Timeless River San Antonio and Its Offspring - This Historic River Walk
the time of the discovery by Spanish explorers in 1691, the River San
Antonio running through what is today San Antonio’s famed River Walk or
Paseo del Rio area has been flush with greenery, shady banks, and toweri-ng
trees. In the beginning these explorers used the waterway to supply water to
their missions. Mission San Antonio de Valero, better known as the Alamo,
was the first to reap its benefits. Throughout the centuries the river
flooded its banks many times.
1921 the worst flood on record killed over 50 people and caused millions of
dollars in damage to the city. There were various plans brought forward as
to what to do. An architect (Robert H.H. Hugman) convinced the city
officials and business leaders to turn the area into a beautiful urban park
patterned after old cities in Spain, where narrow winding streets that were
closed to traffic were able to secure the best shops and restaurants. It
actually took until 1939 when the River Walk was officially built with
walkways and the first kiosks.
Today, the River Walk winds through downtown
San Antonio like a lush and long meandering garden. It is thick with
plantings of flowering trees and shrubs and dozens of restaurants, hotels,
and shops. I consider it one of the prettiest and most romantic, if not the
prettiest and most romantic, of all the urban rivers in the U.S.
been visiting the River Walk since 1965 when it was mostly small hippy arts
and crafts boutiques and tie die shops and a few restaurants like Casa Rio.
As I recall, in comparison to today it was also fairly seedy and untidy. My
favorite time to visit is Christmas. Each Christmas season the city of San
Antonio displays for its visitors and residents a spectacular display of
millions of fluttering, twinkling lights of many colors along the length of
the River Walk downtown. The lights are turned on each year the Friday after
Thanksgiving. It just makes you feel good to be there – like entering a
fantasy land for grown ups!
One of my always favorite things to do is
ride the Rio Trans River taxis. The taxis are a center piece of the area as
they traverse the narrow canal that makes up the River Walk’s two and one
half miles winding through the downtown area of San Antonio. You just know
everyone on board is enjoying what I can only describe as a highly
stimulating multi-sensual experience that they will remember. The taxis stop
continuously at over 39 stops giving you the opportunity to relax and enjoy
the absolutely lush green views and the historic and romantic feeling
surrounding you on your way to your favorite River Walk restaurant, shop,
club, or hotel.
of my favorites on my “must experience” list are the Arneson River Theater,
the La Mansion del Rio Hotel, and the Casa Rio restaurant for their
contributions to the rich history of the River Walk. The Arneson River
Theater is located out of doors on the River Walk The stage resembles the
old historic missions in San Antonio including bells. An arched stone bridge
connects the Theater to terraced grassy stone benches on the opposite bank
of the River. The audience sits on what appear to be giant steps. It’s a
perfect venue to watch a dance, play, or musical performance. The Theater is
next to La Villita Historic Arts Village. It was San Antonio’s first
neighborhood comprising a settlement of primitive huts for the Spanish
soldiers stationed at the Mission San Antonio Valero (the Alamo). La Villita
is a testament to the vision of past community leaders who acted to preserve
the area as an important part of San Antonio’s history.
Walking along the River Walk you will pass by
the La Mansion del Rio Hotel, an elegant and very old world hotel built
right into the side of the River Walk. It expresses itself as a grand
hacienda blending the Spanish Colonial architecture and European-style
furnishings true to San Antonio’s bi-cultural heritage. According to
history, 17 years after the famous battle of the Alamo in 1852, four
teaching brothers from the Society of Mary decided to create a center of
activity for education and enlightenment in the still-untamed Texas
frontier. In 1968, the Hotel was transformed from a 139 year-old-school
building into a luxury class hotel. Today, the two-story schoolhouse remains
relatively untouched as the architectural heart of the acclaimed historic
Hotel. It has been designated a historical treasure by the Texas Historical
Commission and the San Antonio Conservation Society. Founded as a center of
enlightenment it survives today as a tribute to those founders as a center
of grace, romance, and beauty. La Mansion del Rio Hotel was one of the first
hotels opening on the River Walk in 1968, just in time for Hemisfair, San
Antonio’s 1968 World’s Fair.
On my numerous visits throughout the years to
the River Walk, I’ve eaten regularly at the Casa Rio restaurant. It is an
original to the River Walk opening in 1946. It was the first business
established at River level. You can’t miss the restaurant with its primary
colored umbrellas on its outdoor patio right next to the River’s edge!
According to River Walk history, it seems Alfred Beyer had an appliance
store at street level that was losing money to department stores. Being what
in modern terms is called an “out of the box” thinker, he excavated his
basement of the store, built stairs down to the River, and opened what has
remained a popular Mexican restaurant. According to the local history, Beyer
discovered remnants of a Spanish-era home which have been preserved as part
of the restaurant.
The River Walk is a “feel good” place. You go
there for a day and its ambiance with its natural gardens, old fashioned
lamp posts, stone pathways and bridges puts you back in time and makes you
feel good or, at least, possibly feel better than before you got there!
About the Author:
Ph.D., spent 35 years in Adult Education and Adult Literacy Education.
She has also spent the past 25 years writing and traveling - turning her
favorite hobbies into her occupation. As avid traveler, Shelia has
visited cities around the glob including living and working in South Korea
and South Vietnam for two years. Places she have visited include
cities throughout the US and to Mexico, France, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong,
England, Puerto Rico, and Aruba. Sheila who resides in Texas specializes in
writing about the history and cultural aspects of a travel location. (More
about this writer.)