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A Sky-lit Patio

August 22, 2016

This month we continue “Names and Places of UTSA,” a blog series on university history, with a post by archives student assistant, Kira Sandoval.

Color photo of the Sombrilla, 1995

View of the Sombrilla on a sunny day, 1995, UA 16.01.01, Office of University Communications Photographs.

As a student at UTSA, when I am asked for directions, I generally give them in relation to where the Sombrilla is located. It is the most recognizable architectural element at UTSA and at the heart of campus. Its aesthetic design makes a large impact while also providing shelter and a place of gathering for the UTSA community.

As the university belongs to the rich Mexican-American Spanish culture of San Antonio, many know that the word “sombrilla” means sunshade, which comes from the Spanish word “sombra” meaning shade. The Spanish word ultimately derives from the Latin word “umbra” meaning shadow, shade or ghost. Depending on which Spanish speaking country or dialect one is using, “sombrilla” could mean umbrella, parasol, or sunshade, and here at UTSA the structure functions as all of the above. It protects students from the elements of the Texas Hill Country—rain, sun, occasionally a rogue hailstorm—while still allowing a breeze to flow under the canopy to refresh its inhabitants.

Portrait of O'Neil Ford, 1974

Portrait of O’Neil Ford, 1974, MS 27, Gil Barrera Photographs of UTSA.

O’Neil Ford and his architectural firm, Ford, Powell & Carson, designed the UTSA campus, including the Sombrilla. Ford was a significant Texas architect who influenced Southwest architecture during his lifetime. He is known for designing the UTSA campus, the Tower of the Americas, Trinity University and for the restoration of San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio. Ford designed the campus to be centered around a plaza, like many old European cities. Paseos radiate out from the plaza in four directions, indicating through the architectural plan that it is the center of campus and socialization. The original design of the heart of the plaza was for a “sky-lit patio”, which we see now as the incarnation of the Sombrilla.

Large columns of light beige Texas concrete are used to hold up the structure, mimicking the native building material used to create the Hill Country aesthetic of the campus buildings. The covering is made of translucent acrylic to let light in and create an illusion of an open-aired ceiling like that of a pergola. Strips of wood of varying colors are evenly spaced in panels creating geometric zig-zags and patterns overhead. The combination of the designed pattern of the wood with the acrylic gives the Sombrilla an airy illusion of a floating shelter.

Fountain Under the Sombrilla

Fountain Under the Sombrilla. Photo by Kira Sandoval.

The 8-ft tall fountain under the Sombrilla—also designed by Ford, Powell & Carson—was planned for in 1975, but, lacking proper funds, the space for the fountain was excavated from the plaza and used as a planter until construction could begin. The fountain was completed in 1978 and was recently revamped in 2014 with ecological concerns in mind. Thanks to its redesign, the fountain now sustainably runs on solely reclaimed water from the air conditioning systems in nearby campus buildings in order to ease any strain on water supply. The breeze let in by the Sombrilla combined with the sounds of falling water from the environmentally-friendly fountain create an oasis from the Texas heat in the center of campus.

O’Neil Ford’s design for the Sombrilla has endured decades and serves as a communal area for students and staff. It is one of the most popular spots on campus to enjoy your lunch alone or with friends, the location of the first end of semester celebration, of dancing and performances, many a Best Fest and Fiesta celebration, ceremonial events, talks, and much more. It has even lent its name to a university publication. Its native sourced materials, combined with European ideas of city planning which put it at the heart of campus and events, give it a timeless appeal for resting, visiting and lingering.

Fiesta UTSA (OOTSA) under the Sombrilla, April 16, 1982

Fiesta UTSA (OOTSA) under the Sombrilla, April 16, 1982, UA 16.01.01, Office of University Communications Photographs.


UTSA Bulletin, 1974-1975

The Roadrunner, 1976-1978

Sombrilla, 2014

The Significance of Numbers, 43: Cuarenta y Tres.

August 15, 2016

This post was written by our rare books cataloger, Stephen Dingler.

