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San Antonio River Walk Commission

September 8, 2014
Scene along the San Antonio river, November 25, 1960, MS 359

Scene along the San Antonio river, November 25, 1960, MS 359

There were several attempts to invigorate the San Antonio River Walk before it became the bustling attraction it is today. After World War II, there was very little commercial development along the River Walk, which consisted of a small collection of river-level restaurants near the Houston Street and Market Street bridges. The River Walk had few visitors and became unsafe enough to be declared off-limits for the city’s military personnel.

In 1959, feeling that the city had an unrecognized asset in the River Walk, appliance wholesaler David J. Straus encouraged the chamber of commerce to commission the designer of Disneyland to come up with a way to fix the River Walk. The proposed plan, however, was similar to an amusement park and was shelved. Following the proposal, San Antonio’s Chapter of the American Institute of Architects formed a committee to make renderings for careful renovations of facades of buildings visible from the river and created a Paseo del Rio Master Plan. David Straus began lobbying building owners on the value of opening businesses at the river level. All of this was occurring at the same time as HemisFair ’68, which was being constructed downtown beyond the easternmost leg of the Great Bend. An extension of the bend dug a third of a mile east ended as a lagoon beside the fair’s exhibition hall and theater. When the fair ended, the exhibition hall, theater, and nearby arena became a convention center that dramatically revitalized the city’s convention industry. Fair visitors and convention goers could follow the River Walk to the first major hotels built in San Antonio since the Great Depression. This development brought enough pedestrian traffic to the River Walk to sustain commercial development.

Casa Rio riverboat on San Antonio River, circa 1965, MS 362

Casa Rio riverboat on San Antonio River, circa 1965, MS 362

The San Antonio River Walk Commission, a board appointed by the City Council of San Antonio, was formed in May 1962 and dissolved in November 1992. David Straus, along with others including Arthur “Hap” Veltman, served on the Commission. The job of the San Antonio River Walk Commission was to review development plans along the River Walk (Paseo Del Rio) and La Villita. The Commission worked with the Tourist Attractions Committee of the Chamber of Commerce and the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects to create a master plan for the development of the River Walk area. The provisions of the master plan called for a pedestrian link between Alamo Plaza, La Villita and Main Plaza. The commission also helped to implement improvements to the River Walk for HemisFair in 1968, including expansion to the convention center and a system of lights along the River Walk. One of the Commission’s goal from the outset was to protect the River Walk from over development.


For additional information on the San Antonio River Walk Commission or the Paseo del Rio, see the San Antonio River Walk Commission. David Straus Papers and the San Antonio River Authority Records.

 

Sources

Lewis F. Fisher, “SAN ANTONIO RIVER WALK [PASEO DEL RIO],” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hps02), accessed September 8, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Helen Rojas, “River Walk a Big Hit in Texas,” Sun Sentinel (http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1985-05-12/news/8501180895_1_san-antonio-river-new-river-river-cuts), accessed September 9, 2014.

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