An October 2003 trip
to San Antonio by wildhoney269
Quote: Instead of visiting a museum to learn about San Antonio History, we decided to take a walking tour that guided us to some of the historic places in the downtown area. When finished we felt culturally fulfilled and discovered many hidden gems.
San Antonio is the only major Texan city founded before Texas won its independence from Mexico. During its early days, it was populated by diverse groups including Native American Indians, Spanish missionaries sent to convert the Indians to Catholicism, Spanish militia men protecting the territory from the French, German merchants starting new lives, cattle ranchers, and plantation owners. All have left their mark, both tangibly on San Antonio's downtown and subtly on the city's culture and cuisine. Plan a visit to the Alamo, San Fernando Cathedral or Spanish Governor’s Palace.
Don't: Forget to admire the city’s architecture, which reflects its multiethnic history. After the Texas revolution, Spanish viga beams began to be replaced by southern Greek revival columns, German fachwerk (half-wooden) pitched roofs, and East Coast Victorian gingerbread facades.
Do: Stop in some of the older hotels to see the lobby and maybe have a drink or snack in their classic bars.
Do: Try to get to the Alamo early. Either right when it opens or a bit before. You should be able to walk around the grounds and it will be less crowded early in the morning, especially on weekdays.
Don't: Miss San Fernando Cathedral. It is a beautiful church with Spanish influences and lots of history.
Local tourist office: The visitor center is located right across the street from the Alamo. Here you can get maps, directions, and coupons in addition to buying San Antonio souvenirs.
If you do not feel like walking, San Antonio has a very good trolley-car system. The trolleys are colored to match their routes (red, green, etc.). Maps are well placed on the streets throughout the city and in several guides and brochures. The best thing is the price. For only .50 you can cruise down Market Street in a snap.
If you stay further away from the river, you can drive downtown and park at one of the many lots. Parking seemed to be between and .50, but we did not park too often, so the prices may increase depending on which lot and how long you stay.
There are also river cruises you can take, which is a great way to see the riverwalk. Sightseeing tours depart throughout the day.
Attraction | "The Alamo"
Over 100 years before the fighting began, when San Antonio was part of Spanish territory, the Alamo was built as a mission in 1724 which served as a home to the missionaries who were trying to convert the Native American Indians over to Catholicism. In 1793, Spain distributed the land of its five missions, including the Alamo, to the remaining Indian residents. The men and women continued to farm the fields and raise their families in this San Antonio community.
You will catch your first glimpse of the Alamo from Alamo Plaza, where you have a great view of Alamo Shrine, which you can enter by walking through the large wooden doors. This is an original building which used to be the church and is now dedicated to the memory of the men who fell in defense of the Alamo. Inside you will see a few battle weapons, a diorama, flags, and other items. Upon exiting the Shrine, cross into the next building, which is now called the Sales Museum. This building was built in 1936 and houses both the gift shop and exhibits on Texas history. When we visited, we saw several original bowie knives and a variety of guns.
If you have the opportunity to hear someone speak about the history of the Alamo, I strongly suggest you take a seat and listen. The talk is about 20 minutes and gives a thorough account of the events which happened at the Alamo throughout the years. Legends and facts are both discussed. These talks are usually held in the Cavalry Courtyard on the north side of the complex.
Behind the Shrine and gift shop, visitors can walk over the acequia (irrigation system) and into the Alamo Garden. Here a wide variety of plants and cactus live. On the south side of the complex are a few buildings, including Alamo Hall and the DRT Library. Neither of these buildings was open when we visited. The Crockett Fountain is in front of the library.
We saw everything at the Alamo, and we were only there about an hour or an hour and a half. I strongly recommend that anyone who visits San Antonio take that hour to understand the story of the Alamo, and also learn some of the history of San Antonio along the way.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 21, 2003
The Alamo (Mission San Antonio de Valero)
300 Alamo Plaza
San Antonio, Texas 78205
Attraction | "The Menger Hotel"
William Menger, a German immigrant, built the hotel in 1859. Menger had already established Texas’s first brewery on this spot when he added the hotel because we wanted a place for the hard-drinking guests of the brewery to spend the night. Before the hotel, they would sleep passed out on his long bar! The hotel he built is not just a few rooms on top of a saloon, but is a gorgeous creation. The lobby of the hotel you see today is still the same three-tiered Victorian lobby that was there when the hotel first opened.
Since then, the hotel has gathered quite a reputation and several dignitaries such as presidents, Civil War generals, actors, athletes, and other famous guests have spent the night. In fact, O. Henry wrote several short stories featuring the Menger Hotel.
In addition to the fact that the Menger Hotel is a beautiful and historic building, the theory that the hotel is haunted adds more appeal for the casual visitor. When you stop in, be on the lookout for maid Sallie White, who sometimes walks the hallways because her husband murdered her at the Menger. She usually wears a long grey skirt and is carrying towels. While in the lobby, look for a lady in a blue dress with a beret and glasses. If you are brave enough to stay as a guest, there are several other stories about many haunted rooms and corridors.
The hotel has several unique shops, including one dedicated to tin soldiers and another with a wide variety of cigars and tobacco items. There are a few restaurants as well. In the center of the hotel is a beautiful courtyard with lots of green vegetation where visitors can have a bite to eat.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 21, 2003
204 Alamo Plaza
San Antonio, Texas 78205
Attraction | "St. Joseph's Catholic Church"
The church itself was built for the German community of San Antonio in 1876. The architecture is of a Gothic revivalist style, and one of its best features is the set of colorful stained-glass windows. The altar, statues, and stations-of-the-cross are also beautiful, but it is those windows that really light up the place in the afternoon.
When you visit the church today, you will find it right next to Dillard’s. It seems a bit out of place that this church is next to the city’s major department store. Actually, when Dillard’s was first built (which was Joske’s department store back then), the San Antonioans tried to get the worshipers of the church to move to another location. But the people loved that church so much that they let the large department store be built up around them.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on October 21, 2003
St. Joseph's Downtown Church
623 East Commerce Street
San Antonio, Texas 78213
The church you enter today is the 1968 Gothic revivalist cathedral, which just underwent a massive renovation. Three walls of the original church started by the Canary Island settlers still stand today and form the oldest Roman Catholic sanctuary in the United States, making it the oldest continuously active parish in Texas. The graveyard is the site of the earliest marked graves in San Antonio.
The remains of the defenders of the Alamo can be found in this cathedral. After the defeat of the Alamo, the Mexican general, Santa Anna, ordered for all the bodies to be burned. Their remains were buried beneath the altar of San Fernando and were unearthed during the renovation of 1936. A large marble sarcophagus with the remains now sits in the left entrance to the church.
A visit to the church is worthwhile for a look at all the religious artwork. The Immaculate Heart of Mary Statue was installed at the front lefthand side of San Fernando in the early part of the 20th century. It honors the patroness of the Claretian missionaries who served the cathedral at the time.
El Cristo Negro, hanging above prayer candles in the back of the church, is a replica of the Black Christ from Esquipulas, Guatemala and is a popular devotional shrine in the church. It was brought to San Fernando during the political unrest in Central America in the 1980s. People leave candles, pictures, notes, and "milagros" as a way to petition God for help or to give thanks for a favor received.
As in most churches, the altar is the highlight of the artworks, and the same is true at San Fernando Cathedral. The "Jesus Christ, Word and Sacrament" Retablo is an 18th-century-style retablo which was designed and created in 2002 by Leonardo Soto Recendiz in Mexico City. Gilded in 24-karat gold and measuring 24 feet by 16 feet, it serves as a backdrop for the tabernacle and statues of the four evangelists and Christ on the cross. It and the two minor retablos replace the original three retablos of the old San Fernando, which were lost in the great fire of 1828.
There are many other wonderful statues throughout the cathedral as well, but my favorite pieces are the Stations of the Cross hanging under stained-glass windows up and down the side isles of the church. These were placed in the church in 1874, are carved out of stone, and depict scenes of the Passion and Death of Christ.
San Fernando Cathedral
115 Main Plaza
San Antonio, Texas 78205
Labeled "the most beautiful building in San Antonio" by the National Geographic Society and a national historic landmark, it often housed officials of the Spanish Province of Texas, but no Spanish governor actually ever lived here. In fact, this was the former residence and headquarters of the captain of the Presidio de Bexar. From here, the commander could watch his troops drilling across the street. The source of the house's misnomer is not entirely clear; as the home of the highest local authority and thus the nicest digs in the area, the "palace" simply hosted important Spanish officials who came through town.
Even though this building isn't really a palace, it is a lovely Spanish colonial home with a great garden in the back. Over the entrance is the original keystone that contains the carved, double-headed eagle of the Hapsburg coat-of-arms and the date, 1749. Its thick-walled interiors are beautifully decorated with period furnishings. The rooms are simple yet elegant. What is impressive that in addition to standard furniture such as beds and chairs, the rooms are also filled with unique objects from everyday life at that time. Outside, a cobblestone patio and native greenery surround the purportedly haunted fountain. Feel free to relax in the shade and enjoy the peace while you listen to the gurgling fountain.
This is one of those hidden gems one sometimes finds on vacation. Visitors who take the time to walk through feel like they have discovered a secret. It takes less than an hour to walk through, but you feel quite fulfilled after you do. This site is usually not very crowded and admission is only $1.50.
Spanish Governor's Palace
105 Plaza de Armas
San Antonio, Texas 78205
+1 210 224 0601