Sunday, April 03, 2011

Walkin' the East Side #7: Downtown

This is probably my best shot yet of the Tower of the Americas.  It's emblematic of San Antonio almost as much as is the Alamo--so far as the locals are concerned, anyway.  I have my doubts as to how much those outside of the city know about it, but that's actually fine by me.

The Tower of the Americas was built for the 1968 Hemisfair, a world's fair.  The Handbook of Texas Online has a fantastic article on the subject.  It's pretty balanced about the issues surrounding the fair, including how some 100 historic structures, initially supposed to be preserved, were instead demolished (leaving between 22 & 24 that were maintained as promised).  It also discusses opposition to the project which was centered around the demolition of a long-standing neighborhood for a project of dubious value.  Given that my post on the topic of changing the name of part of Bowie St. to Tower of the Americas Way generated a LOT of comments like "San Antonio had a World's Fair?" I don't think I'd be out of line to say that the potential wasn't realized.  I'm putting all this here because almost all of today's pictures will be from what remains of Hemisfair Park + the Institute of Texan Cultures (which I believe was part of the 1968 construction).

Reading about how the fair was originally intended as "a fair to celebrate the cultural heritage shared by San Antonio and the nations of Latin America", I think this might also be one of the first examples of pretending SA's only heritage is Latino.

Continued post-break...

That strange gray thing behind the fence is the Institute of Texan Cultures.  It's a fascinating little cultural history museum, & pretty much exactly what it sounds like--info on the different ethnic groups that make Texas, Texas.  I think a lot of times we are seen as very homogenous, but we're not.  It's fascinating if you are a history nerd as I am.  My all-time favorite exhibit is the sharecropper's cabin.  It's the real thing, and though you can't go inside it you can look in it.  I've always loved it.  The last time I was there was in July 2007, and it was then I noticed the addition of a (scale model replica) "Mexican-American house of the 1970s."  It's spot-on, but I question its inclusion as I'm sure pretty much everyone around here knows someone who lives in the real thing.  I guess it's so that the tourists can see how Mexicans live while not having to interact with any actual Mexicans (aside from the folks working the gift shop).

The next few photos are from the Back 40 at the ITC.  There is an exercise path that runs around the perimeter of the property & through the Back 40, so even though we got there as the museum was closing we were able to look at these buildings, though of course not take the tour.

 I forget exactly how they had this house labeled, & I forgot to photograph the plaque.  It's old school S. Texas design, though.  Made out of adobe, with an outside oven.  Note the separate porch roof.  We think that "outdoor living-rooms" are the latest thing.  They aren't.

 This is an example of a post-Civil War era military outpost, if I remember correctly.  This is the sort of thing you would have found to help protect the Texas frontier.  It's not a fort, but there are a lot of buildings on Fort Sam Houston that look very much like this.  It's a two-room deal, with an office to the right in the photo and a bunk room to the left.  The building material is native limestone.  I think this is still being quarried in South Texas (though no longer in SA proper, to my knowledge), and really good houses still use the native stuff.  I love the look of this; it's very Texan.

Here is a nice little mockup of a north or central Texas homestead, complete with barn, wagon, & log cabin.  Log cabins don't seem to go with Texas to me, but that's  because there are precious few trees of any size in the southern part of the state.  (N.E. Texas and E. Texas of course have the piney woods.  Plenty of trees there.) 

 This is another example of how we could learn a lot from antique building techniques.  According to the plaque (the only one I remembered to photograph), this is a "two-pen dogtrot design."  It is pure genius.  Note the deep porches (the one on the back is hard to see) to keep the interior shaded and, again, act as outdoor living space.  The center dogtrot, which is an open breezeway in between the two rooms, helps to circulate air and keep things cool.  The kitchen is on the right in the picture--putting it separate from the rest of the house prevents heating up of the living area during summer months.  I can't be positive, but it appears the sleeping area (on the left) has a loft above it, probably for taking advantage of that whole "warm air rises" thing during the winter.  In a time where "energy-efficient" is such a buzzword, I don't know why we don't reincorporate these design tenets into modern buildings.  Sure, it's not 100% convenient to have to walk across to the kitchen (and hey, where would you put the bathroom?) to do anything there, but I'd love to live in an updated version of this.

This is the interior of the bedroom/living area, photographed from the window in the back.  I actually took two pictures of this trying to capture everything that was in it, but this is the only one that turned out nice enough to put in the blog.  There is a bed below the window with a cradle at the foot--I've said for a while now that co-sleeping (which means sharing a room--sleep sharing refers to sharing a bed) is the historic way of doing things, simply as a matter of space.  That's a pretty impressive weaving loom off in the corner there.  There's a piano off to the other side of the door, and a few chairs, and I think there was a table as well, but I don't remember for sure.  Personally I have always been a bit mystified by the humongous houses that are the standard these days, and I like the idea of radically simplifying stuff.  It's personal preference, of course, but when you stop to think about it, it's pretty amazing that even most of our poor people today have homes that not that long ago only the wealthy would have been able to build.  And that's really cool.

 A bit closer picture of the Tower of the Americas.  In the bottom left corner of the photo, just beyond the trees, you can see part of the Tower Life building.  That's got a pretty interesting story behind it, and is another iconic building in the city (which is to say, it is always in skyline drawings).  I'll get pix of it one day.

