A Genuine Place
Posted on February 6, 2014
I’m not originally from San Antonio. Yes, my family is Texan from way back, but I was born in Houston. My clan arrived here in their youth around the turn of the century, one set of great grandparents arriving by boat from Austria Hungary and settling in Galveston, and grandparents on the other side arriving by train from Ohio and settling in Houston. I had a Great grandparent die in a railroad robbery, another in the Great Storm of 1900. My Grandfather paved Main Street in Houston and issued building permits for the city out of a wooden shack during the Depression. My father went to work for an oil company and I grew up in Houston in the 60’s in a house with white-painted tree trunks not too far down the new freeway from the soaring downtown. In ’68 my parents packed the station wagon and moved to Midland where the oil fields were booming. Here, I grew up digging forts into the desert dirt, and venturing off into the plains on foot with a canteen and a burlap sack to go “snake hunting”. My parents moved from Midland when I was in college and I never went back. I went on to Greenwich, then New Haven, then on to Washington D.C.. Then, my wife simply said, “I’m going back to Texas.” She was right. We now had a baby boy and it was time to go home. But where was home? Midland was ash and cinders after the oil bust; Houston felt too big and foreign, Austin just felt like a small town (which it was then) and Dallas just didn’t fit us.
We had both spent time in San Antonio as kids vacationing, going to its exotic zoo built in an old limestone quarry, the old Buckhorn Hall of Horns and the famous Riverwalk downtown. As poor college students Mariann and I had spent our honeymoon there. It felt right for our young family. Broad oaks lined old neighborhoods that seemed to have always been there. There was a history, and there was a Texas heritage that wasn’t just worn like a costume but was real – this is where being a Texan came from.
Most know San Antonio for its Alamo, the birthplace of the Texas Revolution. But the history of San Antonio runs even deeper – back to 1691. San Antonio was at the nexus of the Camino Real as it ran from Mexico, and here sat actually five Spanish missions. San Pedro Park is the oldest municipal park in the country next to Boston Common. San Antonio was isolated from both Mexico and the United States for almost two centuries before Statehood. First populated by Canary Island colonists, it became the Spanish capital of the province of Tejas and was the largest city in the Republic of Texas, as well as the largest west of the Mississippi, eventually supplanted by Galveston, which was supplanted by San Francisco. It was known for its unique character, given its large population of Americans, Germans, Spanish, and Italians, with Frederick Law Olmsted once noting the city for its “odd and antiquated foreignness.” Large characters such as Texas Ranger “Bigfoot Wallace,” Robert E. Lee (before his Civil War Days), and Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders gave the city its personality.
I now live in a quiet neighborhood just north of downtown, down the street from the fort where Geronimo was kept after his capture, lined with ancient oaks and graceful Mediterranean estates mixed with craftsman cottages, in a house built in 1919 behind a limestone wall and under a great canopy of oaks. One neighbor a Maverick (in the19th C. the family that built a ranching empire by branding any “lost” cattle with their own “maverick” brand- hence, the popular term maverick), and another, a King Ranch Family (the famous ranch as big as Rhode Island), still deeply involved with the ranch’s cattle operations. This is where we raised our two children. Both my son and my daughter can shoot. We celebrate Fiesta, eat tamales on Christmas, drink beer at icehouses, and have mariachi parties. The culture is rich and the culture is real. San Antonio is genuine. It doesn’t try to be like other cities; it is an authentic place that is all its own. It feels like Texas; it is Texas.