Miraflores: Dr. Urrutia’s Lost Garden

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The Urrutia arch was the original entryway into Miraflores from Broadway. Miraflores was originally a 15 acre property forming a rectangle extending east to west from Broadway to the San Antonio River; and north to south from Hildebrand, 2 blocks south to Allensworth. The property was cut in half with the building of the USAA building around 1960, and then later further reduced to its current size of 4.5 acres when it was cleared for parking lots. Photo courtesy of Urrutia Photo Collection.

Courtesy / Urrutia Photo Collection

The Urrutia arch was the original entryway into Miraflores from Broadway.

On a small piece of land near the headwaters of the San Antonio River sits a sizeable stone marker, upon which are inscribed the words: “1716 Aqui se celebró la primera misa” – the first mass was celebrated here. This proclamation sits quietly in Miraflores, a former property of Dr. Aureliano Urrutia, an accomplished physician who came to San Antonio from Mexico in 1914.

 

The stone marker, or stele, at Miraflores. Photo courtesy of Kathryn O’Rourke, 2011.

The stone marker, or stele, at Miraflores. Photo courtesy of Kathryn O’Rourke, 2011.

 

What remains of Miraflores is now a 4.5-acre parcel of land near the headwaters of the San Antonio River, on Hildebrand Road across from the University of the Incarnate Word.

A man of modest origins, Urrutia was born in 1872 in Xochimilco, once a unique agricultural area built upon a network of lake and canal systems, which is now a suburb of Mexico City and a World Heritage Site. He was an ambitious child, and his education under the broad initiatives of Mexico’s longtime president Porfirio Díaz propelled him to a significant medical career. The doctor built a renowned clinic in historic Coyoacán (also now a suburb of Mexico City) and developed a following as a revered teacher.

 

 

Urrutia’s Mexican medical career was derailed by a three-month appointment to Victoriano Huerta’s disastrous regime, from which he quickly resigned and narrowly escaped with his life. After his immigration with his family to the United States in 1914, he continued his practice here in San Antonio, and lived here until his death at the age of 103 in 1975.

 

 

Although he was a man of science, Urrutia also loved art, history, music, literature, nature, and community. Through his education, and his travels as a doctor, he matured into a well-rounded man aware of many cultures and influences. As an immigrant to the U.S. at the age of 42 – though thankful for the respite, culture, and openness of San Antonio – he needed to express his memory of his birthplace and his love for Mexico.

 

The garden in 1930, with its meandering network of multi-leveled pools, which have since been demolished. This area featured several types of pools and a stage. Here Urrutia and his guests celebrate his 58th birthday and his 35th year in medical practice. Photo courtesy of Urrutia Photo Collection.

The garden in 1930, with its meandering network of multi-leveled pools, which have since been demolished. This area featured several types of pools and a stage. Here Urrutia and his guests celebrate his 58th birthday and his 35th year in medical practice. Photo courtesy of Urrutia Photo Collection.

 

Urrutia used Miraflores as his outlet for creative expression, and between 1921 and 1930 he fashioned the property into a fantastical garden of statuary, fountains, pools, and meandering waterways. Even the name, Miraflores, is enigmatic and multi-faceted. The garden was, because of his particular outlook, a detailed lesson in the uniqueness of Hispanic culture – a lesson that, if we can recover it, could be a beautiful gift to our citizens and visitors to our city.

 

This towered building no longer exists, but once had a small one-story building attached to it. In the tower was a library, which served as a place for solitude and contemplation. The garden was densely populated with trees and shrubbery, creating a place of mystery and discovery. Photo courtesy of Urrutia Photo Collection.

This towered building no longer exists, but once had a small one-story building attached to it. In the tower was a library, which served as a place for solitude and contemplation. The garden was densely populated with trees and shrubbery, creating a place of mystery and discovery. Photo courtesy of Urrutia Photo Collection.

 

Unfortunately, Miraflores has suffered remarkable decay under ownership by various corporations since Urrutia sold it around 1960 after his retirement at the age of 88. Now flattened, defoliated, and in a struggling state of advanced disrepair, the remnant parcel belongs to the City of San Antonio, which gained the property in a lawsuit settlement with UIW in 2005.  

