KWA Newsletter Articles

Most of the buildings in the King William Association are located within the boundaries of a Historic District, or are designated as a local landmark. Both of these are “zoning overlays” regulated by the City of San Antonio’s Zoning Ordinance administered by the City’s Office of Historic Preservation (OHP). As a local landmark or by location within a historic district, City ordinance requires you to have your project reviewed by the OHP.

It is all about a process. The best way to start is to contact the OHP and explain your project. From there the OHP staff can guide you through the steps you need to take. Some projects that fall under “repair and maintenance,” like replacing rotted wood, can be approved administratively. The OHP staff will give you a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA). You or your contractor will need to submit the COA and an application to get a permit from the building department.

There are many things I enjoy about our neighborhood, but one of my favorites is the abundance of nature and wildlife that surround us in this urban environment. "A river runs through it" is not only a famous novella and movie, but a simple fact of life in King William. The river is the habitat necessary to maintain the diversity of birds and wildlife around us, and SARA is doing a fabulous job at ecosystem restoration along the Mission Reach.

It has been a good season for gardening. In the month of September, King William received 8 3/4 inches of rain, a bit more than the City as a whole at just over 7 inches.

Be careful about parking your car under a pecan tree. The picture shows what happened to Nora Peterson and Richard Green's car at 227 Adams St. on Sunday afternoon, September 30. A large pecan tree beside their driveway toppled over, crushing their car and damaging the front porch of their home. The tree appeared to be healthy and why it fell is not known. Losing such a tree is a real tragedy. What is lost when a tree dies or is needlessly cut down? The first thing that comes to mind is the loss of shade which keeps utility bills down in summer. But more important is the moisture in the atmosphere. Through fine roots, trees draw water from underground, some from depths of over 200 feet. A single large tree may pump over a ton of water into the sky in a day. This amazing bit of information comes from a book titled Trees by Gretchen C. Daily, printed locally by Trinity University Press, a recent gift from a good neighbor and friend who shares an interest in gardening.

As we look forward to the improvements on S. Alamo Street we must also be mindful of the disruption that this will cause to the flow of traffic in and through our neighborhood.

The Fair staff and Parade Committee recently met with representatives from the City of San Antonio (Public Works and Traffic), SAPD and Bexar County Sheriffs. There was a tremendous amount of brainpower and expertise in the room, which allowed for a very productive time. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the construction along S. Alamo and how it will affect the King William Fair and Parade. All agreed that our primary concern is for the safety and security of residents, participants and Fair visitors.

The project is scheduled to begin November 12 and is expected to last approximately two years. During this time S. Alamo will be closed to through traffic from Probandt to Pereida Streets. Residents and businesses along S. Alamo will have access to their property. VIA will reroute buses to S. Flores.
At this point, we will stay with the parade lineup and route that we used last year. Fair staff will continue to evaluate and monitor the project, communicating with the Project Officer to make sure that the crossings, E. Guenther at S. Alamo and Wickes/Johnson at S. Alamo, will be paved with asphalt in order to maintain a safe thoroughfare. S. Alamo will be open for the flow of pedestrian traffic on Fair day. Work on the entire project will be shut down from April 15 – 28 to allow for Fair and Fiesta preparations.

Again, we know that this interruption to the routes we use to travel to and from the events of our daily lives will present delays and impediments. Please be patient with all involved in the project. In the end, it will all be worthwhile.

- Zet Baer

Historic District designation is a “Zoning Overlay” administered by the City of San Antonio. Two additional zoning overlay districts within the boundaries of the King William Association include NCD-1 and RIO-4. Both NCD-1 and RIO-4 are Zoning Overlays. Each property within the boundaries of these districts has its own base zoning which determines the use of the property. For example, a building could be C-1 for commercial use, such as a retail store or a restaurant, or O-1 for an office use. The overlay zoning districts regulate the property’s architectural and site characteristics.

My view of the King William Association and our community has been shaped by my experiences as surely as yours has. I arrived in San Antonio in 1992 when I began training to be a surgeon at Wilford Hall Medical Center for the USAF. All new officers are sponsored by a local family to welcome them. My sponsors were Warren and Gina Dorlac, who invited me to dinner at their old house on Adams Street. I was enchanted by the neighborhood because it reminded me of the place I had just left behind.

With over five inches of rain overnight on August 19th and more in mid-September, plants have had a growth spurt not usually seen this time of year. Check to see if you have trees and shrubs that need trimming because they now block traffic signs or walkways. Weeds have also come up in abundance. Treat them with a mix of one gallon of 9 % vinegar and 2 ounces of Orange Oil. The vinegar is in the grocery and the Orange Oil at most nurseries. This is an organic mixture and will kill whatever it touches, so be careful.

I have a favorite country and western song that goes by the title of “How can I miss you (if you won’t go away?).”

Well, here I am again after my supposed farewell column in the August newsletter. Our loyal newsletter staff informs me that owing to the editorial calendar, which requires me to submit the text for the September newsletter no later than August 15, I still have plenty of time to contribute one more column. At the end of this column you will see the number -30-. The explanation for that, in case you missed out on the era of green eye-shade journalism, is that it is traditional for columnists to exit the scene with this number as a sign-off at the end of their final opus. Journalists are divided on the origin of this practice, since most articles in the days of letterpress journalism were ended with this number. The origin is thought to have been from the first telegraphed dispatches which always ended with -30-, which is Morse code for “the end” or “finished.”

I should check with my erstwhile editors, but I think this is my last column as President. In September there will be new Board members and a new President. Early indications are that they will all be strong candidates who have already demonstrated a love for King William and devoted ample time volunteering for various tasks here.

Because of the lead-time necessary to meet press deadlines, I’m writing this column on July 6. Like everyone, I’ve returned to work after the midweek holiday a little more sun-burned and a little more fatigued, but much happier. I had a wonderful fourth on our stretch of the River in the annual King William Regatta, the all-for-fun canoe race that seems always to be a summer idyll. Spectators lining the banks and a picnic afterward. Thanks to Marita Emmet, the muse and steward of this wonderful occasion, the lucky participants can always count on the completely ad-hoc event coming off every year. Marita suffers from the curse of success: the event is so beloved by its participants that she can’t retire from organizing it. I don’t know how she feels about the labor, but I’m glad she does it. I know my holiday would be much poorer without it.

“I was only eight years old when HemisFair opened in April 1968," said Debbie Ray,” but I still remember the excitement. The crowds, the music, balloons, popcorn, snow cones, candy apples…it was noisy and colorful. My family attended the fair several times that summer. I still remember the straw hat my mother insisted that I wear because it was so terribly hot. That is literally burned into my memory!”

“The mini-monorail was a big feature of the fair. It was a high-tech contraption that soared high above all the activity below. It was tested over and over again and on opening day, everything went off pretty well except for a couple of minor glitches.” However, a few months into the fair they had a problem. “A rear-end collision due to brake failure brought everything to a halt,” said Jerry Williamson. “Luckily, no one was seriously injured but a lady was thrown to the ground and pinned under part of the wreckage. As they were trying to get to her, she said, ‘No, I'm not hurt, check on the others first.’”

When you stroll through our neighborhood on Fair Day, have you ever wondered about the names given to certain Fair sites – “Pat’s Pub," “Julia’s Veranda," “Ilse’s Attic”? Old timers will recognize those names, but if you’re a newcomer, you might be curious.

Over the years, the various Fair committees have chosen to recognize a few ‘gone but not forgotten’ King William residents who have left an indelible imprint on our neighborhood. It’s yet another way to honor those who have gone before us and to keep their memories alive.

Ben Garcia, Sr., and his wife, Eloise, moved to their home at 315 Mission Street in 1968. Their son, Ben, Jr., who still lives in the neighborhood on Forke Street, and his two sisters were also part of the family.

"We had long outgrown our little house on Forest Ave. off South Flores Street," says Ben, Jr. "Looking back years later, it was hard to believe that five of us could have possibly lived in that tiny house."

"Both my sisters went to Brackenridge High School but I went to Fox Tech on North Main. I sometimes walked to school but what I really wanted was a car so I could drive. My mom said, 'If you want a car, you‘ll have to get a job to help pay for it.‘ So I got a part-time job after school working in the basement at Joske‘s on Alamo Plaza as a stock boy making $1.60 an hour – minimum wage."

St. Benedict’s Lofts on South Alamo Street has brought 66 new homes and five new businesses, including the Liberty Bar and Restaurant, to the King William neighborhood. Six single-family garden homes facing Madison Street will complete the project. This redevelopment has ended 17 years of decline of the buildings that once housed St. Benedict’s Hospital and Nursing Home, as well as the St. Scholastica Convent. (Historical note: Saints Benedict and Scholastica were twins born in 480 AD in Italy. Benedict created his order of religious men, and then his sister formed an order for women based on Benedict’s rules.)

Madison Street neighbor Linda Winchester recently posed an interesting question about a bit of King William history. She was told by an old friend of her father’s that he remembered living in the 100 block of Madison Street as a child. He also remembered that his mother walked him across the street to a French private girls’ school, which he was allowed to attend until he was six years old.

The man’s childhood home no longer exists, but Maria Pfeiffer identified the school as Bonn-Avon School at 117 Madison. She says that the school was named after the birthplaces of Beethoven and Shakespeare.

In 1967, the King William Association was founded and chartered as a non-profit organization to preserve the first historic district in Texas and to promote the unique cultural heritage of San Antonio. To further that mission, the neighborhood hosted its first Spring Fair and Tour of Homes the very next year, in 1968. The joint Fair and Tour of Homes continued as a part of Fiesta until about 1988, when due to the complexities of the combined events, the Home Tour was moved to early December and billed as the Holiday Home Tour.

The neighborhood’s very first home tour however, was 59 years ago, sponsored by the King William Area Conservation Association.

A tale of the supernatural in the neighborhood

In August of 2008, not long after moving in to the two-story Victorian wood frame house at 123 Cedar Street, the new Proprietress, her two young sons, and their Governess, who was older and more sensitive than the rest of them, returned from a long weekend in the country and noticed something amiss. The Governess climbed the staircase to the first landing and protested loudly and repeatedly.

“What’s got her so stirred up?” the elder boy asked.

Jack Kent (1920-1985) was a cartoonist, children’s book author and illustrator, and longtime King William resident. Born John Zurawski to first-generation Polish and Austrian parents in Iowa, he became Jack Kent when his dad, a traveling linoleum salesman, relocated to Texas in 1926 and changed his name to something his customers could more easily remember. From that day forward my father was a Texan and, except for a honeymoon in Mexico and some tedious business in the Pacific during WWII, never lived anywhere else.

By his mid-teens he was “Texas Jack” and already sure of his calling. He wrote fan letters to all the great cartoonists of the day—his most treasured correspondent was George Herriman, creator of the strange and wonderful Krazy Kat. But he was more than a fan. It was the Depression, and Daddy’s career started early. His formal schooling ended at 15 as he worked as a printer’s apprentice and sold caricatures to the San Antonio Light.

He was self-taught in art and everything else. For a high-school dropout in a rural state, he was extraordinarily well-read and aware of the wider world. He loved opera. His work for The Light was inspired by Miguel Covarrubias, the Mexican artist, anthropologist and New Yorker cartoonist. His artistic taste went far beyond the comics page to Picasso and Miró, Ben Shahn and Paul Klee. He spent his spare time (and his spare change) at the two temples of the literary life in 1930s- 40s San Antonio: Rosengren’s Books and Norman Brock’s used bookstore.

You probably know that in 1967 King William was the first neighborhood to receive the Historic Neighborhood District in Texas designation. The history of many of the houses is recorded in Mary Burkholder’s books, one volume of which is appropriately named Down the Acequia Madre In the King William Historic District. But did you know that beneath the King William neighborhood lies a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, designated by the Society of Civil Engineers in 1968?

Part of the Spanish acequia system lies beneath portions of our neighborhood. Acequia Madre (or mother ditch), mentioned by Burkholder, is so named because its part of the primary ditch network. My late colleague I. Waynne Cox’s book The Spanish Acequias of San Antonio provides a good source of history and archaeology for anyone interested in following up The Alamo acequia (or Acequia Madre) began at Madre Dam, now in Brackenridge Park, flowing down the valley, behind the Alamo, down Alamo Street and eventually empting into the San Antonio River across from Blue Star. Diversion systems fed off of this acequia to water the fields supporting the early San Antonio settlement and missions. Wickes street today follows a feeder ditch extending from the Alamo acequia at South Alamo to the river at Eagleland. Another important ditch, Pajalache or the Concepcion Acequia, followed the path that is now S. St Mary’s Street, beginning at La Villita, extending down St. Mary’s to Roosevelt Park where it turns toward Mission Concepcion. But these are only part of the extensive acequia system which lies beneath the city of San Antonio.

The term acequia is derived from the Arabic word al-saqiya. Irrigation technology dates back at least 3,000 B.C. in western Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, and this technology made its way to southern Europe through cultural exchange. The Spanish brought and spread this technology to the New World, although many American Indian cultures had invented their own centuries before the Spanish arrived. Governor Don Martin de Alarcon ordered the construction of the San Antonio acequias using conscript Indian labor. Construction of the acequias began in 1719 by diverting water from San Pedro springs. Eventually some 50 miles of ditches were dug, leading to a network of fields on both sides of the San Antonio River. The acequias served all of the mission settlements The ditches were used in the downtown area until a few years after 1870, when the first railroad reached San Antonio.