The Water Line: A New Blog About What Defines Us in San Antonio

Print Share on LinkedIn Comments More
The aftermath of the 1921 flood of the San Antonio River. Photo courtesy of SARA.

The aftermath of the 1921 flood of the San Antonio River. Photo courtesy of SARA.

Jeff Reininger

I’m a San Antonio native, interior designer by trade, and a wannabe urban planner in my free time, so I’ve always been fascinated at how pieces become part of a whole in this flourishing city.

One day, these traits combined in my head with my extroverted nature and desire to know other people’s stories, and what emerged was the inclination to create a website that allowed others to share more about themselves, to write about what made them unique and how their pieces align with the rest of us.   The result: “The Water Line.”

The concept for “The Water Line” was developed around the meandering line of water that bisects this great city into east and west, the San Antonio River. This life-giving stream has impacted thousands and thousands of people for generations, and there’s a great chance that each and every contributor to the Rivard Report has been impacted by it in some way in their lifetime as well.

View of the San Antonio River looking north from Mitchell Street, prior to river improvements.Photo by Jeff Reininger.

View of the San Antonio River looking north from Mitchell Street, prior to river improvements.Photo by Jeff Reininger.

For readers who aren’t fortune enough to call San Antonio home (and based on current analytics, that’s about 32% of you), allow me to give you a somewhat quick – and perhaps crude and biased – history of this famous waterway.

The river was first seen and documented by Álvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca while in Indian custody in 1536.  In 1691, Father Damian Massanet celebrated Mass with then-Governor of the Province of Texas, Domingo Terán de los Ríos. They decided to name the body of water, “San Antonio,” because it was the Feast Day of St. Anthony.

Spanish Council approved construction of a fort at this location on the San Antonio River in 1719. In 1724, this fort was moved to the present day location of The Alamo due to hurricane flooding at the current site.

Note: flooding has played a major factor in the history of this river, although I guess that’s probably the case with every river, right?

March 6, 1836, 13 days after the Mexican Dictator, General and President Santa Anna entered into the city with his massive army, The Alamo falls to Mexico. This famous battle took place within a stone’s throw of the banks of the San Antonio River.

In 1919, engineering studies revealed that heavy flooding would damage the city (Duh!).

The aftermath of the 1921 flood of the San Antonio River. Photo courtesy of SARA.

The aftermath of the 1921 flood of the San Antonio River. Photo courtesy of SARA.

Sept. 9th, 1921, massive downpours flooded San Antonio (looks like the engineers were right), with as much as nine feet of water sweeping through downtown.  Fifty people were killed in the flooding.

Six years later, in 1927, Olmos Dam was completed just upstream from the river source, greatly reducing the danger of any future flooding wreaking havoc on city residents.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began the arduous task of realigning and concreting over the existing riverbed south of Downtown San Antonio in the 1940s.

In 1993, construction on the San Antonio Tunnel Project began.  This 24-foot wide tunnel carries flood waters 150 feet under ground for three miles under downtown. Floodwaters empty into the San Antonio River on the near-Southside , where the surface outlet is easily visible on Lone Star Boulevard just off S. St. Mary’s Street across from Roosevelt Park.

These waters empty into what had been converted into a concrete ditch, but has now been restored as a natural waterway south of downtown.

The headwaters for the San Antonio River originate from a cluster of natural springs about four miles north of Downtown San Antonio on the grounds of the University of The Incarnate Word.  From there, the river meanders south for 240 miles and empties into the Gulf of Mexico at San Antonio Bay.

Courtesy of Gregg Eckhardt.

Courtesy of Gregg Eckhardt.

Many out of town readers think of the San Antonio River as the River Walk, the 2.5 mile horseshoe-shaped, multi-billion dollar economic generator, the dream child of famed San Antonio architect Robert H.H. Hugman.

While I’m on the topic, I have to ask, how does Mr. Hugman not have a skyscraper or convention center or an airport named after him in this city? The man envisioned this grand design to bring massive tourism to our city – which many civic leaders laughed at and tried to kill (the idea, not the man) for many years – and at the same time played a huge role in helping with flood control, and all he has to show for it now is a few tiny plaques the size of my fist that mark a few areas on the path?! What a disgrace! Rant complete.

