Take Me to the River: How the SARA Records Offer Insight into the Growth and Development of San Antonio
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.
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).
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.
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.
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?
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).
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 www.sanantonioriver.org 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Job Title: Student Clerk (reporting to the Manuscripts Archivist)
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
How to Apply: Submit resume and cover letter or any questions regarding the position to Special Collections at email@example.com
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 SARA-tx.org)
Stay tuned for a progress update on SARA as we move forward. Only 70 boxes to go!
Earlier this year we announced the exciting news that we were awarded $145,650 by the National Archives to process the archives of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP). With those grant funds we were able to hire an archivist and an archives assistant to process the collection. We are delighted to introduce Project Archivist, Leah Rios, and Archives Assistant, Jenn Longoria.
Leah Rios comes to us from Tucson, Arizona. She was most recently a Project Archivist at the Western Archaeological and Conservation Center. Leah received her master’s degree from the University of Arizona’s School of Information and while there was a Knowledge River Institute Scholar.
Jenn Longoria has been working in libraries since 2006, including most recently UTSA Libraries Downtown Campus. Jenn has extensive experience working as both a volunteer and full-time employee for Battleground Texas.
I sat down with Leah and Jenn recently to hear what they have to say about working on this important collection.
What excites you most about this collection?
(LR) Although a majority of the work was completed in Texas, I have already seen documents pertaining to Pima County, which is where I am originally from. It touches close to home to think that such important work was being conducted in my own neighborhood and I am grateful I have the opportunity to play a vital part in preserving this material and making it accessible to the public.
(JL) Seeing the organization start from scratch, grow organically and create the strategies that voter registration organizations still use today has been really informative. The scope of what Southwest Voters was tackling was immense. As an archives assistant I get to see that history unfold and see how this one organization shaped the culture of voting in Texas.
Why is this collection so important?
(LR) This collection is an integral part of our nation’s political history. As a Latina, I feel honored to be working so closely with material created by determined individuals who were responsible for actively building a political voice for Hispanic Americans. Willie’s work continues to resonate even more today, as we see how important the Hispanic vote will prove to be for this upcoming and future presidential elections.
(JL) Willie began SVREP in San Antonio, surrounded by a population that he knew was not being represented fairly. It was this community that inspired him to act. Now more than ever Latino engagement in the political arena is a topic that researchers want to know more about, and the records in this collection are the beginning of that story. Researchers, organizers, and historians can now trace the steps that SVREP took to register thousands of voters across the country. We can see what worked, what didn’t and most amazingly we get to interact with all of the historical organizations and activists that helped along the way.
This collection serves as a record of how much work goes in to changing political climates. It took activism, research and litigation to make sure the Mexican American Community was represented and I believe our collection showcases some of that work.
What ideas do you have for outreach and promotion of the collection?
(LR) Utilizing social media is a great way to entice both researchers and the public. I look forward to posting regularly on The Top Shelf to document our process, posting images on Instagram to highlight interesting documents and artifacts, and interacting with social media of related community organizations to increase our exposure.
A way to further promote the collection would be to feature an exhibition of documents and materials found throughout the collection. Planning the exhibit to coincide with Willie Velásquez Day would be especially exciting.
This collection can also serve as a gateway for high school students to learn about government policy, history, and an individual that has a direct connection to their community. It would be an amazing opportunity to reach out to as many schools as possible in order to introduce the students to archives and how they can enrich their educational experience now and in the future.
(JL) In addition to social media, I think other promotion venues and opportunities are showcasing the collection in conjunction with National Voter Registration Day and with other voter rights organizations. I echo Leah’s comments about reaching the younger generation. Area high school civic engagement semesters would be a perfect opportunity for that.
**This project is generously funded by the NHPRC**