Mission County Park, Where People Have Gathered for Millennia, Reopens

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Harlandale ISD's Mariachis Aguilas de Oro perform at the ribbon cutting ceremony for Mission County Park Pavilions.

Bekah S. McNeelSan Antonio’s Southside has a long tradition of bringing people together. Really long. Archaeologists working on the site of the newly redeveloped Mission Park Pavilions at Mission County Park have found evidence of permanent habitation dating back 5,000 years.

Sept. 15 marked a new chapter in that rich tradition of community gatherings and cultural celebrations as the facilities re-opened to the public with a day of music, food and celebration that lasted from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and showcased some of the cultures rooted in the Southside.

Throughout the celebration, a spirit of unity and mutual appreciation was obvious in a place with historical and personal significance for many in attendance. As the Southside reclaims much of its former glory, the careful knitting together of a diverse patchwork of influences can be seen in many of the projects. The Pavilions themselves are a great example of one such effort.

County Manager David Smith, Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, Betty Bueche, Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, and Judge Nelson Wolff cut the ribbon to reopen Mission County Park Pavilions.

County Manager David Smith, Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, Betty Bueche, Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, and Judge Nelson Wolff cut the ribbon to reopen Mission County Park Pavilions. Photos by Bekah McNeel.

Unifying the ad hoc pavilions and picnic areas into a space suited to musical and dance events both large and small was given to Muñoz and Co. (formerly Kell Muñoz Architects), and principal architect Steven Tillotson, AIA.

“On a historic site you really try to honor what can be sacred, ” said Tillotson.

At the same time, celebration runs through the veins of the site, which can now host up to 3,500 people at a single event, or alternately host smaller simultaneous happenings in separate pavilions, as occurred at the ribbon cutting where the San Antonio Children’s Museum was hosting educational activities while classic rock reverberated from the main stage.

“You want to bring a little pizzaz and fun,” said Tillotson.

“Mission County Park became a county park in 1949 … (and) this is the first time a comprehensive plan has been put in place,” said Betty Bueché, the director of Bexar County Facilities and Parks.  

The renovation project was funded by two state grants totaling $1.75 million and about $3.85 million from Bexar County for a grand total of about $5.6 million. The original pavilion stands in the center of the plaza overlooking the Mission Reach, which is slated to open all the way to Mission Espada on October 5.

One of the new pavilions at Mission Count Park

One of the new pavilions at Mission Count Park

County Judge Nelson Wolff, whom Bueché called the “power button of San Antonio,” was on hand to sing the praises of the enormous project, the nation’s largest river ecological restoration project. It’s also a conduit for showcasing the San Antonio Missions, which are seeing increased traffic due to the popularity of the trail for cyclists and runners, many of whom are locals. Many locals have never visited the Missions. Hopefully that will change, as even B-cycle has stretched it’s presence to Mission County Park and Mission San José.

The Missions themselves stand as testament to the successes and failures of the earlier colonial period and the tumultuous history of South Texas. Not only did Spanish monks bring religion, new construction and agricultural practices, but under their purview many Native American tribes began to intermarry as they converted and/or participated in daily mission life.

Reflecting this history, representatives from a number of Native American nations came together to be the first to bless the redeveloped park. Jesus J. Reyes Jr., a member of the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation introduced the various prayers, dances, and blessings shared by the representatives.

Native American Blessing at Mission County Park

Native American Blessing at Mission County Park

“A lot of our way of doing things – our way of prayer – is celebrating our connection to the things around us,” Reyes said.

Many of the dances celebrated a deep connection to the land itself, while others celebrated the coming together of people of diverse backgrounds. Military veterans were honored in song, and the public was invited to participate in the “Circle Dance.”

The Apache del Rio Intertribal Organization provided much of the traditional music, as well as some of their original compositions in Apache, Spanish, and English.

“This dance is in honor of this community, of human beings coming together and sharing,” Reyes said.

Indeed, that set the tone for the spirit of the day. The Mission Park expansion tends to be a bipartisan happy place. Today saw Democratic leader Wolff chatting and strolling the Mission Reach with former Congressman Francisco “Quico” Canseco, a conservative Republican.

The Mariachis Aguilas de Oro of Harlandale ISD followed the Native American dancers with an impressive range of music. While most are familiar with the festive trumpets and strumming of local mariachis, the sharply dressed young musicians showcased wistful and anthemic selections as well.

Harlandale ISD's Mariachis Aguilas de Oro perform at the ribbon cutting ceremony for Mission County Park Pavilions.

Harlandale ISD’s Mariachis Aguilas de Oro perform at the ribbon cutting ceremony for Mission County Park Pavilions.

The group’s pre-teen sensation Bryanna Rich (whose braces detract nothing from her poise, talent, or all-around loveliness), sang the Star Spangled Banner in voice that belies her age.

Former Congressman Quico Canseco, Judge Nelson Wolff, Bryanna Rich, Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran and County Manager David Smith on the Mission Reach.

Former Congressman Quico Canseco, Judge Nelson Wolff, Bryanna Rich, Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran and County Manager David Smith on the Mission Reach.

The rich Catholic tradition of the area was also present in Deacon Oscar Villa’s prayer that the park and pavilions would be “a place that reflects (God’s) love for all of us.”

Later, during the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Wolff praised the Bexar County Commissioners Court for its ability to work across precinct boundaries to allocate resources in ways that benefit the entire city.

“Sometimes you have to figure out what’s in the interest of the whole city – not just your little parcel,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Adkisson.

Adkisson spoke on behalf of the Commissioners Court. Precinct 1 Commissioner Sergio “Chico” Rodriguez was absent due to a back injury.

All in all, the day marked another auspicious step forward in the efforts to weave history into the Southside’s march into the future.

 

Bekah is a native San Antonian. She went away to Los Angeles for undergrad before earning her MSc in Media and Communication from the London School of Economics. She made it back home and now works for Ker and Downey. She is one of the founding members of Read the Change, a web-based philanthropy and frequent contributor to the Rivard Report. You can also find her at her blog, Free Bekah.

 

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