Most precious part of Zilker Botanical Garden reflects the spirit of one man

The drawing-rooms of one of the most magnificent private residences in Austin are a blaze of lights. Carriages line the streets in front, and from gate to doorway is spread a velvet carpet, on which the delicate feet of the guests may tread. The occasion is the entrance into society of one of the fairest buds in the City of the Violet Crown.

“Tictoca,” William Sydney Porter (O. Henry), The Rolling Stone, October 27, 1894

Clara Driscoll Sevier, who loved flowers to the point of promoting a rose garden next to the Alamo as more desirable than saving its historic convent walls, found Austin lacking a garden club for women. To remedy this, she invited a group of ladies to Laguna Gloria, her home that is now The Contemporary Austin, to establish one in 1924. O. Henry’s reference to the violet-crowned hills of Austin inspired the name for the new group, the Violet Crown Garden Club.

Annual flower shows were the primary focus of the club until 1946 when members set aside modest seed money of $50 to initiate efforts to seek space in the city’s Zilker Park for a botanical garden. The Violet Crown Garden Club recruited six other garden clubs to join its quest and their persistence finally resulted in the 1964 completion of the Austin Area Garden Center building in what became the Zilker Botanical Garden.

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Bart + Mimi: Locked in love on ‘O. Henry’s Bridge’

Been watching “Bart + Mimi” for a while on morning walks, waiting to see if their public proclamation of love in Portuguese would multiply as love locks on bridges have around the world.

Multiplication is not desirable. A solitary lock is much more romantic, and cities where historic bridges are targeted struggle to cope with the weight of the demonstrations of love.

At first, I thought writing this blog would take much research into these cases, but fortunately “Mr. and Mrs. Adventure” spared me a lot of googling. They recently posted a blog on padlocked proclamations, including such sites as Via dell’ Amore in the Cinque Terre and the narrow 1828 Pont de l’Archevêché in Paris.

A few years ago according to The Independent, Parisian officials took action, only to be quickly reconquered by determined lovers:

A year after their mysterious disappearance, the “love-locks” of Paris are back on the city’s bridges, more plentiful and vibrant than ever despite lingering suspicions that unromantic officials from City Hall may again swoop with their wire cutters and remove the tokens of couples’ love….

In May 2010, Paris Town Hall expressed concern over the growing number of love-locks, saying: “they raise problems for the preservation of our architectural heritage”. It’s not only the Town Hall that expressed doubts; from time to time a dejected ex-lover has been seen desperately hacking at a padlock with a pair of pliers.

Shortly after this announcement, the bridge was found all but bare following a nocturnal clean-up.

Since the disappearance, lovers have shown their indignation by building-up collections once more….

The narrow pedestrian bridge in the King William Historic District on the south side of downtown Bart and Mimi selected to share their beijoes certainly looks the part. Some call the Johnson Street Bridge the O. Henry Bridge. Built in 1983, it replicates an earlier one removed from this spot during inartistic flood-control work completed in the 1960s. The 1880 bridge had been moved to Johnson Street from its original location on Commerce Street, where it served as an inspirational setting for writer Sidney Porter, or O. Henry.

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While the moniker O. Henry might sound romantic, his morbid short story of suicidal consumptives set on the former Commerce Street Bridge was not. The following is from his Fog in Santone:

The drug clerk looks sharply at the white face half concealed by the high-turned overcoat collar.

“I would rather not supply you,” he said doubtfully. “I sold you a dozen  morphine tablets less than an hour ago.”

The customer smiles wanly. “The fault is in your crooked streets. I  didn’t intend to call upon you twice, but I guess I got tangled up. Excuse me.”

The purchaser of the morphia wanders into the fog, and at length, finds himself upon a little iron bridge, one of the score or more in the heart of the city, under which the small tortuous river flows.

But Bart and Mimi’s lock has triumphed over the inherited gloom, assuming its role as one of San Antonio’s quills:

If peculiarities were quills, San Antonio de Bexar would be a rare porcupine. Over all the round of aspects in which a thoughtful mind may view a city, it bristles with striking idiosyncrasies and bizarre contrasts.

Retrospects and Prospects by William Sydney Porter (O. Henry)

Hopefully, their en amo voce will remain a single quill and not inspire a wave of others to turn the little footbridge into an obese bristling porcupine.

Yet another reason to drink beer during Fiesta: Preserving our quills

If peculiarities were quills, San Antonio de Bexar would be a rare porcupine. Over all the round of aspects in which a thoughtful mind may view a city, it bristles with striking idiosyncrasies and bizarre contrasts.

Retrospects and Prospects by William Sydney Porter (O Henry)

Often I only hear brief tidbits from longer stories on Texas Public Radio because of the short distance between errands, and some of these are pleas for funds – particularly critical now as Congress is once again picking on the funding provided Public Radio. But even Public Radio’s fundraising requests can be enlightening or entertaining; although I’m certainly happy Ira Glass never has called personally to pin us to the mat about the size of our contribution.

In one of the local pitches the other day, David Martin Davies talked about his visit to the O. Henry House downtown (My apologies possibly, because, for the above reason, I am not positive who was speaking.). He pointed out a few historical inaccuracies, such as the small stone structure should be called O. Henry’s Office and “O. Henry’s typewriter” on display in the shuttered museum was not manufactured until two years after the author’s death. But the typewriter hooked him, and he ended up buying one just like it on ebay for $50. What’s great is not only does the antiquated typewriter work, but the next generation in his family loves typing on the strange piece of machinery not connected to a screen.

Okay, I have probably lost all readers by now. Where does the beer figure into this rambling post?

Davies mentioned on air that the Texas Public Radio spot on the O. Henry House was part of a new series focusing on historic preservation, and this series is made possible by a grant from the San Antonio Conservation Society. The main source of income for the San Antonio Conservation Society is A Night in Old San Antonio, or NIOSA, which gets underway on Tuesday, April 12. So, much as with the prior post about the King William Fair, every beer you drink helps the Conservation Society’s efforts to preserve San Antonio’s distinctive heritage.

Seems O. Henry would have approved, as even he remarked long ago of San Antonio’s party spirit:

…it stands with all its gay prosperity just on the edge of a lonesome, untilled belt of land one hundred and fifty miles wide, like Mardi Gras on the austere brink of Lent….

Retrospects and Prospects by William Sydney Porter (O Henry)

So let the Fiesta begin (even in the midst of Lent), and keep San Antonio quilled.

P.S. Help even more by purchasing one of Kathleen Trenchard’s 2011 NIOSA pins.

April 10, 2011, Update: Paula Allen writes about the giant “party with a purpose.”