Backdrop to a festival
Posted on April 27, 2018
All the pageantry of Fiesta–filling the streets and plazas of our 300 year old city with people turned out for parades and festivity, are made all the more striking when set against the iconic architectural backdrop of our city. As important as the pageantry itself, the city and it’s buildings, are an important backdrop to the festivities and highlight the history and origins of the celebrations. Today our city shuts down to celebrate the Battle of Flowers parade as it passes by the Alamo and the heart of downtown San Antonio. Created to honor the battle of the Alamo and celebrate the diversity of Texas, the battle of flowers is said to be the founding event of Fiesta.
Architecture is often the keeper of history, interwoven into our modern city are building that stand as monuments to the past and vessels to understand the history of place. No where in San Antonio is this more true than for the Alamo, the historic heart of our city and the altar of the Battle of Flowers parade. Moderate in size when compared to the city that grew around it, the Alamo is now fronted by a pedestrian area and the parade no longer winds by its doors, but the striking silhouette still dominates the parade and the meaning behind it.
Another celebration leaves the historic city streets and takes to water–the River Parade weaves it’s way through the city by way of the treasured artery admired by crowds flocking the banks. Originating in 1941, the River Parade is sponsored by the Texas Cavaliers and attended by over 250,000 spectators helping to raise money for local children’s charities.
During the river parade, the floats pass under an important arched bridge before a gentle curve that reveals the Arneson River Theater designed by Robert H.H. Hugman in 1941. Hugman passed away before construction began on the theater, which today holds up to 800 people in thirteen rows facing the stage. Named after the architect, bells were later added to the brick arches on the stage to honor his contribution. Adjacent to La Villita, which houses A Night in Old San Antonio, the Arneson River Theater is a key figure in San Antonio and central to the festivities of fiesta.
Two popular events, miles apart in content but adjacent in location, occur in two historic theaters downtown–the Majestic and the Empire. The Majestic is a National Historic Landmark and was designed in a Spanish Mediterranean style by John Eberson and built in 1929. The coronation is staged on it’s landmark renovated stage. Next door at the Empire, a smaller theater built in 1913 on the site of the former Opera House, Cornyation’s let-your-hair down romp pokes fun at anything and everything, is preformed at the Empire while the formal Coronation held in the Majestic.
Closing the 11 day celebrations is another land parade–more intimate than some other Fiesta events–this family friendly parade travels the historic streets of the King William historic district and passes some of the most historic architecture in the city. All proceeds are devoted to the preservation of the historic neighborhood and many of the homes are opened for the day to allow touring.
The Steve’s homestead is one of two house museums in historic King William Street–the other being Villa Finale. This home was designed by the prominent architect Alfred Giles and built in 1876. Steves was the founder of the Steves Lumber Company and the home was fitting for the family and their high level of involvement in the community. Seven Steves have served as the President of the Order of the Alamo, and family members continue to be involved in Fiesta and the community. The house is constructed of ashlar limestone with a concave mansard roof and decorative iron cresting in the style of the French Second Empire or the Italian Villa.
Coronation has it’s royal cabinet, but King Anchovy, who is appointed to preside over the court of Cornyation, makes an appearance at the King William Fair. Although King Anchovy is a comedic reflection of the Fiesta Court’s King, it also raises funds for people affected by HIV and has donated $1.3 million to that cause.
Fiesta is an important part of our San Antonio heritage. It links us not only to the history of our city, but pays homage to the historical buildings and monuments that we are fortunate enough to enjoy. During this 11 day festival, we not only celebrate our history and it’s many stories but we take in and appreciate anew the architecture that houses those stories–even if we have to strain to catch a glimpse through the colorful confetti and sea of smiling faces adorned for revelry. Viva Fiesta!