Yes, the River Walk is the most famous section of this stretch of river and part of the number one tourist attraction in Texas, yet it’s hardly the only significant segment.

San Antonio's famous River Walk was developed as a Works Progress Administration project in the 1930s. Photo courtesy of UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures.

San Antonio’s famous River Walk was developed as a Works Progress Administration project in the 1930s. Photo courtesy of UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures.

Many locals now frequent the northern reach, The Museum Reach, of the river on Saturday mornings to buy fancy veggies and breads, to walk their either very tiny or massive, human-scale dogs, and to sport the latest line of black leggings and New Balance running shoes at The Pearl Farmers Market.

A repurposed bridge spanning the river on the Museum Reach, near The San Antonio Museum of Art. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

A repurposed bridge spanning the river on the Museum Reach, near The San Antonio Museum of Art. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

Please, don’t take that description as mockery, as you can often catch me walking amid the athletic chic people waiting in line for their delicious chicken and waffles.

The River North area, as it’s also called, has been rehabbed and open for people’s enjoyment for several years now. While the River Walk may be targeted for the tourist and their wallets, this area of the river has been tabbed as a section for the people of San Antonio.

A hotel is currently being built on the Pearl campus in its historic brewery building in this “for the locals” section, but hey, it’s development right!? There also are more and more multi-family residential projects housing either under construction or planned for River North.

Construction zone at The River House development site and the San Antonio Museum of Art in the distance. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Construction zone at The River House development site and the San Antonio Museum of Art in the distance. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

This brings me to the “newest” section of the river here in San Antonio, The Mission Reach.  I say “newest” not because it’s just recently been discovered or because it’s been falsely created like some Disney World attraction, but because it really feels like a completely new place, although it’s been here all along.

Remember that concrete ditch I mentioned a few paragraphs up? That’s this area.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers thought it would be a great idea to straighten out the river and line the bottoms of the riverbed with a miles-long sea of concrete to help resolve flooding issues on the Southside of San Antonio.

While it did accomplish that goal, it did something far greater … it impacted everything that once called that area home.  The plants, flowers, grasses, fish, turtles, snakes (I hate snakes), birds and other wildlife that once called that river home were suddenly homeless.

Left: Pre-channelization at Roosevelt Park near the Lonestar Brewery, circa 1955. Right: Post-channelization at Roosevelt Park near the Lonestar Brewery circa 2007. Photos courtesy of SARA.

Left: Pre-channelization at Roosevelt Park near the Lonestar Brewery, circa 1955. Right: Post-channelization at Roosevelt Park near the Lonestar Brewery circa 2007. Photos courtesy of SARA.

Basically, we messed with Mother Nature. It’s hard to grow wildflowers on 6″ thick reinforced concrete. Something else it greatly impacted is the people who called that area home. People who used and continue to live in that area can tell you how they used to fish in the river, play in the river, meet friends and have family events at the river.

It was once a center for gathering and recreation, but as soon as the concrete trucks showed up, that all changed. Then you were likely to find more old tires or broken down washing machines lining the river than people.

What was once a beacon suddenly because an eyesore, a deterrent. People no longer sought out the life on the river, because life had all but been removed.

Finally, after a few decades of garbage collecting on this section of the river, city officials decided to set out on an ambitious and daunting endeavor. Some would say it was the most neck-stretching proposal for our river since Mr. Hugman’s design decades prior.

My son, Kingston, observing the river improvements on the Mission Reach. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

My son, Kingston, observing the river improvements on the Mission Reach. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

They decided to rehabilitate the once-vibrant river turned canal on the Southside. Not only where they aiming to breathe new life into this community, but also planning on making it better than it had ever been.  Thanks in part to tireless work by many, many officials and assigned personnel, in addition to tremendous aid from federal grants and other financial benefactors, this amazing feat of rehabilitation will officially be completed by Oct. 5th – and San Antonio is rightfully throwing a huge party.

Live music, food, educational booths, children’s activities, and more will be enjoyed by attendees for this all day celebration. Visit www.sanantonioriver.org/missionreach for more information about the day’s festivities and the new recreational offerings of the Mission Reach.