The Significance of Numbers

by Stephen Dingler


Many people have emotional or superstitious attachments to numbers; for example, thirteen is widely viewed as an unlucky number, whereas many think of seven as a lucky number. The number 43 has had particular significance for many people in Mexico for almost two years now. In late September 2014 a group of student teachers commandeered several buses in the town of Iguala, Guerrero State, so that they could attend a rally in Mexico City scheduled to take place on the 26th. Forty-three of the male students disappeared. It was widely reported locally and internationally that the mayor of Iguala and his wife, angry that a planned local event had been disrupted by the students, ordered police to round them up and hand them over to a drug gang. The gang mistook the students for members of a rival gang, killed them, and burned their bodies at a garbage dump. The incident shocked the country, but many people questioned the government’s explanation has to how and why the students went missing.

This event is the subject of a recent UTSA Libraries’ Special Collections acquisition, the artist’s book, 43 : cuarenta y tres, by Lorena Velázquez. The use of the number 43 is not restricted to the title in Ms. Velázquez’s work. Forty-three numbered copies of the book were made; the book, constructed in concertina (accordion) style, has 43 unnumbered pages; the numbers from one to 43 are printed across several pages; on one page the number 43 is produced in braille. There is little text but the book artist’s use of photographs showing demonstrations and rallies, as well as portrait photographs of the 43 missing, convey a sense of outrage and a demand for justice. The book’s pages are colored black, with most splashed or streaked with red paint, which further conveys a sense of horror and tragedy at what happened. On one page, the names of the 43 students are printed. One of the names is highlighted because the remains of this one student have been found, with near certainty.



Under pressure from the families of the missing students, the Mexican government invited a panel of foreign experts, commissioned by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, to undertake an independent investigation. The experts released a 608-page report on April 24th, 2016. They found no evidence that the students had been burned at a garbage dump, as the government had said. There were also many other details of the official version of events that the foreign investigators could not substantiate. The panel of experts has not been invited to continue its investigation. Almost two years after the event took place, the public still does not know what really happened. This is no comfort to the families and friends of the 43 student teachers who went missing.

Lorena Velázquez’s 43 is one of a growing collection of artists’ books held by our Special Collections. What exactly is an artist’s book? It is “a medium of artistic expression that uses the form or function of ‘book’ as inspiration…What truly makes an artist’s book is the artist’s intent”[1]. For Lorena Velázquez, the disappearance of 43 student teachers and the ensuing public reaction served as inspiration for her work. For Malini Gupta, using the medium of an artist’s book was a way for her to make public for the first time something very personal, in her work, The fortune teller. In addition to acquiring artists’ books such as these of national and regional interest, Special Collections has also been making an effort to acquire artists’ books and broadsides produced collaboratively by local authors and the Southwest School of Art here in San Antonio.

As mentioned earlier, 43 numbered copies of Lorena Velázquez’s artist’s book were published. So, what number is our Special Collections’ copy? … Thirteen.



“Murder in Mexico : the great mystery.” The Economist 419, no. 8987 (2016): 32-33.


[1] Anne Evenhaugen, “What is an Artist’s Book?” Unbound (blog), Smithsonian Institution, June 01, 2012,

Take Me to the River: How the SARA Records Offer Insight into the Growth and Development of San Antonio

August 8, 2016

This post was written by our San Antonio River Authority Records summer intern, Abra Schnur.

Before an archivist can begin to process a collection they must do a bit of background research on the subject.  For us, the San Antonio River Authority (SARA) interns, that meant reviewing the existing finding aid of the collection, combing through SARA’s website, reading various articles on the agency, handling and reading many of the items we were about to process.

For me, Abra, it was also like taking a trip down memory lane. I grew up here in San Antonio, and the San Antonio River sets the scenery for many of the memories of my life before I moved away in 2008. That date is important because when I later visited what is now called the Museum Reach in 2013, I realized that San Antonio was changing, drastically.  

But it wasn’t until this summer and this internship that I realized just how much a river, and how one manages bodies of water, can influence a city, communities, and daily life. That I just now understand this as a 33 year old wasn’t lost on me. Though I think any environment that one is brought up in can simply become a backdrop to your routine, and isn’t noticed until it affects you directly. That’s on an individual level, but the River really has always influenced this land and the communities around it.

Before the river was a tourist attraction, it was one of the most basic resources for the indigenous people of the region. When the Spaniards arrived, they made the original inhabitants build acequias around the Missions (which they were also forced to erect). The area eventually became a city with buildings popping up along the River, making it a landmark for commerce. However, flooding had always been an issue and after the flood of 1946, SARA, then known as the San Antonio River Canal and Conservancy District, shifted its focus from canal building to flood control.

