Along the River

In Alexander Garvin’s catalog of urban successes, The American City: What Works, What Doesn’t, the San Antonio entries are pretty brief. “What works” is our famed River Walk. Garvin hails it as “a powerful illustration of the effectiveness of intelligently planned open space ...”

But the success of the River Walk comes with a price. Where lots of people stroll, others see very large dollars signs. So City Council fought the scourge of vendors with a new ordinance, and appears to have won.

However, the scourge of chain restaurants, exemplified by the arrival of a mall-typical Rainforest Café, proved a bit more difficult. Despite Mayor Hardberger’s reputation for civic leadership, the chain ordinance has yet to be birthed.

The real River Walk news wasn’t about authenticity or beauty. It was yet another typical San Antonio deal. With the demise of the City-run Hertzberg circus collection, the prime river site of the city’s former library was ripe for the picking. In 2001, County Judge Nelson Wolff and then-Mayor Ed Garza appointed a group to study re-using the Hertzberg building as a “history center,” a repository for San Antonio and Bexar County archives and lore (full disclosure: I was a member of the committee).

Sadly, we traded the opportunity to provide both visitors and residents with an introduction to the rich history of Bexar County and its people for images of cowboys and cowgirls, and a bit of Red McCombs’s collection of western artifacts. The “National Western Art Foundation” seems to have turned connections with local honchos and a gift from former governor Dolph Briscoe into the promise of yet another tourist lure along the river, due in 2008.

I don’t yet know if the cowboy art will include an abundant selection of bluebonnet paintings, but I imagine it will rank right up there with the “Guinness World Records Museum,” the Wax Museum, and the soon-to-arrive “Ultimate Mirror Maze Challenge” in Alamo Plaza as an Anywhere, USA, cultural attraction.

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