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Alamo Arcade: Portal to the Alamo Gardens

April 20, 2018

With various proposals for the new Alamo Master Plan in the news today, we look back to an earlier time when there were similar efforts to redesign the area around the Alamo.  The idea for a park adjacent to the Alamo chapel received serious attention when the Alamo Mission Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and the San Antonio Conservation Society presented the idea to the mayor and city commissioners in 1925.  Among the leaders was Clara Driscoll Sevier, who had provided money to preserve the Alamo Long Barrack over 20 years earlier.  Mrs. Sevier, chairman of the Alamo Park Commission, again advanced considerable money toward purchase of the property immediately south of the Alamo for what would become part of the Alamo State Park, now called the Alamo Gardens.  The long process of bringing the park to fruition is chronicled in numerous articles in the San Antonio Express and San Antonio Light newspapers.

In 1931 the San Antonio Light published a rendering of the proposed park by Harland Bartholomew and Associates, a well-known urban planning firm in St. Louis.  Principal designer was H. E. Kincaid, who had been involved with the restoration of the Spanish Governor’s Palace the previous year.  The primary entrance to the park would be through the Alamo Arcade, similar to the arcaded structure in the palace patio.  But due to a lack of funds, the plans were not carried out for another three years.  In February 1934, under the direction H. E. Kincaid, employees of the Civil Works Administration (CWA) began clearing the site, but the work was halted a few weeks later when the government dropped CWA activities.  In May work resumed, again under the supervision of Kincaid, with labor provided by the Texas Relief Commission.  In January 1935 the project was complete, in time to showcase the site during the Texas Centennial celebration.

Photographs in our collections are among the earliest views of the Alamo Arcade.  They document the appearance of the structure that has witnessed numerous events that have occurred on the site for over 80 years.


Alamo Arcade, 1936. Photograph by Bartlett Cocke, Sr. (General Photograph Collection MS362: 76-0882)









Construction of the Alamo Arcade, with arches evocative of the conventos at Missions San Jose and Conception, September 1934. (San Antonio Light Collection MS 359: L-0342-E)


Weathered limestone, salvaged from buildings previously located on the site, is used for the arcade, September 1934. (San Antonio Light Collection MS 359: L-0342-D)


Plants, contributed by Texas residents, are planted in front of the arcade and in the Alamo garden, 1934. (San Antonio Light Collection MS 359: L-1547-H)


Frank Pena, stone mason, puts finishing touches on a fountain located a short distance east of the arcade, January 1935. (San Antonio Light Collection MS 359: L-460-A)


Alamo Arcade serves as a backdrop for a flagpole installation ceremony attended by Admiral Richard E. Byrd, February 1936. (San Antonio Light Collection MS 359: Detail of L-0915-A)


Patriotic bunting adorns the Alamo Arcade during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s visit to the Alamo during the Texas Centennial, June 11, 1936. (San Antonio Light Collection MS 359: Detail of L-0959-M)

Night at the Archives

April 16, 2018

Every year, The Graduate School celebrates Graduate Student Appreciation Week — a GSAW20181week-long series of events and free offerings designed to recognize the contributions of UTSA’s graduate students. Held April 2-6, this year’s GSAW included events such as professional headshot sessions, coffee and cocoa study breaks, leadership workshops, a health and wellness fair, networking sessions, and – for the very first time – A Night at the Archives with Special Collections.

From 5:00-7:00 on Wednesday, April 4th, we opened our doors to graduate students for an exclusive, after hours, pop-up exhibit of our remarkable collections. We pulled a variety of materials for students to explore and interact with and as a special treat: the first five visitors received a behind-the scenes tour of our rare books vault.


Rare Books Librarian, Agnieszka Czeblakow, shows a music graduate student material from the Charles L. Stevens papers. Stevens was a musician, bandleader and vaudeville performer, and played with a number of musical groups including the San Antonio Band and the Beaumont Concert Band.


Photographs such as daguerreotypes, tintypes, and an albumen print from the Charles L. Stevens papers.

