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Behind the Scenes at UTSA Special Collections

November 19, 2018

November has been a very busy month in Special Collections. I thought our readers might enjoy a peek behind the scenes. During busy times, our vault at the JPL is filled with boxes staged for patron visits. Dozens of access requests are labeled with visit information and we play Tetris with manuscript boxes as we prepare for each day’s patrons. But how do all those boxes make it the JPL?

Our manuscript collections are housed off-site at a building across campus. Unfortunately, we can’t  beam the boxes over or move them through a pneumatic tube under the library–staff head to the off-site facility, pull the boxes (a task that involves multiple trips up and down a tall ladder), log them out, and load them up.

Boxes are then transported with a rugged transport cart. A fully loaded cart weighs around 400 pounds. Pushing the cart from point A to point B provides staff with a rigorous upper body workout! Upon arrival, each 40 pound record carton is hoisted onto a shelf or cart and prepped for the patron’s visit.

So what’s in all these boxes? Popular materials this month include Activism/Activist collections, the Tom Slick Papers, Leo Garza political cartoons, UTSA history collections (the university’s 50th is coming up in 2019), and a crowd favorite, the Mexican Cookbook collection.

Anyone can access UTSA Special Collections materials. Browse our online guides, decide what you would like to see, and submit a visit request form. Our super friendly staff will make sure your boxes make it to the reading room within a few days and will send an email confirming your visit day and time. Transport turnaround is a little longer when it is raining–water and archives are not a good combination! Check out our hours and locations page for more visit information.

A Month in Special Collections: October

November 12, 2018
  • Please click on the image below to enlarge and access links


Fasteners: Friend or Foe?

November 5, 2018

Fastener: a [hardware] device that mechanically joins or affixes two or more objects together. In general, fasteners are used to create non-permanent joints.

Throughout the protracted journey of digitizing the Sons of the Republic of Texas Mexican Manuscript Collection, I have come across a plethora of fasteners affixed to this collection’s documents. Some of these objects have been a part of the documents since their creation. Other fasteners appear to have been periodically by one of the many sets of hands that have had a part in compiling, purchasing, processing, and handling the manuscript collection.

fastener flat lay

An assortment of typical, and not-so-typical fasteners I’ve removed from the collection.

Although applying a fastener can serve a useful function: keeping unique pages together as part of a larger object (where loose pieces of paper could be misplaced and provenance lost). Fasteners can also present a two-pronged threat. The first danger is potential physical damage such as puncturing, tearing, or creasing. Chemical damage such as staining from rust also poses a threat. Common finds include twine, straight pins, paper clips, and staples.

Of course I don’t remove every extant staple from the thousands of documents in the collection. But I do remove any fastener that has already begun to rust, shows the early signs of degradation, or is damaging the fragile paper in some way.

twine btw pages

Sometimes, twine was tied around sub-sections of documents. The issue here is that the documents could not be opened for scanning, or for a patron’s research, being so tightly bound by knotted twine. In these types of cases, I removed the flexible fasteners to both facilitate access and prevent damage.

twine zoom 2

A humorous, and not uncommon, occurrence would be when the stain of a rusted paperclip is visible on a document, adjacent to a fresh metal staple now binding its pages together. One threat of chemical damage was replaced by physical damage-unnecessary punctures.

staple paper clip zoom

Over 5,000 documents from the SRT Mexican Manuscript Collection spanning several centuries of Mexican history are available online.

Visions of Alternate Futures

October 29, 2018

You might have heard that UTSA is in the midst of developing the next iteration of the Campus Master Plan. The most recent plan was completed in 2014, and the introduction to that version outlines the reason the University periodically conducts this exercise:

The purpose of this master plan is to provide direction for the future physical development of UTSA so that the university can best serve all its students, faculty and community stakeholders. UTSA’s future direction must not only reflect the values, aspirations and traditions of the university community, it must also reflect the expectations and needs of the surrounding community and region.

This master plan serves as a common vision and a blueprint for progress, providing direction and a sense of place for our academic community.

