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News Days of glory revisited 

City, UIW settle out of court on Miraflores Garden

Motorists whiz past the pasture adjacent to the San Antonio River on Hildebrand Avenue. But in their haste, they're missing something: a headless, winged statue that stands on what appears to be a front porch of a long-gone family mansion, where two sculptured lions guard the entryway.

This site recently was the subject of a lawsuit filed against the University of Incarnate Word by the City of San Antonio in a dispute over ownership of the land, once part of six leagues that were granted to the City by the king of Spain in the 1700s.

Dr. Aureliano Urrutia ordered this replica of the statue, Victory of Samothrace, to place on top of the palace he built. The mansion was torn down and commercial buildings replaced the elaborate gardens Urrutia built on 15 acres next to the San Antonio River just south of Hildebrand Avenue. The two lions on the porch once sat at the entrance to Villa Quinta on the Miraflores estate. (Photos by Michael Cary)

The City sold property in 1852 to finance a new courthouse and jail. These three acres were part of an island that slowly disappeared as the riverbed moved to the west and filled in the old path. Confusion over ownership of the land was further muddled when Dr. Aureliano Urrutia purchased it in 1921 - naming it Miraflores - then in the '60s, sold it for $300,000 to USAA, which sold it to SBC, which improperly deeded the property as a gift to UIW in 2000.

Urrutia's great-grandson Chris Amberson was flabbergasted when he learned that UIW planned to bulldoze the garden and build a parking lot. Amberson persuaded former District 9 Councilman Carroll Schubert and the San Antonio Conservation Society to help save his ancestor's legacy.

"It was absolutely tragic to make that into a parking lot," says Amberson. "I said it should be part of Brackenridge Park, and `Carroll Schubert` said 'you're right.'"

The three-year lawsuit was settled when the City recently traded its property near Devine Road and Hildebrand for the UIW tract. UIW gave the title to the City and paid $700,000; SBC is kicking in another $55,000.

But the lawsuit and subsequent land swap don't adequately tell the story of the strange, haunting sculptures that grace this greenbelt.

The garden, once known as Miraflores, and a nearby palace was built by Urrutia, a distinguished surgeon who once held the reins of power in México and had to flee to San Antonio during the throes of the Mexican Revolution in 1915.

Legend surrounds Urrutia, who was once the personal physician to President Porfino Diaz. Conservation Society records tell of a "mysterious figure whose skill as a surgeon was as legendary as his political past in revolutionary México ... rebuilt his past privileged existence and left a strange, haunting collection for posterity."

According to stories printed in newspapers and on websites, Urrutia was accused of participating in the assassination of Mexican President Francisco Madero. While serving in President Victoriano Huerta's administration.,Urrutia reportedly cut out a Huerta detractor's tongue. On the lam, Urrutia allegedly loaded two railroad boxcars filled with loot from the National Palace and shipped them across the border to San Antonio, where he went into exile.

Here the doctor continued his medical practice and collected art. Uruttia, who during his 103 years married five wives and sired 18 children, was prominent in local society.

Urrutia sold his palace to Oklahoma investors in 1962 for $250,000, and the structure was razed to make way for a Volkswagen dealership. He later sold Miraflores to USAA with the stipulation that the remnants of his mansion and gardens be preserved on the remaining acreage.

Stewardship of the property and the remaining art works has been somewhat shaky, says Amberson. He applied for a $150,000 grant from the Coates Foundation to pay for restoration work, and the Conservation Society says it will help with restoration.

"My mother used to play there," Amberson says. "She remembers it really well, but for her what's left is like a broken plate, and it's too sad to deal with."

Parks and Recreation plans to submit plans to City Council for $300,000 to build a bridge to connect Miraflores to Brackenridge Park, and will seek additional funding to "maintain and restore statuary and improvements." One dispute must be settled. Parks Director Malcolm Matthews referred to the property as Pioneer Park, the name given to it by SBC employees when they filled in the fountains and the ponds.

Barbara Johnson, president of the San Antonio Conservation Society, is adamant about the name that should be given to the City's newest addition to Brackenridge Park.

"Miraflores should be the name," she says. "Not anything else but that."

By Michael Cary

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