Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Travel Tuesday: San Antonio's Brackenridge Park Area, 1944, 1978 and 1980

Japanese Tea Garden / Sunken Gardens Pagoda / Pavilion, Summer 1978
I hope those of you going to San Antonio for the Federation of Genealogical Societies' 2014 Conference (#FGS2014) in late August plan to stay in San Antonio a few days more (either before or after the conference) so you can see some of the sites outside of the downtown area.  This week, I'm going to write about destinations to the north and to the south of downtown.

If you were to head north of the River Walk along the San Antonio River, you'd eventually reach Brackenridge Park, which is near the river's spring-fed headwaters.  The 343-acre site has an interesting history and features New Deal era structures in its bridges over the river, picnic areas, and golf course, as well as tree-lined trails, playgrounds, and a miniature train that takes visitors on a 3.5 mile loop around the park.

Brackenridge Park is the site of a number of attractions, including
the San Antonio Zoo,
the Witte Museum, and
the Japanese Tea Garden.

Mom, Dad, me, and brother Mark along the San Antonio River in Brackenridge Park, summer 1978
Siblings Brian, Mark, and Mary at Brackenridge Park, summer 1978
I visited all of these sites as well as the park the summer I lived in San Antonio, but my favorite place by far was the Tea Garden.  It's one of the places I took my family when they came to see me that summer, and a place I took relatives visiting in Texas in subsequent years.  In those days (1978), it was known as the Sunken Gardens.

The site was originally a rock quarry.  Between July 1917 and May 1918, City Parks Commissioner Ray Lambert, with plans from his park engineer and no money, was able to construct the Garden. According to the city's website, he "used prison labor to shape the quarry into a complex that included walkways, stone arch bridges, an island and a Japanese pagoda....local residents donated bulbs to beautify the area. Exotic plants were provided by the City nursery and the City Public Service Company donated the lighting system. The pagoda was roofed with palm leaves from trees in City parks. When completed, Lambert had spent only $7,000."
Cousin Donna diverts the 60' waterfall at the Sunken Gardens, January 1980

"In 1926, at the City's invitation, Kimi Eizo Jingu, a local Japanese-American tea importer, moved to the garden and opened the Bamboo Room, where light lunches and tea were served....his family continued to operate the tea garden until 1942, when they were evicted due to anti-Japanese sentiment during World War II. A Chinese-American family operated the facility until the early 1960s....In 1984, the area was rededicated as the Japanese Tea Garden."

Unfortunately, after that, the Garden suffered some decline due to "the ravages of time and insufficient funds."  In 2004, the City and the San Antonio Parks Foundation began a multi-phase restoration. In 2014, according to the City, "The lower area, which includes the koi ponds and flower beds, will be closed beginning June 10 through the end of September. However, the upper level around the pagoda will remain open as will the Jingu House Café. The renovations include repairs to the ponds’ filtration system and re-lining of the ponds. Additionally, new lighting will be installed around the ponds and the pagoda."

Above and below - views of the Sunken Gardens, summer 1978

ETA:  I'm not completely sure, but I believe this photo of my mother and her two siblings was taken in the Sunken Garden area in 1944.  They are wearing the same clothes they had on in photographs taken at San Antonio's River Walk and Alamo.

Gerrie, Jo Ann, and Charles Guokas III at the Sunken Gardens in San Antonio, 1944

© Amanda Pape - 2014 - click here to e-mail me.

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