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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

August 2004 Issue

Renewing the Source
In San Antonio, the redesign of a historic park reconciles citizens from opposite sides of the tracks.

By Peter Harnik

Renewing the Source
Steven Pumphrey

The Alamo may be more famous and the Riverwalk more visited, but the most venerable spot in San Antonio, the most authentic city in Texas, is San Pedro Springs Park.

The origin of the park is a spring from time immemorial, but this isn't a dusty "historical" park: A few feet away is a modern, groundbreaking landscape incorporating the city's most popular swimming facility. San Pedro's vibrant history plays off all the forces pushing and pulling today's San Antonio, including geology, hydrology, race, class, and the politics of park renovation.

As a city, San Antonio is an anomaly in Texas. It's big (America's ninth largest city, with more than a million residents), but it's a world away from Dallas's gleaming skyscrapers, Houston's miles of McMansions, and Austin's go-go technology pavilions. With roots reaching back to Spanish conquistadors, Catholic missionaries, and native Coahuitecan hunters, San Antonio retains many of its old downtown buildings (thanks to facade easements); it's kept a number of the old Spanish irrigation acequias (including one in San Pedro Park); and the world-famous Riverwalk is, from many angles, so quaint it feels downright European.

As for San Pedro Springs Park, "historic" is almost too mild a word for it. It's older than Patterson Park in Baltimore (1827), Laclede Park in St. Louis (1812), the Public Square in Cleveland (1796), the Pueblo in Los Angeles (1781), and Johnson Square in Savannah (1733). When New York's Central Park was opened, San Pedro had already been in the public domain for 130 years. First described in 1709 by Father Felix de Espinosa as "water enough to supply a town," the springs were officially set aside 20 years later for an ejido—a "public place"—by King Philip of Spain.

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