Video Part 2 of 4
Text Transcript of Video
Emily: The river has been the soul and heart of San Antonio, and it's the principal reason thet we have loved San Antonio. It was the reason it was possible to live in this area of the country. It was always dependable, you know. It built the city up. The river was the heart of the city. It was the source of the city, and as we went under the bridges, we got lots of cheers.
Crowd: Hi Emily! Good for you, mayor! We need this river, mayor! Look, she left a flower!
Emily: And the mayor and the commissioners promised us they would not destroy it. [clapping]
Narrator: She left a flower, but flowers don't stopped floods, and the city fathers knew they still had to take action to avoid flooding downtown. They began with a large retaining dam north of the city, the Alamos Dam, but even that was not enough. High waters could still pose a serious threat to the center of the city, where they would be slowed by a long, torturous meander known as the "Big Bend." Since the back doors of some of the city's largest buildings lined the Big Bend, it seemed inevitable that the Big Bend would be eliminated and the river sent through a limited cement channel, but once again, the concern and imagination of one person saved the river's beauty. My name is Robert Hugman. In 1928, a 26-year-old architect, Robert Hugman, used his engineering skills to solve the Big Bend's flood problem, and his inspiration to create the vision of a new life for the downtown river.
Robert Hugman: In 1921, San Antonio had its worst flood in its history. We had about nine feet of water at the Gunn Hotel at the corner of and Houston Street and St. Mary's and it did a great deal of damage, and we realized at that time that something had to be done. The flood control engineers felt like we had to have total flood control, and that meant eliminating a certain bottleneck at the center of the city which was then known as the Big Bend. Then there was the point of view of the ladies, that always had an eye for aesthetic beauty. So, they called the channel through San Antonio an open sewer—and I couldn't help but agree with them—and made a few suggestions to improve its aesthetic nature. Then there was the view of the businessmen. Of course, they wanted total flood protection, and that meant that the bottleneck in the center of the city had to go. Something must be done with the Big Bend section of the river, which is now known as Paseo Del Rio. So after I got the encouragement to go on, I prepared plans. And I called these plans the Shops of Aragon and Romula. I was sitting at my studio window—the slanting rays of the late afternoon sun cast long shadows on the long cypress-lined banks of the river—when in my meditation there came to me a vision. In this little street of my imagination, the shops would be built of old stone and brick, and very simple architecture, creating maximum charm at a minimum expense. By having the flood control structure at the north end of the lower end, the flood channel could be built and thus eliminate the central city bottleneck that was a source of much concern to all the businessmen and the flood control engineers. The channel cutoff was on the other side, and the water came around the big bend and flowed down, dropped into the channel cutoff, and this water was raised about six feet so that we would have a steady flow of water with only about a three mile per hour flow so it wouldn't interfere with the movement of the boats.
Narrator: Before we go on, I'd like you to see what Mr. Hugman's vision has become after years of hard work by citizens of this city. Today, the Big Bend has flowered into the beautiful Paseo Del Rio. Hotels, cafes, and tile riverwalks and palm trees. A place where people can stroll in the middle of the day of hard work. Where a lunch hour can become a vacation among bright flowers. Folks who come here wonder how it came to be. How did they make it so lovely. Folks who live here know how it came to be—slowly. It didn't happen all at once, under the hand of any one person, or according to a grand master plan. Remember, this is a city, and anything a city does takes lots of people and lots of time. The Paseo Del Rio grew in fits and starts. There were long periods of time where nothing was done at all. Then a new generation would rediscover the dream of the river and scurry and rush to make it come true. What about money? Well, each new stage found its own money—federal, city, private money—always raised at one time or another to build the environment along the river. The first major step occurred during the depression, when the mayor, Maury Maverick Sr., took especial interest in the restoration of a small neighborhood on the river bend called La Villita. This little cluster of old buildings was the remained of the original river settlement.
Maury Maverick Jr.: My name is Maury Maverick Jr. and my father was the mayor of San Antonio when La Villita was restored. La Villita was done by the national youth administration. A lot of hungry young people—young Mexican-Americans—who learned how to set tile and do tile. Artists, people who did ceramics, architects, musicians—all kinds of people came here and worked, and they worked to do beautiful things, and they worked to eat! My father used to say—well, we're going to have two things out of La Villita. We're going to have liberty and groceries—and he also said we're going to have beauty. The most important thing to me about the river is not the modern gift shops that I now see along the river—although they are pretty—but the recollections I have of the depression days as a child which was the most creative period in American history—young photographers, artists, musicians, that came and worked with the government and made this a beautiful town. They made it a beautiful river, and they made it a more beautiful America.
Narrator: The depression years were good for the river. Another federal program, the Work Projects Administration, put many local men to work on the river bend. The WPA workers built bridges, walks, retaining walls, and even a riverside theater. Mr. Hugman became the architect on the project, and it was there that he met his fishing buddy, Mr. Robert Turk, who was the supervising foreman for the project.
Robert Hugman: After the '29 period, and after my plans for the river had been adopted, there was a time there until about 1936 when nothing was done, and in fact, the river was abused and not used by the public, and we all began to think—how we could turn this project into a WPA project. Mr. H. P. Drought Sr., regional director of the WPA, and Mr. Ed Arneson, district representative of the WPA, and White, and myself, and others got together. This is a time that then I learned of Mr. Robert Turk. Mr. Turk was superintendent of the project and had done a marvelous job.
Robert Turk: I had spent many years prior to this time as a carpenter, as a carpenter foreman, preparing myself to do nice jobs. I, like everybody else about that time, had problems finding a job, but the WPA was hiring people to supervise, and I went to work for the WPA. Mr. Thompson came into my little office and puts this big roll of plans down in front of me and says, "You've been wanting something challenging—now take this on for size. After I received the plans, the first thing was get the job organized, which was quite a project. We had to lower the water level by digging a ditch down through the center of the channel and what water we had was running in that area. Then we were able to go and do the cleanup, the pulling out the trash, the muck and the mud that was in the river. Some of it was quite bad. We had crews that were chipping and shaping rock. We had literally hundreds of masons and masonry helpers who were mostly Mexican people, who were very apt with working with masonry. they did a very wonderful job. We're all very proud of the work they did. It seemed like the steam went out of everything not too long after that. I don't know whether it was the city didn't have money or nobody was interested, or didn't realize what a beautiful thing they had there and what it meant or could mean to the city. Things began to go to pot. They didn't keep it clean. They didn't police it. It laid there for a number of years, just absolutely all of that effort wasted.
Narrator: On the streets above the river, the city was growing wildly. The war was over, and the country began to move again. But with the growth came traffic, signs, noise, people, congestion, more signs, more people, people, people, all the blare and glare we have come to expect from a big city environment. And one more time the people got too busy growing to remember the little river.
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