God Bless Texas! Part 5: A Tale of Two San Antonios
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Kingsville, TX to San Antonio (Map) - 157mi/253km

Winter 2011/12.

 

I am not one of those people who needs to wake up in the morning & consume standard breakfast food. I could wake up & eat a turkey dinner if I so desired. With that I tried Whataburger this morning, mostly because of how much my friend Geoff raved about them.

I think it might have had to do with my lackadaisical stance towards burgers, but I was ho-hum on the whole Whataburger experience. The most memorable thing for me, was that I couldn't finish the combo I ordered - the burger was simply too much (and I didn't order a triple cheeseburger or anything crazy either).


Leaving Kingsville, I didn't have much driving to do today; only about 3 hours via the interstate. It was through the type of land that a man will forget 8 months later, and looking at maps today, I didn't pass very many towns as I drove along either.

My morning destination was the Bexar County Boys Home/Convalescent Sanatorium. Since I had looked at the area from Bird's Eye view and from Google Streetview, I recognized the area as I approached in my car. I also realized the road I wanted to turn onto - the definition of a short county lane - was in the middle of a construction zone which was so short, that it only interfered with the entrance to this one road to the old sanatorium.

I went through the construction zone to judge how things would be, before sitting at a gas station for a few minutes. I then returned through the construction zone, but turned left onto the road for these four buildings.


The confusing title for this place comes from the fact that this started out as a tuberculosis sanatorium, then converted to a boys home. There is added confusion by the fact that it says Home For The Aged above one of the doorways (above picture). Did the elderly tuberculosis patients have their own building?

I would normally sort these things out, but there are a million references to each name on the web, as every noob teenager in San Antonio has posted inquiries and claims about this place & its supposed ghosts. (I'm rolling my eyes at the moment, fyi.)


I noticed waist-high cacti as I rounded to the back of the buildings. I pondered how many people had stumbled into one of these, or atop one of these, while trying to hide or scurry into buildings.

I suppose I would trade the deer ticks of the American Northeast for these cacti though.


I was being pretty obvious & didn't have much for plans to make my way towards the interior...but...


Ah, to heck with it.

Not surprisingly, for a building decimated with spray paint & missing all windows, the interior was what you'd expect: standing water, broken walls & even more spray paint.


I couldn't remember seeing hospital windows like this before, so I spent some time on the sun porches, enjoying the unique space and the grounds surrounding me.


The back of the property is adjacent to farmland, so where I previously knocked the South Texas Plains while talking about the interstate in this update, I was now appreciating them as I peered out from this drizzly rooftop.


I also appreciated this building more after finding my first ever fire escape slide! I had heard about these and seen 1 or 2 in pictures, but had never actually seen one in real life.

It looked a little narrow for me & it also looked to be missing a few structural supports. I decided to pass on trying it out.


I checked out one more building and it turned out to an empty workshop.


There are no current plans for these buildings.

On one hand, you could say that they should be demolished because they seem to be a teenage hangout, but then again, they could just as easily tell a couple deputies to take an extra ride by here every now & then. The location isn't exactly conductive to serving as a teenage hangout.


I had killed enough time that I could now check-in at my accommodations. Unfortunately they're not shown in the above picture. Although that's not to say I wasn't happy with my motel, that I found 3/4s of a mile from downtown at a rate of $67/night (pretty good for a tourist destination like San Antonio).

Anyway, what you see above is a mansion in the King William Historic District. I read reviews stating that my motel was in a dangerous and sketchy area, but it was bordered by this mansion district & another area that I'd hardly ever refer to as sketchy. I figured I would risk it.

The above home is the Max L. Oppenheimer House, built in 1900.


I walked around the King William District after parking my car at the motel.

The King William Historic District is the result of German immigrants settling an area of land just to the south of downtown San Antonio. As their wealth skyrocketed in the forthcoming years, they constructed impressive abodes for themselves & their families.

I didn't know it at the time & therefore didn't take this picture for my friend Steve, but the above Second Empire/Victorian home is known as Steves Homestead. Edward Steves Sr. was the owner of a successful lumber business & his 1876 home showcases his success, by having the first indoor pool in San Antonio and a fountain purchased from the Philadelphia Centennial Expo of 1876.


I studied more homes before eventually coming to the Sartor House.

Sadly, the guard cat made me think twice.


I started towards downtown, not wanting to expel all of my energy exploring every block of the King William District.

I was excited to notice this strange black bird along the river, but apparently it's just a Double-Crested Cormorant - a bird which I can often see on the river pillars near my work (you usually can't get this close in Corner Brook).


I eventually ended up in the heart of downtown, marked by the Bexar County Courthouse. Even after going inside to use the washroom, I didn't end up with a picture I liked because of the overcast sky. It's a unique courthouse too; there are thousands of pictures of it online.

Instead, I was happier with my picture of the Cathedral of San Fernando, located on the west side of the small Main Plaza, kitty corner to the Bexar County Courthouse to the south.