Flood control is one thing, which the authority has thankfully done plenty of with its San Antonio Channel Improvements Project (SACIP). However,  it’s pretty fascinating when you locate a possible founding document pushing SARA towards the “beautification” of the River.

In this 1962 document from City Manager, Jack Shelly, addressed to SARA manager H.V. Braunig, SARA is clearly getting the nudge from the city and “numerous civic groups” that a “combination of permanent beautification and flood control for downtown San Antonio could be achieved through a coordinated effort among the River Authority, the Army Engineers, and the City.”

In this 1962 document from City Manager, Jack Shelly, addressed to SARA manager H.V. Braunig, SARA is clearly getting the nudge from the city and “numerous civic groups” that a “combination of permanent beautification and flood control for downtown San Antonio could be achieved through a coordinated effort among the River Authority, the Army Engineers, and the City.”

The first of these downtown “betterments,” as they were known in SACIP, occurred in Unit 8, which focused on the River from the South Alamo Bridge to the Riverwalk. Constructions like walkways, landscape design, and the rechannelization of the river with a preservation mindset in the King William district were a focus in the 1960s. Further beautification efforts in the 1980s extended from King William with the likes of the Johnson St. Pedestrian Bridge up to the Riverwalk by replacing the existing walls between Commerce and Houston Streets with a U-shaped channel frame and landscaping and maintaining the original stone retaining walls of the 1920s and an access ramp other amenities behind what once was the Municipal Auditorium (now known as The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts).

The River land by the Missions area had the advantage of being part of the newly registered National Historic Park in the 1970s, but from South Alamo Street to Mission Concepcion (south of downtown), and North of Lexington Ave. to Hildebrand Ave. (north of downtown), the River did not receive treatment in the way of beautification. SACIP was winding down with its initial constructions by the end of the 20th century and SARA began to expand its efforts. But, the 13-mile stretch from Hildebrand to Mission Espada tempted The Authority, The City, and local interests with revitalization. This interest saw the creation of the San Antonio River Improvements Project (SARIP).

SARA_SARIP timeline 2004

This SARIP timeline from 2004 gives the projection of when various segments should be completed.

The River Oversight Committee for was formed in 1998 to ensure public participation and representation for the development of the River under SARIP. The 22-member committee also helped with the planning and implementation. The downtown section, which extends from Houston St. to Lexington Ave., was completed in 2002 and included the restoration of some of the original Riverwalk. The Eagleland segment to the south is the area between the S. Alamo Street Bridge and Lone Star Boulevard and features paddling trails and an eco-restoration focus. The Mission Reach extends from there to Mission Espada and was completed in 2013.  It also has an ongoing eco-restoration focus. The Museum Reach has possibly garnered the most attention, extends northward from Lexington Ave. to Hildebrand Ave. with its urban segment being completed in 2009 and its park segment is just now nearing completion.  

Let’s take a look of some photos of what is now known as Museum Reach.

SARA_SAR at Lexington_1968SARA_SAR upstream from Lexington_1987

This shows the SAR at Lexington Ave, where the El Tropicano Hotel sits (you can see it on the left side of these photos)  In 1968 and 1987 there was no hardscape to the area.  Now you can walk down from the hotel and take the barge north to the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA), or to the downtown portion of the Riverwalk, as my husband and I did for brunch the day after our wedding in 2013.

SARA_SAR at McCullough Bridge_1968

SARA_SAR at McCullough_1987

Here is the McCullough Ave. Bridge in 1968 and 1987.  My family and I would park in the parking lot northwest of the bridge every year for the Battle of Flowers Parade in the 1990s.  No hardscape or trails at the time.  Is this area now part of your jogging route?

SARA_SAR at Jones_1988SARA_SAR at VFW_1988

These two photos show the River behind the VFW Post off Avenue B, and an adjacent view to the SAMA in 1988. I spent many nights at this intersection of Jones and Avenue B attending shows at a now demolished music venue (The Lounge, Reverb, and Rock Bottom were a few of its reincarnations). Imagine this being your view if you were enjoying a beer at the Post or dinner at the Luxury.

