Just beneath the surface of San Antonio lie hidden histories that only come to light through the strenuous efforts of committed preservationists. Like the old walls of the Mission San Antonio de Valero found during excavations downtown, the original brick and concrete paths of the Miraflores garden were rediscovered recently during restoration.
For the first time ever, once-neglected Miraflores will open to the public Thursday evening, March 29, for the Brackenridge Park Conservancy’s annual Spirit of Brackenridge Park fundraising event. Money raised will support continuing restoration efforts in the old garden, once the estate of Dr. Aureliano Urrutia, a noted physician who emigrated from Mexico in 1914.
Until now, Miraflores has only been visible through locked gates, leading to a bridge over the San Antonio River from Brackenridge Park’s northern edge.
One goal of Thursday evening’s celebration, Brackenridge Park Conservancy Executive Director Lynn Bobbitt said, “will be to celebrate the launch of the restoration of the historic brick walkway that will connect Miraflores to Brackenridge Park.”
That walkway and bridge eventually will allow free public access from the park into the garden, situated along the east bank of the San Antonio River, across from the University of the Incarnate Word and a parking lot owned by AT&T. For the event, entry will be from the parking lot along East Hildebrand Avenue through the tiled main gates, restored in 2015.
On Thursday night, with lighting provided by the San Antonio Parks Department, the garden’s partially excavated paths will be visible, along with brilliantly colored and patterned examples of Mexican Talavera ceramic tile.
The garden also features numerous examples of statuary collected by Urrutia. A fierce representation of Cuauhtémoc, the Aztec ruler of Tenochtitlan, graces the property, made by artist L.L. Sanchez in 1921, as do several examples of trabajo rustico or “faux bois” sculpture by Dionicio Rodriguez, a noted Mexican sculptor who died in San Antonio in 1955.
Elise Urrutia, the great granddaughter of Miraflores’ original owner and a San Antonio resident, has written extensively on the garden and her forebear’s legacy, including a book titled Jardín Mexicano de la Memoria (A Mexican Garden of Memory), scheduled to be released this year by Wings Press. She will read from the book at Thursday night’s event.
Though the original garden “absolutely cannot be replaced,” she said in an e-mail to the Rivard Report, “I do think that we can restore Miraflores to a place of beauty that reflects an understanding of what the garden was and what it meant.”
Once the “completely unique” pre-Mexican Revolution garden is restored and open to the public, she said, “we can have a garden which can be a great outdoor classroom for Mexican history.”
After Dr. Urrutia sold the property in 1962, Miraflores fell into neglect under several corporate owners, including AT&T, which filled in the lot and covered the paths. The lot was sold in 2006 to the City, which then hired Kim Wolf of RVK Architects to develop a master plan for the garden restoration with the intention of it becoming a public park.
Now in Phase IV, the restoration does not yet have an end date, Bobbitt said. Fundraising will continue after Thursday’s celebration, as will discussions on “what can be restored and what should be left alone and interpreted,” Bobbitt said.
After Thursday, members of the public can schedule guided tours through the garden as restorations continue.
The conservancy is expecting more than 400 attendees at Thursday’s event. Bobbitt said that anyone interested in attending should call her office to find out whether seats are still available, starting at $175. Those interested in guided tours may contact the conservancy.