Rio CON Brio

By Walker, Bonnie | ASEE Prism, February 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Rio CON Brio


Walker, Bonnie, ASEE Prism


HISTORY BUFFS KNOW of San Antonio as the home of the Alamo, where Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie lost their lives defending Texas independence. But the city's history stretches much farther back, to when American Indians settled on the shaded banks of a river they dubbed "Refreshing Waters." After Spaniards arrived, the land was christened in honor of 13th-century Franciscan St. Anthony of Padua, on his feast day. That was June 13, 1691, and the name San Antonio has remained in use ever since.

Today, San Antonio is the seventh-largest city in the United States, its population a thriving reflection of the meeting and merging of cultures over the centuries. The greater metropolitan population of nearly 2.2 million is now a mix of Latino, white, black, and Asian. Boasting attractions that draw 26 million tourists annually, the city is also home to a strong military presence, with Fort Sam Houston, Lackland Air Force Base, Randolph Air Force Base, and Brooks City-West. What used to be Kelly Air Force Base is now an industrial-business park called Port San Antonio.

The Spaniards built five missions in the area to Christianize the native population, and all still stand as reminders of Spain's dominion and religious, cultural, and agricultural influence. The oldest and most famous of the missions was, of course, the Alamo, where the pivotal battle was fought in 1836. The mission is in the northeast corner of downtown close to the Convention Center, a towering attraction even if overshadowed physically by high-rise hotels and office buildings. The others, all south of downtown and run by the National Park Service, are Mission Concepción, Mission San José, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada.

Another treasure is the well-known San Antonio River Walk. The vision of architect Robert H. H. Hugman, built in the late 1930s with Works Progress Administration funds, it turneo a flood-control scheme into a model of urban planning. The park's 21-block downtown walkway, one story below street level, winds past restaurants, bars, shops, an amphitheater, and the convention center.

A more recent landmark is Tower of the Americas, a 622-foot observation platform, which opened in 1968 to coincide with HemisFair, the Texas World's Fair. Improvements to both the HemisFair site and River Walk, which is undergoing an ambitious north and south expansion, are part of a revitalization effort the city's mayor, Julián Castro, has dubbed the "Decade of Downtown."

While not a material asset, most San Antonians would agree that the city's youthful spirit is one of its most valuable resources. The city loves a party, whether in its various neighborhoods, at the First Friday art gatherings in Southtown's stately King William District, the spirited San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo in February, or, most famously, the annual Fiesta San Antonio. This colorful - some would say raucous - spring festival attracts throngs of visitors who join local residents as they line the streets for parades, attend music events, celebrate local cultures, arts, and history, and feast on their favorite Fiesta fare.

Food is itself an important attraction. Traditional San Antonio cuisine is a savory buffet of Tex-Mex, barbecue, steaks, and Texas home cooking. In the past 20 years or so, the dining scene has become increasingly sophisticated. Helping to build on this changing image is the recently opened, third American campus of the famed Culinary Institute of America, which is on the 23-acre site of the historic Pearl Brewery. The Pearl is presently being renovated and repurposed as a multiuse center, with parks, walkways, restaurants, residences, and shops.

Sports lovers also have their place in the Alamo City. Basketball fans love their Spurs, who have won the NBA Championship on several occasions in recent years. Hockey fans throng to the Rampage, while the Silver Stars shine in the WNBA. The San Antonio Scorpions will make their debut as part of the North American Soccer League in 2012. …

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