[Read more: “Rain Date: Historic San Antonio River Mission Reach Party on Oct. 5.”]

Much of this eight-mile stretch of the river is already open to the public, and on most Friday afternoons – and some Saturday mornings after my chicken and waffles – you can probably find me somewhere along the river’s path either out for a jog or with my wife and three-year-old son enjoying the beauty this area has to offer.

One of the multiple chutes and riffles for paddlers at Mission County Park. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

One of the multiple chutes and riffles for paddlers at Mission County Park. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

As you can tell, the history of the San Antonio River is a lengthy one.  One that’s had its moments in the spotlight, as well as times that people would like to forget. Glamor and horror.  Loss of life and rebirth.

So that’s my crude and biased history of the San Antonio River. But that doesn’t really answer the question of how contributed to the concept for this website.

I’ve shared all this history in order to tell you this: We all have different experiences and respond to things in different ways.

The way we’re impacted individually by any given situation is going to be different, no matter how drastic or finite that difference may be. Some of us may react the same way at first to a given situation, but eventually our own unique personalities will begin to chew on that instance, and then those instances will combine with all the other things we’ve experienced in our lives, and what the outcome will be is completely unique to each and every one of us.

That’s what this site is. It’s about expressing who we are. What our passions are. Why we do what we do.

While we may never be able to understand exactly what makes each person tick, we can relate to people more once we start to see glimpses of who they really are…of what they stand for…of what really gets their juices flowing. Suddenly, the person in the cubicle next to you, living down the street, or working half a world away isn’t completely foreign to you.

We start to see similarities in each other, and more importantly, we begin to embrace all the differences that make us unique as well. We begin to see how the pieces become a whole.

We are all like this river. Ask anyone who’s spent time on its banks to describe it. Define it. What they like about it. What they don’t. What their favorite experiences are. How being on the river makes them feel. I guarantee you no single person’s answer will be the same. They are all unique. We are all unique. The river has a beginning and an end – just like us. It allows for countless experiences between the start and finish. Our experiences happen right there, at The Water Line.

My son, Kingston, enjoying the water at Concepcion Park. Jeff Reininger

My son, Kingston, enjoying the water at Concepcion Park. Jeff Reininger

 

Jeff Reininger works for Morkovsky + Associates, Inc., an architectural firm in San Antonio.  You can follow him on Twitter @jeffreininger.  He is married to his beautiful wife, Katy, and together they have  three-year old son, Kingston.  Jeff is a long distance runner, who enjoys all the wonderful running trails that San Antonio has to offer.  He is also the co-founder of the site The Water Line.

 

 

Related Stories:

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

Nature Meets City as Hardberger Park’s Urban Ecology Center Opens

The Mission Reach: Bringing Life and Pride Back to the Southside

Rain Date: Historic San Antonio River Mission Reach Party on Oct. 5

Confluence Park: Nature’s Learning Laboratory Atop the Mission Reach

One of the Last Inner City Trailer Parks Going Condo

Museums in the Current: Hardberger’s Homage to the San Antonio River

SARA Documentary Chronicles Story of the San Antonio River

The Return of Cool Crest and Vintage Miniature Golf

Artists and Developers Eye Historic Buildings, Imagine Possibilities

Alamo Plaza: Three Views From Studio Trinity

6 thoughts on “The Water Line: A New Blog About What Defines Us in San Antonio

  1. San Antonio is indeed a magnificent city, full of rich culture & fascinating people. Loved this piece! Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. Thank you for your love of “my river”. As a native of San Antonio, I have an appreciation for what those of the past have done to keep this beautiful part of our history. We are not perfect but we are trying to make it better and more native. Agree that we need something named for Mr. Hugman.

  3. Manuela and Laura,

    I’m the author of this post and just wanted to thank the both of you for enjoying it and posting your comments. The San Antonio River is important to so many of us – proud to now have a new stretch for all to enjoy!

    And hopefully we’ll have a Hugman Building someday! ha.

  4. Thank you for sharing of “my river”.I am a native of San Antonio,and the San Antonio is a great city ,it is full of rich culture & fascinating people.Love San Antonio!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *