San Pedro Creek Culture Park: Hideous drainage ditch now inviting urban space

In this place of herons where the grasses sway in starlight I have flowed since the dawn of evermore.

John Phillip Santos, historical text carved in limestone

The stretch of San Pedro Creek between the tunnel inlet at I-35 and Houston Street beside a new office tower climbing toward the sky might only be a little more than four blocks long, but the transformation from drainage ditch to park seems miraculous to me.

Yes, I watched the earlier magic worked on the Museum and Mission Reaches of the San Antonio River Improvements Project, but there was absolutely nothing natural-creek-like remaining following decades of flood-control projects in this neighborhood.

All that remained was a ditch. And then there was a dream. San Pedro Creek Culture Park.

Some dismiss projects like these as “legacy projects” fluffing up politicians’ egos with taxpayers’ dollars. Politically charged, the design process for a project this complex is rarely perfect. There are budget cuts, and still the enormous projects tend to run over-budget.

But, as with the original Paseo del Rio project, they can prove visionary. Development along the Museum Reach demonstrates how quickly highly blemished urban corridors become desirable.

While flood-control is an underlying purpose of the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, the incorporation of site-specific art reflective of the city’s history and culture gives the new pedestrian passageway a distinctive San Antonio feel.

Bexar County is the primary funder of San Pedro Creek Culture Park, and the San Antonio River Authority is project manager.

looking south from Houston Street

Work is underway on the next phase heading southward from Houston Street. As you can see from the photo, this narrow stretch probably is even more challenging.

In my mind, the photos above illustrate that the complications and difficulties encountered along the way are so worth it. Those involved are leaving a legacy that will enrich the quality of urban life for generations to come. Looking forward to walking the next phase and those to come.

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.

Ribbons of Gaudi-inspired steel ripple above the river

By the time I started this blog, most of the public art projects on the Museum Reach of the river seemed like old-hat. That is not to say the art is stale; I love it. I walked along there only this morning.

But I think the newest addition, a design inspired by balconies on a Gaudi apartment building in Barcelona, is by far the most stunning.

I already was a George Schroeder fan. Even though the stoplight is outrageously prolonged, I find myself driving south down New Braunfels, cutting across Funston and sitting at the intersection on Broadway to admire his entryway to Brackenridge Park. Its lines are so sensual and distracting, the poor car behind me generally is forced to honk.

I’ve become more of a Mission Reach kind of girl, but watching the installation of the railings on the Camden Street Bridge keeps drawing me back to that part of the river. That, and the fact there are no b-share stations south of Blue Star.

Steve Bennett of the Express-News wrote such a great story about the sculpture, I simply will defer to him:

“The whole design is based on the river,” says Schroeder…. Like a lot of Schroeder’s monumental public sculpture, such as “Passage” at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, “River Movement” was inspired partly by wanderlust.

“When I do these projects,” he says, “I try to make something that is drawn from my international travels. I try to bring something from that back to San Antonio.”

A longtime admirer of iconoclastic Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí‘s sinuous 1912 building Casa Milá, also known as La Pedrera (The Quarry) for its undulating limestone walls, Schroeder finally got a chance to see it in person during a trip to Barcelona…..

“The tangled-up metal (on the balustrades) looked very organic, an integral part of the building. So I kept that inspiration and drew on it for this project.”

My favorite part of Steve’s story is his assessment of the importance of this work:

What he’s done is create another San Antonio landmark that will endure for decades, a work that mimics, in an abstract way, the ripples on the water and the breeze blowing through the plants on the banks, even the wakes of the tourist-laden barges that cruise by regularly.

And, my other favorite part: I had not realized there was more to come. The San Antonio River Foundation also is funding more of Schroeder’s work at Newell. 


And while you are in the neighborhood, don’t forget to look upward for the Jesus Moroles stellae….

November 11, 2011, Update: So often when I walk this part of the river, it is barely light. But yesterday morning, I waited for it to warm up a bit. The bright morning sun reflected from the rippling river onto the underside of the bridge makes Schroeder’s design inspiration even more obvious.