San Antonio, Part 2

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I have become very lazy with the blog! It’s not that we’ve done so much that I have no time to write, but neither are we so bored that there’s nothing to report. It’s a clear case of contented laziness!

San Antonio continues to impress us. Since the last installment, we’ve done a lot of walking, exploring and chores. Bob got his hair cut at a great little barbershop downtown that just happened to be a block from Alamo Music Center. Bob’s been wanting a guitar, has talked with his friend Mark Southwick a few times about what to look for, so we walked down to Alamo Music Center just to see what they had … and Bob walked out with a really nice Fender acoustic/electric guitar. He’s been practicing every night, and I’m very happy that he’s pursuing something that he’s always wanted to try! He’ll be serenading me in no time! I may have to take up an instrument so that we can be a traveling duo. Accordion, maybe?? (Why do I hear my daughters in my head telling me to stick to tambourine or maracas? Ha!)

That same day, we gave Lorenzo a call to see if he was free for lunch. Perfect timing! He jumped in the car and took us to a real local place, Tacos Martinez. Around here, in the real Spanish parts of town, there are taco joints all over the place. Called taquerias, they are usually hole-in-the-wall joints with hand-painted signs, have a limited menu, serve mostly take-out, and are only open for breakfast and lunch. You’d better know what you want when you get there because they move quickly, and it’s helpful to be fluent in Spanish or have someone with you who is to break the barrier and help you figure it all out. Wow! With Lorenzo’s guidance, we enjoyed Carne Guisada (beef tips in gravy), Barbacoa (a barbecued meat wrapped in a soft tortilla) and Chiles Relleños (a pepper stuffed with meat, battered and fried). 

We can always count on Lorenzo to know the best places to eat as he’s lived in San Antonio for years. One evening, we got a text from Lorenzo about a new food truck in the city that was getting rave reviews. Smack’s Chicken Shack originally opened as a food truck with a varied menu, but the best sellers were his inventive chicken sandwiches. He was smart enough to drop the less popular items and stick to what the customers were craving. The owner is a chef who likes to experiment with eclectic combinations of ingredients, and he is not shy about it. Who would top a fried chicken breast with PB&J, peaches, or Cheetos? This guy would … and does! I ordered the Big Smack, which is his take on a chicken Big Mac, Bob had the Nashville Hot and Lorenzo had the Buffalo sandwich. These sandwiches are huge, and they are served with a generous portion of French fries that are sprinkled with a secret blend of seasonings that provide a little sweetness … a perfect balance to the savory sandwiches. I opened the box and said, “I’ll never eat all this food.” Guess what? I did!

Nashville Hot and Big Smack sandwiches from Smack’s Chicken Shack.

The Christmas decorations in downtown San Antonio are lovely. There are many parks, and they’re all decorated with different themes. The Riverwalk downtown was especially lovely to visit after dark with all the lights. 

As I mentioned before, this RV park is perfectly situated with a Riverwalk entrance right at the driveway. We’ve gotten into the habit of taking long walks on the path a couple of times each week, and it’s been tons of fun exploring. We headed out one day walking in the opposite direction of our previous walk to downtown. After a mile or so, I noticed what looked like stone walls reaching up from behind some trees on the other side of the river. A bridge brought us to the other side where we went in search of those walls. What a delightful surprise to find the remnants of an old hotel!

In the late 1800’s, the Southwestern Lunatic Asylum (now the San Antonio State Hospital) drilled a new well for drinking water. Unfortunately for them, they tapped into a vein of hot sulphur water instead of potable drinking water and they were unable to use it. To raise money for the drilling of another well, they leased the hot well to a local man who was familiar with the medicinal hot springs and wells in other states. He piped the water to a nearby property, built a bath house and touted the medicinal benefits of bathing, steaming, showering in, and even drinking, the hot sulphur water. A year later, the building burned down and was replaced by a larger, more opulent structure … the Hot Wells Bathhouse and Hotel.

The original Hot Wells resort building in 1893 burned to the ground
one year later.

In 1909, the railroad tycoon E.H. Harriman, being in poor health, had a railroad track extended to Hot Wells and went for an extended stay. Unfortunately, he never recovered and died several months later. The remaining railroad track opened a route for Hollywood to bring in their equipment and shoot some early silent films in the area. Soon, celebrities such as Sarah Bernhardt, Will Rogers, Charlie Chaplin, Teddy Roosevelt, Tom Mix, Douglas Fairbanks, and Cecil B. De Mille were visiting the curative baths at Hot Wells.