NITA1Research and Education Librarian, Shari Salisbury, looks on as students interact with A Guide to Higher Learning by book artist Julie Chen. The interactive book is “comprised of 8 sections of rigid pages that are hinged together in unexpected ways, giving the reader a physical reading experience that mirrors the complex meaning of the content.” (Julie Chen – Flying Fish Press). Also shown: The Tower Book designed by Beth Thielen with writings and artwork by inmates at the San Quentin State Prison and the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, California, Fortune Teller by Malini Gupta, and material from the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project records.



University Archivist, Kristin Law, shows Dr. Bruce Davis the original 1972 building guidelines and specifications for UTSA,  Building Construction: Volume I by Ford Powell & Carson and Bartlett Cocke & Associates


Special Collections’ tiniest book: Der Olympische Eid (“Olympic oath in 7 languages”)

Tom Shelton Wins Extra Mile Award

April 9, 2018

Special Collections is extremely pleased to announce that Tom Shelton, Special Collections Photographs Curator, has won UTSA’s University Excellence Extra Mile Award:

The Extra Mile Award recognizes an individual with (3) three years or more of continuous service with UTSA and who has taken the initiative to contribute to the success of UTSA through his or her outstanding contributions at work.   Extra efforts demonstrated in their accomplishments, timeliness, and follow-through, willingness to help fellow employees; provide good customer service with creativity, dedication, cooperation and reliability.  He or she has performed at a level above and beyond normal job requirements that have resulted in furthering the department’s and UTSA’s goals and mission.

Standing L-R: Kristin Law, University Archivist; Melissa Gohlke, Assistant Archivist; Amber Harmon, Library Assistant; Amy Rushing, Head of Special Collections; Carlos Cortez, Library Assistant; Tom Shelton, Photographs Curator; Dean Hendrix, Dean of Libraries; Alyssa Franklin, Digitization Specialist, Juli Favor, Volunteer; Garland Davis, Ruth Lyle, Volunteer; Volunteer. Seated L-R: Shirley Montalvo, Volunteer; Leah Rios, SVREP Project Archivist; Katie Rojas, Manuscripts Archivist; Julianna Barrera-Gomez, Digital Archivist.

Several members of Special Collections have shared their thoughts about Tom and his work:

“Tom’s approach to reference is truly outstanding—beyond outstanding.  Many patrons visiting the Special Collections Library at the HemisFair Park Campus are community researchers or people with a general interest in some aspect of our city or region’s history. Oftentimes they’re not entirely sure how to communicate what sort of material they might be looking for—they have a subject interest and want to know more, or they have a specific question but aren’t sure how they’d go about researching it. Tom calmly listens to their questions, expertly pulling out further details about their interests as they talk, and then applies what I call his ‘Tom Magic.’ He hears a name, a place, a section of town, and he walks to the card catalog and begins pulling out cards, then quickly walks to the print copy section and pulls out photos of their grandparents, their old family homes, even the gas station on the corner of St. Mary’s that they remembered getting candy from as a kid. I’ve seen patrons gasp and be moved to tears as they realize he’s found a long-lost image they were only hoping they might find.”

“Everyone knows and loves Tom, and I can see why. He is beyond helpful. He is humble, patient, kind, and quietly tenacious. Despite being the greatest walking treasure trove of local historical knowledge, he never makes anyone feel stupid or belittled for what they don’t know. He just explains things calmly and tells you what you want to know without any fuss. He serves up just the piece of history you’re looking for with a side of southern grace and charm.”

“I’m impressed with [Tom’s] patience in responding to the constant stream of requests for photographs. He is a living repository of San Antonio history, and has sharp recall for stories of the people, places, and events from our city’s past. There are several instances when I’ve spent time researching a topic, thinking I’ve uncovered something long forgotten, only to share my findings with Tom and have him add further details from his memory of a related project he worked on many years ago. He’s a marvel and a treasure.”

“Tom has a remarkable ability to listen attentively to stories of other people’s family histories. He is also a captivating storyteller—clearly drawn from his decades of service as an unofficial historian of San Antonio and South Texas—and is surprisingly funny for such a humble and unassuming individual.”

