Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Pilgrimage

Definition of pilgrimage

  1. 1 :  a journey of a pilgrim; especially :  one to a shrine or a sacred place
  2. 2 :  the course of life on earth

    Ok, so maybe my recent "pilgrimage" wasn't as grand as this definition would have it but it is a trip we take every year around our anniversary.

    I speak of our annual trip "home" --to the city our births, the place where our youthful adventures were spent, the place we said we would never leave (until we did) -- San Antonio, Texas.

    When you say "San Antonio" the image that pops into most people's heads is the Alamo.  Rightfully so.  It is historic and there have been several movies made about it.  My favorite is the John Wayne version of my youth.  There is so much more to San Antonio, however, that most people don't really see or know of.

    San Antonio is old.  It began in 1718 by Fr. Antonio Olivares when he established Mission San Antonio de Valero which would later become the Alamo.  The Spanish explorers gave the San Antonio river its name because it was discovered on the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua, Italy.  At the time there was an Indian settlement in what is now called La Villita - the little village.  There was also a significant German influence in the building of the city but that goes largely unmentioned.  Some of the most influential families were of German descent and they began some of the biggest and longest running businesses -- Joske's Department Store and Pioneer Flour Mills (Guenther Family) come immediately to mind.

    Time has passed, the city has grown, city planners have decided to change things up and modernize, many of my childhood haunts have met their untimely demise under the wrecking ball in the name of progress -- many are now just vacant lots.  Makes perfect sense to me.  They have "modernized" our historic schools (tore them down) in the name of progress, they have taken downtown historic buildings and incorporated them into "The Mall" and stuccoed over ornate German built buildings again, to make it more modern.  Bleech. 

    So, each and every year we make the trip home and peruse what has changed, what hasn't, what we remember, what we don't.  We are tourists in our own hometown.  This time was a bit different.  It was a longer trip and we weren't in a rush.  After two days, it seemed as if we had never moved.  It was a strange feeling.  In the past, when I have left to come home, my feelings have been mixed -- one time I will be homesick, other times I can't wait to leave.  This time was different -- my heart was waving and not saying goodbye but rather -- see you next year! I am truly living in two places and it feels ok. 
In the past we have visited the places of our childhood, our former homes and schools and this time was no different except that we included some different places that had meaning to us.  Or me, mostly.   So, I will share some of these photos with you to show you some of the beauty of this old city.

San Antonio is a Catholic city.  It was founded as such and as such it remains.  Here are photos of two prominent Catholic churches in town.  The first is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower.  My great-grandmother attended church here and was buried from here.

The gentleman in the photo, I assume a caretaker, asked if he could comb his hair before I took the photo! He was very nice.  

The next photos show St. Joseph's Catholic Church in the heart of downtown.  St. Joseph's was surrounded by a huge department store, Joske's of Texas, and at one point Joske's asked to buy the church for the property.  The offer was declined so they just built around the church and now the church is jokingly referred to as "St. Joske's".

Magnificent, aren't they?
Next are some photos of La Villita. La Villita was the actually beginning of the city, it was originally a small Indian community that the Spanish priests had come to convert.  In my youth, it was a pretty dicey place to roam around, it wasn't "fixed up", it was kind of scary actually.  However, over the years, probably around the time of the World's Fair in 1968, attention was paid to the salvation and preservation of this historic area and it now hosts a good number of high end restaurants and art galleries.  It is quiet and shady and just a magical place to visit.  Of course, it comes to life during Fiesta in April but on a daily basis it is just a pleasant place to visit.

The Little Church of La Villita

The next photos are just some random places downtown that have meaning to me.

The Menger Hotel of Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Rider's fame.  However, I remember it being the place we would lunch with my Aunt Linnie who worked at Joske's and the place I got my leg stuck in the table leg, cried, got hauled to the bathroom to get my face washed and when I returned they had removed my ice cream.  Not a great memory.  We almost went there for dinner one night but I was afraid of the tables.

I don't really know the name of this building but I believe it is the home of the Sol Wolfson store that my grandmother worked at when she was about 11.

Schilo's -- the best deli in the world.  It has a very ornate bar.  We used to come here when I was a child and I would have recurring dreams about that bar -- I couldn't remember where it was until I walked in as an adult and there it was -- the location of my recurring dream.  Great food.  Really, really great food.

