When Kathryn O’Rourke moved from Philadelphia to San Antonio, a feature of the city caught the attention of the Trinity University professor, who specializes in Mexican art and architecture.
“What is that ?” O’Rourke wondered as she drove down Hildebrand Avenue, past an ornate archway decorated with Mexican talavera tiles. She swung her car into the adjacent parking lot to pause and take a closer look.
“I was amazed,” she said of the tiles, which pay homage in painted legends to the founding of Mexico City in 1521 and the creation of the Miraflores Sculpture Garden 400 years later on the ground. on which the arch opens.
Miraflores is the name given to the 4.5-acre property by Dr. Aureliano Urrutia in 1921, a famous Mexican surgeon who moved to San Antonio during the Mexican Revolution. It is now one of the cultural features of Brackenridge Park in need of significant restoration.
Other features include the once thriving Sunken Garden Theater, the Upper Labor Dam and Acequia dating from 1776, as well as a 1926 catwalk by famous faux wood artist Dionicio Rodriguez listed in the recent Cultural Landscape report. of Brackenridge Park, which assesses the park’s history and current value to San Antonians and recommends actions to preserve the park in the future.
The 2016 Brackenridge Park Master Plan now includes the 650-page report, which details not only the area’s recent 120-year history as a city park, but its 12,000-year history as a place of human life. In the region.
“This is really the first opportunity to look at the park holistically and holistically,” said Lynn Bobbitt, executive director of the Brackenridge Park Conservancy which oversees the park, “so we’re not making recommendations for different areas in one by one. “
After a major outcry when the management plan was initially released, conservation recognized the need for community input, and Bobbitt said a series of public conversations will help determine which features of the park will be prioritized early in Restoration.
The first public presentation session will take place on October 6 via Zoom, Bobbitt said, followed by further video conference meetings focused on different areas of the park. In November, comments will be collected and evaluated, and then published in early 2022.
“This is really an exciting time and a way for all of us to see what the future of the park is and how to sustain it,” said Bobbitt.
The public will have a first opportunity to gain insight into the park’s rich cultural history at a Miraflores-focused symposium on September 18 from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the San Antonio Botanical Garden.
Entitled “Miraflores à 100 – del pasado al futuro” in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the Garden of Urrutia, the symposium discussions will examine how the interests of the Mexican-born surgeon for the architecture, art and history of the The pre-colonial era in his time shaped the content of Miraflores, and how the sculptures, talavera tiles, architecture and flora of the garden reflect the complexity of Mexican culture.
Speakers include poet and scholar John Phillip Santos, Trinity University anthropology professor Jennifer Mathews and Urrutia’s great-granddaughter, Anne Elise Urrutia, who contributed to garden research and a write a book, Miraflores: the Mexican Garden of Memory of San Antonio, scheduled for publication in spring 2022 by Trinity University Press.
O’Rourke will moderate the discussion. “In my dream vision, this symposium will help generate enough interest and awareness of the importance of this place,” she said. “There are stories that need to be told here” in the hope that the city will commit “a substantial sum of money to revive it to some extent.”
The story of Miraflores is complicated. The elements of the garden fell into disuse due to neglect, having changed hands among business owners, one of whom threw tons of infill in order to create an outdoor recreation area for the employees. Recent excavations have uncovered architectural and sculptural treasures beneath this infill layer, including paved paths that were once connected to the main area of the park via a bridge over the San Antonio River.
A 2008 archaeological survey also uncovered artifacts proving the prehistoric human presence in the northeast corner of the garden, near the arches that once caught O’Rourke’s eye.
She said that while Miraflores is in a sense the idiosyncratic view of a person, taken as a whole, it represents important cultural connections between the modern era in Mexico and present-day San Antonio.
“I hope it will interest a very wide audience,” said O’Rourke. “I see it as a gathering of people who care about the city, its past and its future. “
Given its location in the heart of the city, Miraflores is crucial, but “it’s so much bigger than this one property”. As a city, she said, “we are doing amazing things by bringing together the landscape and the ecology and remote parts of the city in a way that truly serves San Antonians. … This is such an opportunity. I look at Miraflores and consider Brackenridge Park to be one of the last great pieces to put together in the puzzle. “
A future Brackenridge
Responsible for charting the future of Brackenridge Park, Bobbitt hopes the public discussions will generate enough interest to help secure funding for the next municipal bond in 2022.
The 2017 bond committed $ 7.75 million for infrastructure work on the park, including repairing the walls along the river, restoring the 1877 pumping station, and repairing the dam and dam. l’acequia of 1776. An additional $ 13.5 million was spent on the construction of parking garages.
Bobbitt did not estimate the amount needed, but said the discussions will help determine costs based on areas of the park needing attention, and that this information could guide how much of the bond goes to Brackenridge.
On Friday, conservation will announce plans to restore the Sunken Garden Theater, once a thriving entertainment venue that, like other areas of the park, has fallen into disrepair.
Meanwhile, the release of the Cultural Landscape Report, available for download on the Brackenridge Park Conservancy website, along with the upcoming public discussions, will be a great opportunity for San Antonians to learn more about how their use of the park – a popular site for picnics, golf, zoo tours, holiday parties and events such as the upcoming Parktoberfest on September 26 – connects to its past.
“There are so many stories hidden here in the park… we want to be able to talk about the diversity of people who have used this park over time,” said Bobbitt.