4t. je rovb”..% 1.4 Ca Horse o a k Kitchenettes Cable TV Heated Pool bc.side the Gull of illevir0 Oil Mu.slang Hand Available for private parties Unique European Charm / S Atmosphere AITORDABII RATES Jj, Pets Welcome 142 llth Pori .1ransits, TX 78373 call for Re.s .ervalions or*” tok% S` Gay but not Narrow Pick up your FREE copy at over 200 locations in Austin & Houston. For further information call 512.476.0576 or 713.4521.5822 thus well-schooled in working the levers of powera point Fisher curiously downplaysthe organization’s influence could be considerable. Even with these decided advantages, SACS was anything but invincible, in part because of the inherent limitations of a voluntary organization. Its inaugural campaign is a case in point. In 1924, Rena Maverick Green and Emily Edwards pulled together a group of like-minded friends to block the destruction of the 1858 Market House, which is thought to have been “one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in Texas.” Their protests initially gained a sympathetic hearing from public officials, and were lauded in the local newspapers; their faith in the value of the building to the community’s sense of itself was brushed aside, however, when the Market House was destroyed to make room for a flood control channel through downtown. Matters of public safety and commercial development took precedence to preservationists’ claims of historical significance. Working on the outside, and thus without direct access to the city’s decision-making processes, as women in a male-dominated political culture, SACS often operated in the dark, which only makes its early triumphs all the more illuminating. True, its preservation of the Spanish Governor’s Palace, and the restoration of the string of missions that hug the banks of the San Antonio River \(and which ultimately would possible in part because these architectural assets were located in areas not slated for immediate development. But that was not the case of the Great Bend of the San Antonio River, long a source of intense flooding, and which, in the late 1920s, some developers wanted to fill in and pave over: the conservation society, in combination with other forces, pressed for a more imaginative reconfiguration of that space into what has become the Riverwalk, now an economic generator of the first water. Of no less consequence was another crucial watershed in the history of the Conservation Society: its vigorous opposition to the construction of an expresswayU.S. 281between the central business district and the airport to its north; in this decade long controversy, its clout and reputation would be severely tested. The society leaped into the fray because the highway was designed to slice through portions of the San Antonio Zoo and historic Brackenridge Park, and thus seriously rend the community’s urban fabric; SACS sued the city in federal court. The suit, like a similar legal skirmish in New Orleans over the Vieux Cane Expressway, ignited a bruising and protracted brawl, pulled in a bevy of state and federal officials, garnered the attention of the national press, and badly damaged relations between preservationists and the local power structureall of which Fisher nicely reconstructs. In the end, the road was completed, and named for W. W. McAllister, who as mayor had sworn to the society that he was “going to build an expressway whether you want it or not.” He became a man of his word. But his wasn’t the last word. SACS had taught local officials a tough lessonthe preservation group was a very expensive opponent. Fisher calculates, for instance, that cost overruns due to construction delays on the expressway amounted to tens of millions of dollars. Considering also the vast sums expended on legal fees, as well as the substantial drain on time, energy, and good will, this was a confrontation not to be replicated. One sign that the city understood this consequence of the expressway wars came when it joined with the society in pressing Congress to establish the long sought-after San Antonio Missions National Historic Park. Another, and more richly symbolic marker, was San Antonio’s decision to create the position of. Historic Preservation Planner, which was first filled by Pat Osborne, an ardent SACS activist. By the early 1970s, the private, volunteer organization had penetrated the city’s inner sanctum, and become a player in setting public policy. Not that this remarkable transformation halted assaults upon San Antonio’s inventory of historic structures. By the mid-’70s, gone were approximately one-third of the nearly 1,000 buildings that had been identified, only a decade earlier, as originating in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Preservationists persist in the fight on behalf of the city’s vanishing architectural legacy, but this unhappy record continues to generate a sense of frustration. It was ev ident in Osborne’ s reaction when, in February 1991, she pulled up to the Finck Building as its final wall buckled under the bulldozer’s blade: “I’ve never been so disgusted in my life.” Char Miller teaches at Trinity University, and is co-editor of Urban Texas: Politics and Development. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29 FEBRUARY 14, 1997
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