Paving the Path to a New Miraflores

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An unexpected brick walkway is found at Miraflores.

Courtesy / Elise Urrutia

An unexpected brick walkway is found at Miraflores.

A few weeks ago, work began at Miraflores to unearth a few of its original walkways, not knowing exactly what might be found, and the findings have been intriguing. Ground crews have carefully uncovered several unexpectedly large walkways that have been buried underneath tons of gravel and dirt – up to 2 feet deep – for almost 40 years.

Miraflores was the unique garden expression of Dr. Aureliano Urrutia, who came to San Antonio from Mexico City in 1914. The garden still contains a number of significant objects reflecting important aspects of Mexican history, art, and culture, some of which are on the Smithsonian Inventory of American Sculpture. Miraflores is on the National Register of Historic Places (2006) and is a State of Texas Archaeological Landmark (2009).

Historical photos and memories of earlier eyewitnesses to the property have referenced the presence of the walkways, but the City’s Parks and Recreation Department and Brackenridge Park Conservancy representatives were somewhat shocked by the depth of the soil in some places and the magnitude of the findings.

This map depicts the area where the buried walkways have been uncovered at Miraflores.

Courtesy / RVK Architects

This map depicts the area where the buried walkways have been uncovered at Miraflores.

The main area explored to date runs on a west-east axis about 200 feet long from the Brackenridge Park bridge entrance, around a 30-foot wide reflecting pool (buried at this time), and slightly beyond, toward the garden’s central point.

It’s no secret that various corporate owners of the 15-acre property at the corner of Hildebrand Avenue and Broadway Street, after its sale by Dr. Urrutia in 1962, imposed various levels of neglect, encroachment, and destruction on the garden.

The 4.5 acre garden along the San Antonio River, which now belongs to the City of San Antonio, was originally part of that larger parcel, and was specifically set aside in the deed as an area to be preserved as a place of beauty.

After decades of neglect, sometime around the 1980s, tons of gravel and dirt were dumped there, and drains were installed. This modification of the property involved active destruction of the garden’s walkways and some of its other features which were central to its design. The plan was to try to alleviate some of the flooding from underground springs during heavy rains, and to use the property as recreational picnic grounds for employees.

Now that the extent of the original walkways is becoming more clear, the City will be determining how to proceed with this project in the coming weeks. Various solutions will be discussed regarding the proper approach to restoration. Some ideas that have been mentioned include documenting and then re-burying the walkways in order to install new walkways at a higher grade, and restoring the walkways at their original level.

Will restoring the walkways at their original level be problematic because of flooding, given the lower grade level? Will raising the grade have a truly beneficial impact on the walkways in times of heavy rain? Will the work impact the National Register designation of the site? How will other historical restoration guidelines impact what can be done? These questions and more will be under consideration as this project moves forward.

A brick pathway encircles the reflecting pool at Miraflores.

Courtesy / Elise Urrutia

A brick pathway encircles the reflecting pool at Miraflores.

For good measure, I’ll toss in another approach suggested to me by a few astute friends: How about creating a different way for visitors to understand Miraflores? Uncover and reveal what remains of the original walkways and other buried features, without requiring them to be useable if they are too low or too damaged. Stabilize them to the best extent possible and make them viewable. Of course, restoring and protecting the existing significant sculptural pieces, along with any original walkways that can be restored to use, would be part of any solution.

What would you like to see in the end?  I would love to hear your thoughts. To email me, click here.

 

11 thoughts on “Paving the Path to a New Miraflores

  1. I would estimate about half the fountains in this city are not flowing because of calcium buildup, faulty plumbing, or water conservation. So I see no need to try to restore the reflecting pool. But I do hope descriptive markers will be placed to help us understand the history and art of the area as well as what remains and what was lost.

    • Don, Thank you for your comment. I am writing a book about Miraflores which will both document and reimagine the garden as it was in Dr. Urrutia’s time. It is based on historic photographs, research, and memories of people who actually were there prior to its sale in 1962. Also, it is my understanding that any option going forward will include extensive documentation of what is found there today.

    • Thank you Todd. One comment that has been made about the idea of adding “viewing” pathways to Miraflores is that they may actually take away from our ability to experience it as it was. I neither agree or disagree with that thought at this point. It will be interesting to see what emerges as the most appropriate step toward preservation/renewal/reactivation of this space.

      • Sounds like a very interesting project and I think whatever is done will be an improvement and I’ll leave that to The Experts

  2. I hope Miraflores continues to get a consistent revenue stream. I would love to see it bloom again as a local cultural attraction, with as much of its original spirit restored as possible (I love going to the Japanese Tea Garden, and am an enthusiastic member of SABOT)

    I look forward to reading your book Elise; please let us know when it is available.

    • Thank you for your comment Jonathan. Funding is truly the biggest challenge. I believe the City is hoping that both public and private funds will support the renovations at Miraflores. In the past the Conservation Society has put some grant funds toward several sculpture renovations. And I know that the Brackenridge Conservancy has the potential to work toward such a goal. I am pleased that so many people have voiced interest and enthusiam. We will see what kind of momentum can be generated.

  3. I am so happy that Dr Urutias Miraflores is being restored. Dr. Urutia was my mothers Dr. He performed an operation on my mother that no other Dr. would. He saved her life. He always wore a red cape.
    A long time ago we went to see his mansion that was being demolished on Broadway st. What a loss , that house should have been saved. It was a beautiful big house. Decorated inside with gold, blue designs on the ceiling and the walls it was so elegant. The outside it looked like the houses in Spain.
    They built a car lot in its place

  4. Thank you Estella. Among my most favorite comments are from people who have a personal connection to Dr. Urrutia. I am very interested in these memories, and appreciate them greatly. Thanks again.

  5. I have several old newspaper articles about the Urrutia home and Rancho dating back to 1916. If you would like them I can email them to you.

    • Thank you, Sarah, for the articles. My article collection comes largely from paper archives passed along to me by numerous relatives, and other archival research, but I am always thrilled to receive more information! This is very generous of you and I greatly appreciate it.

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