Postcard from the early 1900’s shows the rebuilt bathhouse.
Postcard from early 1900’s shows the large hotel added to the property.

Prohibition brought an end to the hotel’s heyday, and the owners struggled to hang on until a fire destroyed the hotel. The bathhouse was spared and the property sold. The new owner had hopes of restoring the property for a holistic spa but no investors were willing to fund the project. She lost the property to the City of San Antonio. Three more fires plagued the property, and by the year 2000 the city began talking about what to do with this now unsafe structure. Eventually, a non-profit commission was formed, the building’s remains were stabilized and cordoned off, a park was built around the remnants and a pathway connected it to the Riverwalk. Hot Wells Park just opened in 2019, the newest addition to San Antonio’s fantastic collection of parks and monuments.

The walls that we saw peeking from over the trees.
The remains of the Hot Wells Bathhouse.
There were three pools in the bathhouse. You can still see the sign painted on the wall – “Gent’s Pool.” In the foreground is the family pool. The blocks on he separating walls held columns which supported the roof over the pools. Nobody wanted a suntan in those days!
Here is the Ladies Pool. You can barely make out the sign painted on the left wall. And on the back wall, the sign reads “High Diving Strictly Prohibited in the Pools.”

And this is something that we love about San Antonio … their willingness to save structures like this and the missions. Connecticut built the Buckland Hills Mall on a known dinosaur graveyard. (The three skeletons that were found in the late 1800’s are housed at the Peabody Museum in New Haven. There was even a petition to the National Park Service to make that property a National Landmark so that more excavation could be done, but the NPS said they wouldn’t without evidence that there were more bones there. Blasting for the mall began about five years later.) The town of Manchester also saw fit to tear down the beautiful John Olds homestead, built in 1776, to build an apartment complex (John Olds was the founder of Manchester; another owner of that property was Alan Olmstead, a newspaper editor, writer, war correspondent and author of three books). But, I digress.

On another walk, we headed north on the Riverwalk and stopped to visit Mission Concepción. There are five historic missions located along the Riverwalk, starting with the Alamo and stretching south to Mission Espada about seven miles away. Mission Concepción may be the most famous (after the Alamo) because of it’s solar illuminations.

Mission Concepción.

Instead of a crucifix, this church has a painting of the Virgin Mary over the main altar. Whomever designed this cross-shaped church, which was built in the early 1700’s, must have had knowledge of astronomy. A docent at the mission told us that the original architect died shortly after construction began and someone else took over, so nobody really knows who is responsible for the window locations. There is one round porthole-type window over the front entrance of the church. There is also a dome with four rectangular windows spaced equally around the dome’s circumference. Once a year, on or very close to the Feast of the Assumption in August, the sun shines through the round window illuminating the face of Mary. At the same exact moment, the sun also shines through one of the dome windows illuminating the center of the church floor. The moment of illumination was used by the Friars as a miraculous tool to sway the native peoples to embrace Catholicism.

Painting of the Assumption of Mary over the altar.
The round window … and higher in the photo you see the rectangular window in the dome through which the sun shines simultaneously.
Newspaper photo of the August double illumination.
Scenes from Mission Concepción, including original frescos, the restored dome, staircase to the priest’s office, and a grotto to the Virgin Mary.

On a third walk, we visited the Espada Aqueduct. During the 1700’s when the missions were developed, the Franciscan Friars employed the labor of native people to build acequias, which were community irrigation ditches, to supply water to the fields. Elevated channels were built to bring the water over small valleys or gaps in the landscape. This aqueduct is the oldest remaining aqueduct in the state of Texas.

A trail adjacent to Riverwalk follows the acequia.
A newer small aqueduct carries water over a gully beside the Riverwalk.
Espada Aqueduct from below.
Espada Aqueduct from above.

Holidays in the RV park were fun, despite the pandemic. The seasonal residents decorated their golf carts (all five of them!) and did a little parade around the park. One of the long-time residents, Skip, brings the sound system out of the rec hall (now closed due to Covid) and plays music outside for listening and dancing every Saturday afternoon, weather permitting. We love this as it’s our only chance to dance these days! New Years Eve was a blast, literally! The entire city exploded with both street fireworks and the city’s annual display, and it went on and on until the wee hours of the morning (thank goodness for earplugs). We also have been trying local beers and taking nighttime dips in the hot tub! Life is good!

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