There are many reasons one could argue that the Museum Reach is possibly showcased a little more than the other areas. But as the River did in the south with the Missions, and as it did in the center with commerce and tourism, the northern part of the River is now attracting people and bringing in economic development.  Of course this doesn’t just happen on its own; people do the orchestration, but being the inherent, vital resource that water is, it is only natural for this ebb and flow to occur.

According to the River Oversight Committee, in the first five years of being operational, the urban segment of Mission Reach brought in over $250 million of private investment, or rather, new economic development along the River, (River Oversight Committee Fact Sheet, 2014).

SARA_Rio Perla letter 2005

Another document we came across was this one addressed to SARA from Rio Perla Properties L.P., the group behind the repurposed Pearl Brewery.  It is an example of the interconnectivity between natural resources, money, and development as it shows how, in their opinion, the revitalization of the surrounding neighborhoods is dependent on the beautification of the River.  Nowadays you can see the ripple effects that the beautification of the River has had on the surrounding area.

These are just some of the few documents that represent turning the idea of a multi-use, reimagined river into a reality.  In the collection there are countless more construction progress photos and correspondence about not only SARIP but all major SARA projects spanning from the early 1950’s to the 2000’s.  

That’s one of the great things about archives; it’s the ability to look at something that seems naturally occurring over time and to understand the steps and decisions that were made along the way to shape your environment. This example also shows that even though a collection may pertain to something very specific, such as the San Antonio River Authority, it can be used for various research endeavors, such as urban growth and economic development; environmental quality and water and soil conservation; San Antonio and Texas history; construction and engineering; to name a few.   

Working with this collection has given us an appreciation for the archival challenges that are posed by large living collections such as this one – what is the best way to process the accessions, and how should it be represented in the finding aid?  These are the questions that challenged us throughout the internship. Based on our research, time allotment, and organizational structure of the accessions, we feel confident that the physical and intellectual arrangement will be beneficial to the user and to the UTSA Special Collections department for future accessions.

Since these accessions are now processed, we invite you to make an appointment at the UTSA Special Collections reading room at the Institute of Texan Cultures for your own trip down memory lane and see how the River has changed over time.    

Content for this blog post comes from and Boxes 85, 121, 137, 141, 196, and 205 of The San Antonio River Authority Records, MS 331, The University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections.


A Month in Special Collections: July

August 1, 2016
  • Click to enlarge image and access links

July Monthly Review

Special Collections Seeking Student Clerk for the Fall Semester

July 26, 2016

UTSA Libraries Special Collections is seeking a student clerk for the fall semester. 

Interested students may apply by submitting a resume and cover letter indicating which position they wish to be considered for to


Job Title: Student Clerk (reporting to the Manuscripts Archivist)

UTSA Main Campus Library 11-25-15

Location: Main Campus and Hemisfair Campus/ITC (downtown San Antonio)

Start Date:  August 15, 2016

Student employees must be enrolled on a half-time or greater basis during the semester of employment.

Duties and Responsibilities: With training from the Manuscripts Archivist, carry out basic tasks in the Special Collections department. Activities may include re-housing and creating inventories of collections, photocopying and scanning, creating and entering metadata for digital collections, assisting with exhibit preparations, and other duties as determined.

Qualifications: Graduate student preferred. May consider undergraduates with demonstrated relevant experience. Strong attention to detail and willingness to perform repetitive tasks. Ability to work under minimal supervision. Some lifting of boxes required. Willingness and ability to work in conditions with occasional exposure to dust and mold. Familiarity with scanners, image editing software, and Microsoft Excel a plus. Ability to handwrite neatly is required.

Work will primarily be performed at Main Campus, but availability to work occasional hours at Hemisfair Campus/ITC (801 E. César E. Chávez Blvd.) in downtown San Antonio is desirable.

Work Schedule: Flexible during office hours, Monday-Friday

Hours per Week: 15

Wage: $10/hr

How to Apply: Submit resume and cover letter or any questions regarding the position to Special Collections at


San Antonio to Corpus Christi Boat Race

July 14, 2016

Last month’s Texas Water Safari, the annual race down waterways from San Marcos to Seadrift, calls to mind an earlier boat race that took place in 1926. The San Antonio to Corpus Christi race was organized both for fun and to celebrate the opening of the deep water port in Corpus Christi.

The race course was based on a 1924 two-boat competition, involving San Antonio businessman Porter Loring, Sr. and Fred Christilles of Medina Lake. Christilles, winner of the 1924 event, issued a challenge for another race that would include a larger number of entries. The race was planned so that the boats would arrive in Corpus Christi shortly before the official opening of the port on September 15, 1926.

The San Antonio Light newspaper immediately decided to support the event and commissioned a trophy for the winner of what the editors called “The Light Cup Race.” The paper published numerous articles before and during the race. These articles describe the numerous challenges faced by the participants, including encounters with log jams, sandbars, submerged debris, and rough water in the bays.   The Christilles entry, the “Play Boy,” was the first to arrive in Corpus Christi, completing the trip in 5 days, 11 hours, and 42 minutes. With torn shirts and blistered bodies, the men limped from the boat after receiving keys to the city and a large bouquet of roses from welcoming officials. Nearby in the bay, the crew of the City Public Service “Live Wire” were discovered unconscious, due to “hunger, privation, and exposure.”  They were disqualified after a tug towed them to shore. The Dean brothers in “Canvasback” arrived next. A few days later, they were declared the winner after the “Play Boy” crew were disqualified because a pilot boat had accompanied them into the harbor.

These are photographs taken before and at the beginning of the race by Light staff photographer Jack Specht.

Shortly after the beginning of the race, the eight boats head downstream from the Houston Street Bridge on the morning of September 6, 1926. In the lead are the Dean Brothers in “Canvasback,” a skiff with wooden sides and a canvas bottom. Texas Theater under construction at upper right. (MS 359: L-0676-E).

The eight boats head downstream from the Houston Street Bridge, the starting point, on the morning of September 6, 1926. In the lead are the Dean brothers in “Canvasback,” a skiff with wooden sides and a canvas bottom. Texas Theater under construction in background at upper right. (MS 359: L-0676-E).

 (L. to r.) Bill Busching, skipper, Bob Edgar, and Ray Samuels, pose with their 300 pound skiff "King Fisher," outside San Antonio Planing Mill, September 1926. (MS 359: L-0676-F)

(L. to r.) Bill Busching, skipper, Bob Edgar, and Ray Samuels, pose with their 300 pound skiff “King Fisher,” outside San Antonio Planing Mill, September 1926. (MS 359: L-0676-F)

Tom Dean, Jr., first mate of the “Potchernick-Dean,” shows one of the wheels he'll have in the skiff for use in shallow water. (MS 359: L-0686-E)

Tom Dean, Jr., first mate of the “Potchernick-Dean,” shows one of the wheels he’ll have in the skiff for use in shallow water. (MS 359: L-0686-E)

Skipper Will Levin (right) and his chief engineer, Leroy Lanning, practice on Woodlawn Lake in Levin’s 18 foot craft, “The Eagle,” with a semi-V bottom reinforced with sheet metal, August 1926. (MS 359: L-0676-E)

Skipper Will Levin (right) and his chief engineer, Leroy Lanning, practice on Woodlawn Lake in Levin’s 18 foot craft, “The Eagle,” with a semi-V bottom reinforced with sheet metal, August 1926. (MS 359: L-0676-E)

Fred Christilles (left), skipper, and his son-in-law Jimmy Hanway, first mate, pose in the “Play Boy” shortly after it was launched into the San Antonio River a few days before the race. (MS 359: L-0804-A)

Fred Christilles (left), skipper, and his son-in-law Jimmy Hanway, first mate, pose in the “Play Boy” shortly after it was launched into the San Antonio River a few days before the race. (MS 359: L-0351-C)

Large crowd watches the beginning of the race from the banks of the San Antonio River, September 6, 1926. (MS 359: Detail of L-0804-B)

Large crowd watches the beginning of the race from the banks of the San Antonio River, September 6, 1926. (MS 359: Detail of L-0804-B)

Roscoe K. Blaine (left) and Riley Harris in the San Antonio Public Service Company entry, the “Live Wire,” travel through a downtown stretch of the river shortly after beginning of the race. (MS 359: L-0804-A)

Roscoe K. Blaine (left) and Riley Harris in the San Antonio Public Service Company entry, the “Live Wire,” travel through a downtown stretch of the river. (MS 359: L-0804-A)

Dean Brothers (left to right) Elbert, Harry, and Sam, winners of the race. (MS 359: L-0686-D)

Dean brothers (left to right) Elbert, Harry, and Sam, winners of the race. (MS 359: L-0686-D)


Dipping Our Toes In: Processing the San Antonio River Authority Records

July 11, 2016

This post was written by our San Antonio River Authority Records Processing Interns, Gina Watts and Abra Schnur.

