
Oft-criticized for its failure to curb commercialism on Alamo Plaza, the City of San Antonio turned management of the historic city park over to the Texas General Land Office.
Millions of people presumably have passed through there since then, and the first thing most see is a caboose-red, shiny metal, faux Alamo Welcome Center. There in the middle of the plaza where there used to be a small table stand with an umbrella shading a vendor of icy cold raspas. It was 99 degrees when I was there, and I definitely would have found a snow cone more welcoming.
Anyway, visitors first glimpse of the distinctive Alamo-shaped parapet is on this booth. Why? Well, that’s obvious. It’s shiny red, and the Alamo with its ancient limestone walls pales by comparison. The Alamo might be free, but the Alamo prefers you to pay for headsets or tours. It requires the bold red to make sure you do not miss the opportunity.
While the General Land Office deems the stately Cenotaph nearby as inappropriate for the battlefield site, the powers that be evidently consider this carnivalesque booth a perfect fit.
In case you somehow manage to miss the warm welcome this booth extends to you, there are other signs strategically placed around the plaza.
And there is the opportunity to purchase a photo taken right up close by the Alamo door.
But the appropriateness of the tenant mix and their appearance on the west side of Alamo Plaza was top among the complaints aired by many, and supposedly the state solved that with the General Land Office’s purchase of a row of historical buildings there. A new Alamo Museum is envisioned for the area.
In the meantime, millions of visitors pass by. Strangely, among the most flagrant violators of the sign ordinance governing the Alamo Plaza Historic District (view signage codes here) is the Official San Antonio Visitor Center, with flamboyant advertisements completely covering one its windows. And the Del Sol Color Change shop located next door to the Official The Alamo Store. The GLO evidently is not able to request its tenants abide by tasteful signage regulations.
But, hey, one can never have too many signs addressing Alamo Plaza. So both the San Antonio Visitor Information Center and the Official The Alamo Store plop illegal signage boards right in the middle of the sidewalk.
As a final pictorial update to how the Texas General Land Office is managing one of San Antonio’s most treasured plazas, there is this mysterious Christo-like treatment between the Alamo Chapel and the Menger. I peeked in and could determine no function, but it does arouse one’s curiosity.
Welcome to the improved (?) version of Alamo Plaza.