 

 

If we are able to salvage it, what significance might this garden have for us today? A look at the enigmatic granite stone boasting a date of 1716 provides some insight. The stone, contrary to its proclamation, is likely not a 300-year-old artifact, but probably was commissioned by the doctor to commemorate an event that was significant to him. What was the “first mass” that was celebrated? Certainly it was not San Antonio’s first mass, which occurred as early as 1691, and it cannot refer to the 1718 establishment of San Antonio as a civilian settlement.

 

 

In a collection of writings assembled by his daughter, Refugio, Doctor Urrutia associates 1716 with the first Franciscan mass in Spanish Texas, which may refer to the founding of San Antonio’s Mission San Franciso de la Espada. The mission provided water to surrounding communities via its extensive aqueduct system. Urrutia’s upbringing among the unique water networks of Xochimilco, and the Franciscan church there where he was baptized, would have drawn him to the mission’s similar role. 1716 was an important year for Texas’ first mission, which after 20 years of rejection by indigenous groups, flooding, drought, and disease, finally became established.

 

The waiting room of the Clinica Urrutia medical complex, which was located at the corner of Santa Rosa and Houston streets. It housed the offices of Urrutia and five sons who were also doctors. Photo courtesy of Urrutia Photo Collection.

The waiting room of the Clinica Urrutia medical complex, which was located at the corner of Santa Rosa and Houston streets. It housed the offices of Urrutia, four sons, who were also doctors, and a pharmacist daughter. Photo courtesy of Urrutia Photo Collection.

 

Urrutia often saw himself in the context of historical events linked over the centuries. Perhaps Spain’s 1716 return to Texas would be in the doctor’s mind like his own migration to Texas from civil-war torn Mexico. Here in San Antonio, two centuries later, in 1916, reflecting upon Spain’s 1716 successful efforts in Texas, the doctor rededicated himself to his own personal mission – his medical practice.

 

 

In pursuit of this, and perhaps in celebration, the doctor built an impressive, large clinic in downtown San Antonio, on Houston and Santa Rosa streets, near the proposed modern-day San Pedro Creek project. There he ministered to many thousands of San Antonians from all walks of life, across the street from the Santa Rosa Hospital, for over 40 years until his retirement in 1960. Family lore attests that he endeavored to keep his prices affordable, and never turned anyone away for inability to pay.

 

Doctor Urrutia (center) with medical students from Mexico City and Pueblo. Students often visited the clinic to view and learn about the particular surgeries the doctor was doing in the Santa Rosa Hospital, circa 1946. Photo courtesy of Urrutia Photo Collection.

Doctor Urrutia (center) with medical students from Mexico City and Pueblo. Students often visited the clinic to view and learn about the particular surgeries Urrutia was doing at the Santa Rosa Hospital, circa 1946. Photo courtesy of Urrutia Photo Collection.

 

Throughout his career, Urrutia was recognized in the medical world for his advances in surgery, including modernizing the operating room environment and the design of innovative surgical instruments. He was also known as a great teacher, and traveled to Europe, Latin America, and within the U.S. to address physicians and medical students.

 

Doctor Urrutia’s house on Broadway, designed by Urrutia’s friend, architect Porfirio Treviño. The house was sold to the owners of Intercontinental Motors around 1960 and demolished shortly thereafter. Photo courtesy of Urrutia Photo Collection.

Doctor Urrutia’s house on Broadway, designed by Urrutia’s friend, architect Porfirio Treviño. The house was sold to the owners of Intercontinental Motors around 1960 and demolished shortly thereafter. Photo courtesy of Urrutia Photo Collection.

 

During his long life in San Antonio, the large Urrutia family travelled often along the length of Broadway, from the downtown medical complex to the family home located at the midpoint of Brackenridge Park to the gardens at Miraflores, then at the city’s northern edge. The family, which included 16 children from several marriages, produced four physician sons and a pharmacist daughter who became active in the family practice. The family also participated in San Antonio’s civic and cultural life, often hosting concerts and events at the Urrutia home and at Miraflores.