When people outside of library and archives work ask about the San Antonio River Authority Records (SARA) project, I’ve told them that it’s a little bit like we were handed 140 disorganized boxes and told to run with it. To some, this may sound like a nightmare, but to an archivist, this situation could probably be described as both business as usual and incredibly satisfying work. Now that we are a few weeks in, we’d like to take some time to delve into the decision making work of arranging a large living collection and ultimately the effect these decisions will have on the usability of all of this great information.

If you’re a Top Shelf regular, you may have seen this post, detailing the beginning of another large project, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project/Willie C. Velasquez Records (SVREP). Every acquisition is different, and in our case, we were spared the storage unit filled to the brim with falling-apart boxes and loose sheets of paper. Because our boxes came to us in a more organized way, complete with inventory and labels, our work is necessarily different than that of the staff working on SVREP. Despite starting out in decent shape, though, each box still has a way to go before being archivally sound. For one thing, records are not housed in acid-free folders and boxes, but there are also frequent discrepancies between the inventory and folder labels and the records that are actually inside. Correcting these issues is crucial to making the collection overall more usable to the community.

blog- processed and uprocessed

Before and after processing

blog- inventory notes

Even with an inventory to work from, there are adjustments to make. This shows the discussion of rehousing material, indexing items, and files missing from the designated box.

For us, the difficult work was sorting out the projects that SARA has completed under the direction of the San Antonio Channel Improvements Project (SACIP). SACIP was authorized by the US Congress in 1954 and created a partnership with the US Army Corps of Engineers (COE) to provide funding for better flood control for the San Antonio region. Projects associated with SACIP have been going on ever since, with the COE providing funding for construction and SARA and the city at large providing upkeep for the structures. For their part, SARA acts as the local sponsor for flood control in Bexar and surrounding counties, voicing local concerns and interests, and provides required land and easements, relocates utilities, and builds bridges and other betterments to the beautification to the city. This partnership has resulted in the majority of the recognizable parts of the San Antonio river system, including Olmos Dam, work on San Pedro Creek, and improvements to the Riverwalk.

With all of this work comes a small mountain, or 140 linear feet, of correspondence, blueprints, maps, photographs, and contracts, much of which is associated with a particular project (or occasionally, a particular phase of a particular project in a particular unit – you get the idea). Getting the arrangement right means knowing the organization inside and out.  Even with extensive research, we still make decisions about where a certain project belongs and then have to rethink our decisions the next day. But by keeping meticulous notes about file locations, we can revisit that decision easily and make adjustments. Through all this, we like to think we have found a way to meld the majority of SARA’s existing filing structure with archival descriptive standards, something that we feel is important for a living collection such as this one.  By doing so, we will make sure every file can be found by SARA employees and local researchers alike and open up fascinating windows into history through items like these:

blog- olmos 1926 cropped

Olmos Dam progress photo taken prior to SARA’s existence, 1926

This photo was potentially used by SARA during its own Olmos Dam modification projects. This historical photo offers insight to early 20th century developments and flood control practices in San Antonio.

blog- king william 1967 cropped

Protected 100-year-old tree in King William, 1967

Can you find the SARA employee for scale? This photo was an attachment to a letter to the COE recommending that the widening of the river take place to the west so that established trees and residences would be left intact.

blog- san juan dam 1988 cropped

Old San Juan Dam view, 1988

The rectification of the San Juan Dam and the Asylum and No Name Creeks restored the flow of water down the acequia and repaired the acequia where it crossed the creeks. Restoration of the flow of water in the acequia satisfies the oldest water right in the State of Texas with a date of December 31, 1731. (via

Stay tuned for a progress update on SARA as we move forward. Only 70 boxes to go!

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