“Our department has benefitted immensely from the meticulous work he has put into creating descriptions for photographs documenting urban renewal projects, which allows patrons in the reading room and anywhere in the world (via our digital library) to locate homes and communities that were destroyed by San Antonio’s interstates.  His ability to remember details about photographs and aspects of San Antonio history and geography make him a living database.  While he, with the help of our devoted group of volunteers, has tirelessly digitized and created metadata for thousands of photos that we can now search in our photographs database, his ability to connect with patrons and understand what they’re looking for can never be replicated.”


Thank you Tom, for all that you do! We are proud of you and are lucky to have you as part of the Special Collections team.

A Month in Special Collections: March

April 2, 2018
  • Please click below image to enlarge and access links.


Idustrailization in 19th Century Mexico

March 28, 2018

A few glimpses into the early manifestations of rail expansion in Mexico are scattered throughout the Sons of the Republic of Texas Mexican Manuscript Collection. As the digitization of this collection in its entirety moves forward, additional pieces to narratives such as this one are unearthed from their hiding places. These documents offer insight into the evolution and proliferation of Mexico’s rail system as the country began to industrialize in the nineteenth century. Although the first railroad was completed in the United States in 1827, Mexico’s industrialization was stunted by political unrest and weakened by its past as a Spanish territory. Mexico’s initial attempts at building a railroad began in the 1840’s, but less than 400 miles of track were in service over the next few decades.

This earliest example of railroad ephemera in the collection, folder 5321, contains a ticket and accompanying letter of invitation from 1857. Señor D. Francisco Iturbe y Sa— was requested to attend the inauguration of a new rail route. This addition would transport passengers from the capital of Mexico City to the municipality of Guadalupe Hidalgo (now a suburb within modern-day Mexico City). Guadalupe Hidalgo is famous as the site where the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed between the US and Mexico, granting much of Mexico’s northern territories to the US.


The illustration on Señor Iturbe’s ticket features an engraving of an idyllic rural scene.  A train bisects the composition amongst a backdrop of the mountainous central Mexican landscape. An upper class couple watches the train go by while a porter (human movers who were popular in Mexico pre-and during-industrialization – they transported all manner of material goods on their backs) is stooped forward under the burden of his cargo. The porter, perhaps a symbol of the “old,” is rapidly outpaced by the advancing train, a symbol of progress and industrialization.

txsau-srt-5321_00001 2

The ticket with its compelling engraving is accompanied by the letter of invitation below.  Señor Iturbe is invited to attend this ceremony at 12 noon on July 4, 1857. The letter iterates that this inauguration is a symbol of “Mexico’s progress.” The connection between railways and progress is reiterated in subsequent documents, and was also a popular narrative in the United States during its own era of rail expansion and subsequent transportation revolution.


Although railroad construction was fairly stagnate in Mexico during the first half of the nineteenth century, Emperor Maximilian did attempt to promote the expansion of the Mexican rail system while he was in power between 1864 and 1867. The document below, folder 461, features several official declarations on behalf of the Emperor that attempt to expand and improve upon the existing rail system.


Article one of the document declares the “Compañía Imperial Mexicana” will construct the railways (ferrocarriles) in several central Mexican states. This would have greatly expanded the existing rail network, which functioned primarily to connect the port city of Veracruz to the capital. Political upheaval (including Maximilian’s disgrace, fall from power, and eventual execution) prevented the initiatives outlined in this declaration from being realized.

After Maximilian fell from power and had been executed in 1867, Benito Juarez ruled Mexico as President. Juarez continued efforts to expand the rail system in an attempt to modernize the country and usher in an era of industrialization and trade.


Document 2788, from 1868, features Benito Juárez declaring adjustments to the national rail system.

Several thousand documents from the Sons of the Republic of Texas Collection are already available online, with several more added each month:


Matthews, Michael. The Civilizing Machine: A Cultural History of Mexican Railroads, 1876-1910. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013;2014.

SVREP Family & Friends Reception

March 22, 2018

My favorite part about being an archivist is not only processing the material, but the outreach opportunities I am able to attend. Fortunately, I have had the pleasure of participating in many great events over the past two years, with the most recent being significantly special. UTSA Special Collections hosted a “Family and Friends of SVREP” reception to thank the individuals who have been involved in the organization. We were lucky to have the family of  Willie Velasquez attend and were thrilled that Lydia Camarillo, the current Vice President of SVREP was able to share her experiences with the organization. Another special guest included Senator Jose Menendez, who was gracious enough to attend, support, and share the importance of preserving Latino political history and making sure our voices continue to be heard.