 

 

Today, 100 years after Urrutia’s rededication to a new life in Texas, upon the eve of San Antonio’s own Tricentennial, a small collection of artifacts remains at what is left of Miraflores.  Although Miraflores encompasses a compelling story of Mexican origins, new beginnings, and a civic life stretching from the headwaters to downtown San Antonio, the garden is all but forgotten by most.

 

A copy of the bust of Coyolxauhqui, the Aztec moon goddess, signed by sculptor Sanchez Lopez, circa 1930. The original is located in the Museo Nacional de Antropología, México City. Photo by Elise Urrutia.

A copy of the bust of Coyolxauhqui, the Aztec moon goddess, signed by sculptor Sanchez Lopez, circa 1930. The original is located in the Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City. Photo by Elise Urrutia, 2013.

 

Between 2003 and 2006, Miraflores gained some protection through interest in the sculptures of Dionicio Rodriguez. Urrutia was a major supporter of Rodriguez, and is sometimes credited with bringing the well-known faux bois sculptor from Mexico. Rodriguez brought to life many important aspects of Urrutia’s vision for the garden.  Unfortunately, subsequent corporate owners of Miraflores destroyed significant works, including a large Rodriguez fountain, but several smaller works remain, which helped secure a National Register of Historic Places designation.

 

 

In 2007/2008, the City of San Antonio commissioned an archaeological study and created a master plan for the property. At that time, of a $600,000 request for minimal intervention, the City approved only $300,000 in funding for some basic repairs to the property. A 2011 Conservation Society article quotes an estimated cost of $8 million for a realistic implementation.

 

Drainage mitigation required a re-working of the earth underneath northern edge of the property. A significant area of land was removed at the northeastern corner of the property to make way for two huge drainage culverts related to water drainage in the Broadway/Hildebrand area. Photo by Elise Urrutia, 2013.

Drainage mitigation required a re-working of the earth underneath northern edge of the property. A significant area of land was removed at the northwestern corner of the property to make way for two huge drainage culverts related to water drainage in the Broadway/Hildebrand area. Photo by Elise Urrutia, 2013.

 

Efforts to save what is left of the property have been hampered by lack of funding, and relief to the property has been much slower than hoped. In 2013, the City modified the property as a part of the area drainage improvement initiative by installing huge drainage culverts through the northwest corner of the property, near the Quinta Maria, a small summerhouse. In return, the City cosmetically repaired the landscape near the house and the wall along the front of the park in the construction area.  

 

Subsequent to drainage mitigation, some new landscaping was placed in the vicinity of the summerhouse Quinta María, including fencing, trees, and a brick walkway, and a complete reconstruction of the stone wall bordering the property from the Hildebrand Gate to the northeastern corner. The cactus sculpture in the foreground served as a whimsical utility pole. It has since been restored, but no longer indicates its original purpose. Photo by Elise Urrutia.

Subsequent to drainage mitigation, some new landscaping was placed in the vicinity of the summerhouse Quinta María, including fencing, trees, a brick walkway, and a complete reconstruction of the stone wall bordering the property from the Hildebrand Gate to the northwestern corner. The Rodriguez cactus sculpture in the foreground served as a whimsical utility pole. It has since been restored, but no longer indicates its original purpose. Photo by Elise Urrutia, 2016.

 

Recently, the towered Hildebrand gates to the property were cleaned and repaired, and tiles from the gate towers were removed and replaced. A few small Rodriguez sculptures have also been repaired. However, although Miraflores is officially a part of Brackenridge Park, it is barely mentioned in the Brackenridge Park Master Plan, and is not included in any recommendations for sequenced improvements.

 

 

This summer, the Conservation Society published an article in its newsletter stating that the property will soon be open to foot traffic “on a limited basis” through the “restoration of a walkway leading from Brackenridge Park into Miraflores.”  