Looking ahead, a master plan can offer a sense of optimism by suggesting that all future campus development would be thoughtfully conceived. New buildings would be in harmony with the existing buildings, the landsite, and the surrounding community, and would serve the needs of a variety of constituent populations. By undertaking this planning project, the hope is that the University would avoid making lasting decisions willy-nilly, resulting in a campus that is a hodgepodge of shortsighted ideas in the form of buildings.

Looking back, studying master plans from UTSA’s past offers views of what our predecessors valued and what they believed the future would hold. It is fascinating to read these past plans to see which ideas did or did not come to fruition. It feels like catching glimpses of alternate realities. One of my favorite documents to show visitors to the archives is the 1993 Comprehensive Planning Guide: A Vision For the Future, which features a dramatic bridge to a proposed “East Academic Campus” that was never built.

1993 Comprehensive Planning Guide: A Vision For the Future cover page1993 Comprehensive Planning Guide: A Vision For the Future land use plan map

1993 Comprehensive Planning Guide: A Vision For the Future back cover page

UTSA: General Information and University History Collection, UA 1.01

In a recent conversation, my Special Collections colleague, Milton Babbitt, reminded me of the existence of the first Comprehensive Planning Guide, which was prepared in 1971 by Ford, Powell & Carson, Architects and Bartlett Cocke & Associates., Inc., the campus architecture firms. Mr. Babbitt worked for Ford, Powell & Carson and was responsible for site development of the UTSA campus.

1971 Comprehensive Planning Guide cover page1971 Comprehensive Planning Guide academic buildings1971 Comprehensive Planning Guide paseo rendering

1971 Comprehensive Planning Guide plaza rendering

UTSA: General Information and University History Collection, UA 1.01

The second image is especially compelling, since it shows what campus would look like if the later academic buildings were designed to match the first four core buildings, radiating outward.

Standing here in 2018, on the cusp of our 50th anniversary year (2019), I can only wonder what campus will look like in 2030, 2044, and especially in 2069, which will be the 100th anniversary of the University.

Family Portraits for Family History Month

October 22, 2018

During Family History Month various organizations encourage individuals to learn about their family history by collecting documents, stories, memorabilia, and photographs that detail the life and times of their ancestors.  We pay tribute to these efforts by showing some of our group portraits of Texas families.

Most family photograph collections dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries contain individual portraits taken by studio photographers.  Wedding portraits are also common.  Less often seen are group portraits of the entire family.  The earliest of these were taken in photography studios with the family posed in their best clothing in front of a backdrop that was usually unrelated to their normal habitat.  More interesting are those taken by itinerants who often photographed the family outside their house.  Later, after the introduction of amateur photography the entire clan might be pictured at a family gathering.  The different forms of group portraits invite close study since they provide insights into family lifestyle and relationships.

These images, all from our General Photograph Collection, were copied from prints held in family collections.

Charles Daniels, Black Seminole scout at Fort Clark, with his wife, Mary, and their daughter, Tina, in front of an itinerant photographer’s backdrop, circa 1908. (068-1013, Courtesy Jerry Daniels)




















Charles Persyn, Bexar County farmer, holds his hat as he poses with his wife, Mary, and their children in a photographer’s studio in front of a backdrop depicting the interior of an upscale residence, circa 1905 (068-3192, courtesy of Mrs. Leo Persyn)


Otto Haegelin and his sons sit on dining room chairs behind potted plants as his wife, Catherine Haegelin, and their daughters stand behind them on the front porch of their stone farm house near Castroville, circa 1905. (094-0084, courtesy Alice Ray Boehme)


C. Hilmar and Dorothea Guenther and extended family gather outside their parlor on Guenther Street, San Antonio, 1893. (071-0525, courtesy of Amanda Ochse)


Rihei and Hisa Onishi and their children are positioned in a way that makes them subordinate to their farmhouse in Mackey, Wharton County, 1908. (086-0268, courtesy of May, Julia, and Nina Onishi)


John and Frances Dugosh and family at their molasses mill in Bandera, circa 1910. (068-1210, courtesy C.M. Dugosh)


Members of the Cayetano Huran family showcase their animals on farm near Mission Espada, San Antonio, circa 1910. (103-106, courtesy Louis Jimenez)