(Left to Right) Jennifer Longoria, Katie Rojas, Dean Hendrix, Amy Rushing, Senator Jose Mendendez, Leah Rios and Peggy Eighmy


As part of the evening, Amy Rushing, Katie Rojas and myself set up an exhibit that featured new material from the SVREP Collection. For me, the highlight of the night was the reactions of friends and family to certain documents that were on display. I enjoyed listening to their personal stories of participating in voter registrations drives, using obsolete technology, working with Wille, and the struggles they faced at the time. Being able to meet and talk with these individuals made me even more proud to have been a part of preserving an organization that made such a vital impact in society and continues to do today.



Photographs from a voter registration drive 

Experiences such as these not only contribute to the rich document history, but also demonstrate the importance of community engagement with archive collections. It is vital for all archives to take advantage of community events as much as possible in order to educate the public about archives and their significance. We want the community to understand the value of their personal history, what can be done to preserve it, and how it can be shared with others.  


Velasquez Family, Senator Jose Mendendez, and UTSA Staff


***This project is generously funded by the NHPRC**

Space Issues: How To House Odd-Shaped Archival Artifacts

March 12, 2018

This post was written by archives student assistant, Alesia Hoyle.

Archival collections can contain more than documents; sometimes they include artifacts. In archives, artifacts are usually human-made, three-dimensional objects that supplement traditional visual and textual materials, such as paper records or photographs. It is one obstacle to incorporate these artifacts into the collection’s boxes, but it is another ballgame when these artifacts are of an unconventional shape. So, what do you do when you are faced with a metal sculpture of a blue Roadrunner that must be archived?

Blue metal Roadrunner sculptureThe trick is to not panic! Archival boxes or envelopes are very rectilinear, so the first step is to assess the size of the situation. What dimensions are you working with? Consider the length, width, and height first, and then you can get creative with the infrastructure.

It is important to remember that oddly shaped objects, when housed in appropriately sized archival boxes, will most likely not fill the space within the box. This extra space around the objects has to be filled, so that the artifact does not fall over, get jostled, or get damaged, causing its integrity to become compromised. Infrastructure is the key to securing the wonkily shaped object, so put on your thinking caps as to how to combat this spatial problem.

UTSA megaphone and blue Roadrunner sculpture

I came across two unruly artifacts that posed this problem when I was inventorying the Barbara J. Harp Papers in the University Archives. Barbara Harp was a longtime employee of the university who expressed her campus spirit through her participation in school events and her collection of UTSA artifacts. One object whose shape proved difficult was an orange UTSA megaphone, and the other was a big, blue, Roadrunner metal sculpture. I found the appropriate boxes, but the leftover space was too great to ensure the safety of the artifacts.

To thwart this problem, I created bumpers. I took an archival document folder and cut it into several strips. Next, I rolled the cut pieces and taped down the edges when I thought they were large enough to occupy the empty space. I then attached the rolls to each other in a circular fashion around the megaphone. The extra space was filled and the object was secured in the center of the box. I repeated this process for the metal Roadrunner sculpture, but there was an added twist. The top of the sculpture hit the lid of the box, causing it to be off balance. I made a set of four bumpers, slightly taller than the head of the object, so that the box lid would sit flat. Placing these bumpers towards the back and front ends of the object allowed both the object and the box lid to be stable.

This collection had other artifacts, whose space also needed consideration. A smaller wire Roadrunner sculpture was housed in a triangular, archival paper infrastructure inside a tiny archival box. A pair of sunglasses was wrapped in archival paper and placed in a bubble-paper padded archival envelope.

Artifacts from Barbara J. Harp Papers

Archival collections are an adventure, especially when they include artifacts whose dimensions do not mesh well with the typical archival boxes. Space becomes an issue when the housed object has the ability to move around within the box. To prevent damage to the artifact, the archivist has to exercise some creative thinking. For me, cutting up an archival folder, rolling it, and attaching that piece to other rolled pieces solved this particular spatial problem. What will you do when get your blue, metal Roadrunner sculpture?

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