The San Antonio River flows about 130 miles from Central Texas to the Gulf of Mexico. And, as rivers will do, it would flood which was not a good thing since it ran through the center of the developing town of San Antonio.
So in the 1920s, the city fathers decided it should be “channelized” and perhaps even covered like a giant sewer. But some of the public and officials thought the natural nature of the river should be preserved.
A young architect, H.H. Hugman, developed a plan in 1929 for both beautification and commercialization of the river, two things that don’t often go together. He had a hard time selling the idea of putting shops and restaurants along the scenic river.
Money for the project came ten years later under the Works Progress Administration, a Federal program to help revive the economy during the Great Depression through building projects. Hugman worked on the project for a year, but came into conflict with the mayor who had his own ideas on how to use the money. Hugman’s ideas for stone paving, bridges and stairways also bothered those who wanted to preserve the natural setting, and he was dismissed. Nonetheless, many of his ideas were implemented by the time the project opened in 1941.
While there were sidewalks, benches and plants, there was little commercial development. The river through town is narrow – really just a canal, and there wasn’t much room for development. Also, it takes tax dollars to support urban beautification.
San Antonio’s 1968 World’s Fair spurred new interest in the River Walk, the development came, and now it is a nationally-ranked tourist attraction bringing millions of visitors to the city.
We took a short boat ride, enjoyed walking along the pathways, stopping for a bite in a couple restaurants, and chatting with the boat operators and a local artist.
Hugman lived to see his projects come to life and to receive the honor he was due. If you would like to explore Hugman’s ideas further, the city has developed a walking tour which visitors can access with their smart phones.
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