 

 

How to highlight this property on the City of San Antonio’s growing list of ambitious development plans is a mystery and a challenge. The idea of people visiting the garden in its current fragile state is both exciting and frightening.  The possibility of current and future decay is an urgent problem. “Restoration” efforts are painstakingly slow after decades of neglect and destruction.  The garden as it was is certainly lost to time. What remains to be seen is whether we will forge a way to remember it or not.

 

The Urrutia arch was moved, in approximately 1997, to the San Antonio Museum of Art courtesy of the efforts of a group of caring citizens. Today, it too looks to be in need of restoration. Photo by Elise Urrutia, 2011.

The Urrutia arch was moved, in approximately 1997, to the San Antonio Museum of Art courtesy of the efforts of a group of caring citizens. Today, it too looks to be in need of restoration. Photo by Elise Urrutia, 2011.

 

https://rivardreport.wildapricot.org

 

Top image: The Urrutia arch was the original entryway into Miraflores from Broadway. Miraflores was originally a 15-acre property forming a rectangle extending east to west from Broadway to the San Antonio River; and north to south from Hildebrand, two blocks south to Allensworth Parkway. The property was cut in half with the building of the USAA building around 1960, and then later further reduced to its current size of 4.5 acres when it was cleared for parking lots.  Photo courtesy of Urrutia Photo Collection.

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43 thoughts on “Miraflores: Dr. Urrutia’s Lost Garden

  1. I’ve always wondered about this park’s history, and it’s even richer than I’ve imagined… How many times has San Antonio lost precious history to lack of appreciation for our past? If I had the money I would gladly fund the full restoration of such a magical place! Is there any way we can raise the money?

    • My grandfather was the sculptor of the Aztec ruler, Cuauhtémoc. I’ve seen lots of photos of it in articles written about my grandfather inHarlingen, Tx. You can imagine the excitement I felt to see it in person. Unfortunately, my view was from outside the gate that surrounds the park. Nevertheless, I was overcome with emotion. I pray that some benefactor will fund the renovations before the artifacts completely are ruined.

      • Ms. Sanchez, thank you for your comments. The Cuautemoc statue is one of the more important statues in the garden. By 1993, the sculpture was missing its right hand and it continues to gradually decay. It is truly a shame, and like you, I hope that this work will be saved. I hope you will visit my website to learn more about the garden. http://www.quintaurrutia.com

  2. Wonderful article and fabulous photos! Thank you for writing this, Ms. Urrutia, and thanks for publishing, RR. This is important history and very interesting.

  3. Absolutely fascinating piece and images! Thank you, Elisa Urrutia, for giving insight into such a compelling mysterious place. If only the beauty of your family’s homestead hadn’t been wrecked and ruined…so strange, how a city can let its treasures go….

  4. If the contemporary powers that be found a Spanish land grant that negated ownership of any part of Miraflores by USAA and Southwestern Bell, where was that land grant in Dr Urrutia’s day?

    Dick McCracken

    • It has always been part of the original Soanish land grant. Even though the property changed hands many times – from the mid-1800’s until its acquisition by UIW – no one really held clear title. A survey in the 1990’s uncovered this anomaly.

  5. So happy to have come across this article. While I’ve wondered for years about the little house I’ve passed many times while driving on Hildebrand, my interest grew deeper when I purchased a bedroom set in the early 90s that, according to the antique store in Bulverde, belonged to the Urrutia family. I believe it belonged to a daughter. I don’t know for sure that it is the same family as the owner indicated that the name was spelled two ways — with a ‘Y’ and a ‘U’ — and that they were descendants of the Canary Island families that settled in San Antonio. Of course, the owner could have been mistaken. Elisa — I’m happy to share photos with you if interested.

  6. I remember how beautiful and peaceful the area was in the 50’s, however weather-worn. The effort and expense of restoring this is money better spent than housing for refugees, in my humble opinion. We enjoyed Dr. “Bud” Urrutia and his attractive wife, Judy. We knew them when they lived on A.H.Blvd.

  7. Many thanks to everyone above for your comments. It is my hope that the story of Miraflores may play a part in revealing the depth and uniqueness of our diverse city. If San Antonio is truly a place of collaboration, then this just might be a great opportunity to show it.