The Tower of the Americas -- Hemisfair '68 -- I worked in the shadow of this very tall building at the San Antonio Independent School District

The Transit Tower, or the Tower Life Building, where my father spent a good deal of his early radio career.
The next photos are of the famed San Antonio Riverwalk.  When I was a child the Riverwalk was nowhere you wanted to be.  It wasn't a "walk" actually but a dirty creek than ran through town where all sorts of unsavory things could surface on a Sunday morning after a wild and woolly Saturday night.  However, again with the city planners, a decision was made to do something with the area which was a good thing -- it has been developed beautifully, is home to lots of restaurants and music venues, and it is a gorgeous, landscaped walk through downtown and they keep expanding it so it goes even farther now.  It isn't scary anymore.

Looking out over Casa Rio Mexican Restaurant

Swim little duckies -- we aren't sure about the yellow one in the flock of brown ones -- a swan maybe?


When I was a child growing up San Antonio had some really nice shopping downtown.  We didn't have malls and we didn't have cars so we had to take the bus downtown to shop.  We would walk up and down Commerce Street and Houston Street looking in all the little dress shops, shoe stores and dime stores.  I remember the way the Woolworth's smelled!  Ultimately we would end up at Joske's -- the biggest store in the biggest state (until we acquired Alaska!). Joske's was the Harrod's of the Southwest.  You could buy anything at Joske's.  There were two places to eat there -- The Chuckwagon which was where we went as children and The Camilla Room which we never went to because we were children.  There was a beauty salon and a bridal salon.  You could buy clothing, and fabric and shoes and saddles -- yes, indeed, you could get anything at Joske's.

See -- you can see the church spire of St. Joseph's in it's little niche created by this giant department store.

Well, Joske's survived well into my adulthood but then it went the way of so many stores being gobbled up by big conglomerates and it couldn't compete with the malls in the suburbs so it changed hands many times and finally just stood vacant for a number of years.  Another mall had been build downtown adjacent to Joske's and finally, in the last three years or so, Joske's was incorporated into that mall.  How you ask?  Well,they retained the complete facade and gutted the inside and subdivided it.  I wanted to see how that was done and if any remnants of the old building were there and I was pleasantly surprised.  Clearly the facade remains and it was cleaned up and refurbished.  It was a lovely building and they have done it justice.  The inside, of course, was different except that there were visual signs of the old store -- the windows were uncovered (I had never seen an open window in that store in all the years we went there) and looked out over the city.  The old, heavy brass doors remained with the hardware still in tact and there are huge wall sized photos of how the store was back in the day.  They look to be permanent and pay great homage to the store that was the biggest store in the biggest state.  

I was afraid it was going to be a horror story but it wasn't and I would rather see it be part of the mall and saved than go under the wrecking ball like so many other things and places have.  It is good.

Another place we visited was Woodlawn Lake.  Woodlawn Lake is situated in an area of town close to Jefferson High School -- a very historic, gorgeous high school -- and it is in the neighborhood that my mother spent her younger years in.  It is close to Little Flower and my mother's entire family lived in this area at one time or another.  We visited this area a while back and I have to say it was pretty sad.  It needed some work desperately and I would have to say that somebody took note of it and much progress has been made.  It is a lovely park now, Woodlawn Lake Park, and it is actually used.  I saw many people walking the walking paths, couples with ear buds walking to the music, moms with strollers, kids playing basketball and Egyptian geese all over the place -- google it -- odd birds with pink legs.  Anyway, this is one area that progress made sense and it looks good.

If you click on this photo and make it bigger you can see lots of history here -- Little Flower, The Transit tower, the Tower of the America's and this little lighthouse smack in the middle of the lake that has been there all my life.

So, that was just a brief overview of our 2017 Pilgrimage to San Antonio.  We did other things, of course, like eat at our favorite anniversary restaurant, Fujiya's, and barbecue at Bill Miller's and Mexican food at Jacala's and Teka Molino.  We drove around our old houses and schools and libraries.  My elementary school has been torn down and rebuilt.  I realize it was necessary for the education of the kiddies but the new school just doesn't have the same historic, vintage look to it and I don't think it ever will.  Standard issue modern architecture.  Nothing to write home about.  

It was a good trip -- I am already starting the sightseeing list for next year!  See you then, SA!