Paul Helmcamp and his family are captured by a street photographer at a Fourth of July parade in Buckholts, Milam County, circa 1914. (087-0287, courtesy Magdalene Stillwell)


The Aguilar family is entertained by a phonograph at a family reunion in Aguilares, Webb County, 1902. (087-0208, Sylvia Aguilar-Jimenez)


The Miller family reunion near West Point, Fayette County, is recorded by an amateur photographer in 1934. (103-0163)

Alamo Plaza’s Westside Historic Buildings

October 12, 2018

One of the debated components of the Alamo Redevelopment Plan involves the three buildings located across the plaza from the Alamo. The three buildings under assessment are the Crockett Block, designed by architect Alfred Giles in 1881, the 1923 Palace Theater, and the Woolworth Building, built in 1921.  Proposals for these historic buildings include demolishing or repurposing them for an Alamo Museum.  Here are some historical images of the buildings from the San Antonio Light, Zintgraff, and General Photograph collections.


Alamo Plaza, ca. 1910 (General Photograph Collection, 083-0484)

Battle of Flowers parade, 1926 (San Antonio Light, L-0324-G)

Woolworth Building, 1920-1930 (General Photograph Collection, 069-8439)

Army Day, 1935 (San Antonio Light, L-0539)

Crockett Block, early 1940’s (General Photograph Collection, 083-0480)

Alamo Plaza, 1944 (San Antonio Light Collection, L-3096-G)

Palace Theater, 1937 (Zintgraff, Z-1216-I-1)

Alamo Plaza, ca 1976 (General Photograph Collection, 107-1714)

Crockett Block, 1985 (General Photograph Collection, 107-1861)


Volunteer Spotlight: Milton Babbitt

October 7, 2018

Today we’d like to introduce Special Collections volunteer Milton Babbitt. Milton is an architect with 55 years of experience and with his unique skillset, he is helping us improve access to one of our largest architectural collections, the Killis Almond and Associates Records. Look around San Antonio and you’ll see many buildings designed or renovated by Milton: UTSA’s Sombrilla, Arneson River Theatre, and the Empire and Majestic Theatres, to name a few. He was also the project manager for the construction of San Antonio Public Library’s Central Library.


Milton Babbitt in 1974. Gil Barrera Photograph Collection. MS 27

Milton graduated from the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture in 1963. In 1965 he began working for architectural firm Ford, Powell & Carson, where he helped design the Tower of the Americas under lead architect O’Neil Ford. In 1970, Ford, Powell & Carson was hired to create UTSA’s campus master plan. Milton played a major role in the project and his contributions can be seen everywhere. He wrote the Master Plan Summary that outlined the basic long-term configuration of the campus. During Phase One construction, Milton was responsible for the site development. In this role he designed UTSA’s most iconic features: the Sombrilla, the suspended shade screens over the paseos, and the areas surrounding the Sombrilla.



The UTSA Bulletin, January 1974. (Milton top left)

Milton worked for Ford, Powell & Carson until 1985, owned his own firm from 1985-1990, and was principal architect at 3D/International from 1990 until his retirement in 2010.

When Milton began volunteering in July 2017, we had no idea he’d had such a prominent role in the design of UTSA’s original campus. Milton’s first project was to help us sort through a significant number of architectural plans that had been transferred to us from UTSA’s Facilities department. The plans were of UTSA’s first buildings and structures. Not knowing anything about architectural plans, particularly which copies to keep for long-term preservation, we determined this would be a perfect project for him.

Milton Sombrilla drawing

Milton discovers his original drawing of the Sombrilla in the University Archives


For the past year, Milton has been working on a project to help us sort, weed, flatten, organize, catalog, and digitize a large collection of architectural plans from the Killis Almond & Associates Records. Milton’s expertise, patience, dedication, and attention to detail are remarkable. He is methodical and organized and has truly exceeded our expectations. Next, Milton will be uploading the digitized plans to our online digital repository and he’s indicated that he’d like to volunteer as long as we’ll have him!





Volunteers are priceless. They are essential to helping us achieve our goals and without them we wouldn’t be able to accomplish nearly as much. So thank you, Milton, and all of our volunteers. You truly make a difference.





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