  8. I pass this park on the way to HEB Central Market and have always wondered what it was. At first, I thought it was an old cemetery, but now, this article has answered my question. Too bad many of the artifacts dwindled away from years of neglect or abuse. Many of San Antonio’s historical and not so historical, but beautiful places have been destroyed or demolished in the name of Urban Renewal or someone with big money wanting the space for a parking garage or a cheesy food mart.

  9. I was a patient of Dr. Urrutia at the age of 5. I am now 69 my birthday being today October 2nd. If my memory serves me correctly, my aunt, Ignacia Lizcano had met Dr. Urrutia thought another physician named Doctor Del Rio. He was the Mexican ambassador to Italy in the early 60’s. I had asthma and Dr. Urrutia treated me for that through series of injections of different vitamins and other proteins which I can’t name due to not being able to remember. I do remember the clinic and the beautiful waiting room to include the Urrutia pharmacy. Of course I remember the Doctors calm and caring demeanor with me and my concerned mother Guadalupe Lizcano Castillo. You may contact me by email or by phone at your convenience. I am anxious to read more about the great Dr. Urrutia and his family and how we can help to restore this magnificent property, history and how to convince the city of San Antonio to fund this much needed restoration of the property.

    979 324 1635
    Dante X. Castillo
    Bryan, Texas

    • Thank you for your important comment Mr. Castillo. I love reading your memory of my great grandfather. I will keep your contact information, as I am interested in hearing from people who knew him. My hope is that building awareness will provide momentum for a collaboration between the City and others who can help.

  10. I drive past the park on a daily basis and learned about its history through the master plan produced by the city sometime around 2007. I went so far as to call the city parks department about this project last year, only to learn that “nobody cares” about the project enough to do anything at this point. I think of this as a testament as to how serious the city is about its public space. Perhaps in the decades to come, the city will take down the fencing and reconnect this property to Brackenridge Park. I’m not holding my breath.

  11. Hi Elise,
    Do you know if there is a Urrutia family tree anywhere? I am the daughter of Carlos Urrutia II ( of San Antonio) and this side of our family has always been very vague to me. I have heard that it is all very complicated, but would love to see where my family fits in.

    Thank you in advance!
    Sincerely,
    Sandra Urrutia Sales

  12. As a young girl exploring San Antonio in her new car in the late 1980s I drove past this park and it spoke to me. I moved from San Antonio many years ago but recently came back home. I always wanted to go into the grounds and know the history of this magical park. Thank you for this article, it’s just as magical as I would have imagined. Preserve our city for our children and grandchildren❤️
    One day I hope I can walk into this park and feel 15 again like I did when I would stand outside that gate and dream of its once was.

  13. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to find the gate to the walkway leading from Brackenridge Park into Miraflores, open. This being the third time I’ve walked the grounds, it was still as wondrous as I had imagined as a child. Remembering my mother driving by the mysterious gates, with the beautiful archway on Hildebrand. I couldn’t wait to pass the gates, yet I wanted my mom to drive faster because I was frightened by the headless woman statue. Today, I’m still fascinated with Dr. Urrutia & Miraflores , but saddened by the deterioration of such an important piece of San Antonio’s history.
    Thank You, Elise Urrutia for sharing your story.

  14. As a young girl and being from a small town west of San Antonio, we would annually make several trips to the “Big City” of San Antonio. We would always drive out Broadway to admire the beautiful, tiled Urrutia home. Then one trip, what we saw was the wrecking ball smashing the beautiful home to pieces. How sad my family felt to see such a beautiful structure so needlessly destroyed.
    I have since always been interested in the Urrutia family history, and look forward to reading your book. Since I work at the Igo Branch Library, and do Seniors programming, I invite you to talk to our group whenever you want.
    We just had Patsy Light give a fantastic presentation on Dionicio Rodriguez and she also mentioned Miraflores.