The Cathedral of San Fernando is the oldest cathedral in the United States. The original church was started in 1731, the walls of which now make up the main sanctuary.


I walked east along Crockett Street towards The Alamo, another must see on my list.


In a shocking development, there were a lot of tourists at The Alamo. Therefore I snapped a few pictures quickly, went for a brief circular walk, then crossed the road & took to exploring the promising adjacent neighbourhood.

As I walked past the San Antonio Express News Building, I composed a picture of the sculpture above the doorway. A man walked up as my eyes were glued to my camera, so I didn't notice him as he passed & entered the doorway of which I was taking a picture. He told me that the sculpture was called "Enlightening of the Press", that it was done by Pompeo Coppini, and that Coppini also did the cenotaph at the Alamo and the design for the Texas Half Dollar.

All of this information came in about 20 seconds, as I was walking away & the man was going to his job at the newspaper. It put a smile on my face that this man took such pride in the history of his workplace building. He wasn't the old man you're imagining either, I would estimate him to be around 40 or 45.


The Emily Morgan Hotel stands across from The Alamo and commands attention. It was built as the San Antonio's Medical Arts Building in 1924.

That tower was an observation floor at one time, a space which would surely provide a great view. The building also apparently features gargoyles on the outside, gargoyles suffering from various medical ailments like toothaches, a reference to the purpose of the Medical Arts Building.


Continuing our tour of impressive, pleasing, historic buildings of San Antonio, let's move to their central library!

Oh wait.

I was curious as to what this replaced, and while San Antonio had a nice library from 1930, that one only lasted until 1968. The central library from 1968 to 1995 was your standard, forgettable, 1960s structure.

(I went out of my way to get to this library not because I enjoy Mexican Modernist architecture, but because I needed to use a computer.)


At least walking to the library brought me past the Southwestern Bell Building; with Spanish Mission touches all along the ground level.


Throughout the day, I had been using the River Walk quite a bit. I first heard of this in my Texas guide book, and then a guy at the gym saw me reading said book and came over to tell me that the River Walk wasn't to be missed.

I wasn't quite sure how pedestrian paths along a river were so special, but I quickly learned once I actually explored San Antonio. There were fantastic stone features, old staircases & unique passages created by the hundreds of different buildings and gardens.


The travel guide & the guy from the gym were both right. The River Walk gave me a feeling of something different, something that would make me remember San Antonio and differentiate it from other cities. It was also just a whole lot nicer way to walk around the city as well - instead of busy city streets, I was moving along without very many people down by the river (although this might have had to do with it being a dreary day in February).


I've mapped my route while writing this update & I figure I had walked about 6mi or 10km by this point. While in the moment in San Antonio, I wasn't sure how far I had walked, I knew my feet were sore & I was ready for dinner. All day I had been on the lookout for somewhere enticing to return for dinner, but I didn't really see anything. Now at dinnertime, I walked a bit further in my search, but eventually gave up & settled at a place that was good enough along the River Walk. Sure enough, the place was touristy and mediocre. They had a square structure with a worker providing colas & waters to seated patrons on stools, but even though this appeared to be a bar-like structure, they apparently didn't serve alcohol at this establishment.

I had the beef brisket to check off another Texas thing; a beef brisket which wasn't bad & salvaged the dinner.

The hilarious & infuriating thing about it all, was that not 2 blocks from this tourist spot, I noticed a very inviting delicatessen with a front wall of windows, an antiquated interior & neon signs indicating beer and delicious food.

I returned to my motel to relax my tired feet and rolling eyes.


I tried to salvage my San Antonio dining experience by staying for breakfast the next morning. Near my motel was The Guenther House - the former family home of the Guenthers, who opened the Guenther Flour Mill & built this house in 1860. The Guenther Flour Mill still stands as the Pioneer Flour Mill (at left) & the house still stands after extensive 1902 renovations (at right, now a restaurant).

For how fine the grounds are manicured & how clean the exterior is kept, I was surprised to learn that this place offers a relatively inexpensive breakfast option. With only 2 other businesspeople nearby, I sat in the high-ceiling restaurant, surrounded by chandeliers and pockets of stained glass. It was a great spot to enjoy my fresh fruit with biscuits & gravy.

The Guenther House provided one of my favourite dining experiences of the trip. This was one of the things I remembered when people asked about this trip back home.

Afterward, I returned to my rental car & went north. San Antonio had surprised me with a great time, when I was only expecting an average one.

Onto Part 5½...


 

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Sources:

1 - King William Historic District - nps.gov

2 - King William Area, A Walking Tour - SAConservation.org

3 - Cathedral of San Fernando - Wikipedia

4 - Pompeo Coppini - Wikipedia

5 - Building History - Emily Morgan Hotel

6 - Auditorium Circle (Veterans Memorial Plaza) - City of San Antonio Website

7 - San Antonio Public Library - Wikipedia

8 - Guenther House History - The Guenther House