Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: Tiles turn advertisements into enduring street art

Members of the Sanchis family opened El Cronometro watch shop on Calle Sierpes in 1901. Their investment in this monumental wood and tile advertisement must have been substantial, although surely the Swiss watchmaker Longines underwrote some of the expense. Even if the store closed its doors, it is doubtful Sevillanos would permit the sign to be removed. The commercial advertisement has become a cherished part of the streetscape.

On the same street, Zacarias Zulategui commissioned Ceramica Santa Ana to add two tile advertisements for Armeria Z and Deportes Z. His gun shop and sports store have disappeared, but the ads remain. Women no longer roll cigars inside the Fabrica Real de Tabacos, but the tile sign still is embedded in the wall. The last Studebaker rolled off the assembly line in 1966, but the Studebaker mural in Seville endures.

In Seville, the art form has never gone out of fashion. Azulejos are so durable, they are used for street signs. The vintage look is a favorite of producers of alcoholic beverages, who find their installation is embraced as part of the streetscape. Restaurants, bars and shops continue to turn to Seville’s ceramicists to announce their presence to passers-by.

And you have to admire the cleverness of the tavern-owner whose frugal three-tile B-A-R sign takes full advantage of the azulejos above it depicting a graceful Virgin Mary protecting the Spanish fleet. The juxtaposition makes the establishment appear particularly blessed.

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.

Postcard from Valencia, Spain: Philips lightbulb only hint of ‘secret’ garden of tiles beyond

An over-the-top flashy exterior of a former home now the National Museum of Ceramics and Decorative Arts commands the attention of most visitors in the historic center of Valencia. Almost the only thing attracting one’s attention to a smaller house museum on a busy street above the Turia Park is this old tile advertisement. But this, the House Museum José Benlliure, we enjoyed so much more.

The first floor of the former home provides insight to period furnishings, with the upper floors featuring paintings by José Benlliure y Gil (1858-1937) and his son. While the art is worthwhile on its own, the more intriguing spaces are found out the back door.

Benlliure designed the garden upon his return from Rome in 1912. The intimate retreat is filled with tile murals he collected and a colorful series he commissioned depicting regional costumes and agricultural products – mainly oranges and grapes.

At the rear of the garden is the artist’s former art studio and office, wonderfully cluttered and personal. A pure pleasure to explore.

Having the house mostly to ourselves, we felt as though we stumbled into a secret garden of Spanish tilework.