  15. My mom Carol Tyrrasch Paveglio of canary island descent thru Anton Wolff and the Leaks has a Maria Luisa De Urrutia from 1773 in her lineage I’m curious if there is a connection to the Dr Urrutia. Also I believe my mom has a cape that belonged to Dr Urrutia

  16. Great Report–in late 1980’s, I taught architecture courses at UTSA (loop 1604 campus) one semester my students were assigned to do research on Miraflores – a great amount of information was discovered- sketches of sculptures and creative features were submitted, a scaled model was created – at the end of the project we submitted the work (photos & articles) to the UTSA special collections library division – don’t know if it is still there – of special interest is how the telephone company encroached on remaining Miraflores with massive parking lot at eastern border (perhaps reason why floating & remaining gateway was given to SAMA?) which according to documents I remember new property ownership could not infringe on remaining property.

    • Mr. Gutierrez Fernandez, I’m somewhat embarrassed to respond so late to your interesting comment, but I did follow up on this. Tom Shelton of the Institute of Texan Cultures reports that he unfortunately does not find a record of this information. His group was formed in the 1990s. I’m sorry that this valuable information appears to have been lost. I wish I could see it.

  17. Elise – your father Bud was a special friend of mine when I lived in the King William area years ago. I enjoyed knowing him. Joe Pennel

  18. I have read many articles on Dr. Urrutia and Miraflores .Even in decay the gates and what beckons beyond still hold a fascination with what once existed and what still may. Thank you for the wonderful article and pictures. They bring to life another era and bring a sadness over the destruction of such a beautiful home and garden. I could see a rebuilding of that garden, a restoration which would give the city another beautiful space to be proud of. I look forward to being able to walk thru the parts that will be opened to the public. Please let me know if there is anyway I can help .

    • Ms. Castro,
      I am honored to receive your beautiful comments and thoughts. I used to feel somewhat hopeless about whether Miraflores could be restored, but with my further exploration and the great interest that people have expressed, I too now can see that it is not beyond our reach to faithfully restore it. Thank you for your vision and your offer of help. I will contact you.

  19. Dr. Urrutia was my mothers Dr, probably around 1930,1940 maybe earlier.
    My mother was Aurora Flores Escalera. My mother had a big Cist close to her eye that there was no Dr. that wanted to take care of it. She went to Dr. Urrutia and he was the only Dr. that was able to perform the surgery and she came out fine, you could not even see where she had had the Cist.
    She told me that the Dr. always wore a red cape. The family was very happy that the Dr. had performed such a delicate even dangerous operation on my mother. Dr. Urrutia had a reputation for handling the most difficult of cases.

  20. I grew up in Pearsall, an hour south on I35. I was enthralled by Ancient Greek Art and had to settle for photographs in books and magazines as a little kid. Unfortunately the majority of the photographs were usually taken from the same angles and distances so it was hard for me to appreciate the real form of many of the sculptures.

    One of my favorite sculptures was the Winged Victory (Nike of Samothrace). By sheer chance I spotted the replica as I rode by with my family back in 1978. I got so excited! I convinced my mother to let me look more closely at the replica. I think we parked in the AT&T parking lot. Back then I think access was as easy as walking to it.

    The size of it shocked me. I was almost scared to get close to it as it looked as though it would topple forward. I now know that it was following the original and is supposed to look that way. Walking around it and looking at it from so many spots and angles was a shock for me as a six-year old. I had no idea of the virtuosity and the spatial qualities.

    I’ve always had a special love for that particular replica and the settings around it, even though it was somewhat ratty at the time.

    Thank you so much for this article. I had no idea of the history behind it and the park it stands in. What an incredible place it would have been in its prime.

    • Mr. Fisher,
      How wonderful that you knew this sculpture’s significance from an early age! Learning more about this sculpture and it’s significance to Urrutia was some of my favorite research for my upcoming book on Miraflores. It was one of his final touches to the garden after he removed it from the top of the entryway to his house. Thank you for your story.

  21. I grew up in Kenwood where the Hidalgo elemtary school was located. I never went there but vividly recall friends always mentioning a Ms. Urrutia as their teacher. Any relation you’ve found in your tree?

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