 The flagpole garden out in front of the ITC, showing the different countries from which immigrants came to Texas.  Several of them are Germanic; it is always a bit odd to me to see the older duchy flags rather than the modern Schwartz, Rot, Gold I am used to.  Now that I'm old enough to know better, I'm miffed that we didn't learn about Germany becoming Germany back in German class.  Seems a pretty huge thing to gloss over.
 Old school tractor.  I backed up into a flagpole trying to get a decent shot of this.  There's also a log transporter machine (a "slip tongue skidder"), but I couldn't get a good shot of it.  And, of course, it's the other one I got a good shot of the sign for.  Enlarging the full-size version on my computer, I see that this is an "Avery 18-36 horsepower kerosene-powered tractor."  The photo does not adequately bring across how flippin' HUGE this thing is; it' well over 6' tall.  (And this is where I really show myself as a city girl, 'cause I've no idea how big modern tractors are.)
 One of the buildings--probably one of the historic ones which escaped demolition--in Hemisfair Park. It has been maintained in excellent condition, as you can see.  A good number of the buildings there were in similar shape.

Sometimes I think my camera must be eating pictures, because I could have sworn I took note of which house this is, but I can't find the info anywhere.  Still, it's pretty and it's interesting because of its anomalous location.

 Marie had been asleep most of the time we were on the ITC's property (it connects to Hemisfair Park, obviously), but then she woke up and demanded to be fed, so we went into the back garden of the little house in the previous photo and I sat down on a bench and fed her.  This is after her nursies.  Poor kid looks pretty much exactly like me, right down to the fat head.  She has blue eyes like Erik, though, and I am starting to think they won't change to brown.  Thing is all the Geisslers look like this.  I saw a photo of someone whom I suppose is about a first cousin once or twice removed on my sister's Facebook page, and it was like looking at my own baby pictures.  Which wouldn't have been so bad save the baby in question is a boy. 

 Same house again, from the front, with the Tower of the Americas right behind it.  In real terms the Tower is perhaps a half a block away from this house, if that.  Definitely surreal.

These two photos are of a water sculpture.  There are signs saying not to wade or wander in the water, but in the summer months people tend to ignore them (or at least, they did when I was a kid), and I don't blame 'em one bit.  Had it not been edging toward evening and getting a tiny bit chilly by then, I would have had a hard time keeping the girls out of it.  And myself, for that matter.

 When I was a little kid, I went to see Hank Williams, Jr. at Hemisfair Arena.  My sophomore year, I attended my high school's graduation ceremonies to bid adieu to a few people I'd been in JRTOC with.  This was in 1995.  That was the last year anyone graduated at Hemisfair Arena (Brack wasn't the very last graduation, but close to it); it was demolished later on that year in order to expand the Convention Center.  These two photos are of some artwork that is on the back wall of the center's expansion.  Nice pieces.  There are a few others, but I didn't like them as much, so I didn't take photos.  The top is a nice riff on the Sacred Heart; embarrassingly enough it took Bobbie to point out to me the map of the Americas on the heart itself.  The lower is a metal cut of St. Anthony of Padua, the city's namesake/patron saint.  Strange bit of history: two Spanish expeditions happened upon the river here at two different times, to the best of my knowledge independent of one another.  They both named the river for the same Italian saint.  (I'm guessing it was next on the list they had?)

 They were setting up for Luminaria the next night, so we worked our way out of the park pretty fast.  This is a nice, old, wooden playground.  We had planned to stop, but there were a couple of kids there just full-on screaming, and their dad was goading them into it, so we left without playing.  I've taught my girls to only scream if someone is trying to kill them or steal them.

  There is a giant map of the US in front of the Convention Center.  I've been fascinated with it since I was a child.  For some bizarre reason, though the state capitals are marked fairly accurately with stars, the writing is the state's name again, not the name of the city.  You can see it on the bottom photo if you look closely.  Linda was with my mom at the time, so I only had Bobbie & Esther & Marie with me.  I had both girls stand where they were born (as near as I could get to the actual cities) and took photos.  I tried to get one photo of both kids at the same time, but couldn't back up enough to get them in the frame.  I need to learn to stitch together panoramic photos.  Or scrape up the $200+ for the Cybershot that will allow me to take panoramics in a fashion similar to taking a video.  One of the two.  I would also like to note here that Esther dressed herself; it was most certainly not my idea that she wear that shirt with those shorts.

This is the Commerce Street Bridge under I-37.  It is one of I think two underpasses right downtown that have the same bit of "art"--a light show.  I took video, but the traffic noise is horrendous.  The lights change colors, and the colors "dance" up and down the pillars and a bright white light chases itself around & around the pillars on both sides.  It's really neat.  The girls love it.  The whole thing is solar-powered, too, which I imagine keeps the cost down quite a bit.

So, there you have it.  A nice walk all-in-all.  I have I think just one more in the queue after this, which means we need to get more batteries for my camera an go wandering again.  I'd love to get more photos of downtown; there are some really great buildings.


suz said...

More great pix, and I wasn't even in the mood! and your daughters are beautiful.

Peter D said...

Ya know, I didn't learn until last summer that Germany hadn't become a united country until 1871. (and Italy around the same time.)Don't know why they don't teach that in high school.
And I have a 13 year old who wears screwy outfits from time to time. I don't understand why it is fashionable to wear those ugg-style boots with shorts. Never mind the fact that Uggs are hideous.

Albatross said...

... the Institute of Texan Cultures (which I believe was part of the 1968 construction)

You're correct. It was the Texas Pavilion in HemisFair 68.