Saving San Antonio: The Precarious Preservation of a Heritage

Few American cities enjoy the likes of San Antonio’s visual links with its dramatic past. The Alamo and four other Spanish missions, plus a host of additional landmarks and folkways surviving over the course of nearly three centuries, still lend San Antonio an “odd and antiquated foreignness.”Adding to the charm of the nation’s ninth largest city is a bend in the San Antonio River, saved to become a winding linear park through the heart of downtown and a world model for sensitive urban development.

San Antonio’s heritage has not been preserved by accident. The wrecking balls and headlong development that accompanied progress in nineteenth-century San Antonio roused an indigenous historic preservation movement—the first west of the Mississippi River to become effective. Its thrust has increased since the mid-1920s with the pioneering work of the San Antonio Conservation Society. Lewis Fisher peels back the myths surrounding more than a century of preservation triumphs and failures to reveal a lively mosaic that portrays the saving of San Antonio’s cultural and architectural soul.

The process, entertaining in the telling, has significant lessons for the built environments and economies of cities everywhere.Lewis F. Fisher came to San Antonio in 1969 as a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News, covering among other issues, conservation and historic preservation. He later established a group of suburban San Antonio newspapers, which he published for twenty-one years. He is a graduate of Allegheny College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a former intelligence officer in the US Air Force. Fisher and his wife Mary, a fifth-generation San Antonian, have two sons and live in San Antonio.

Author: Lewis F. Fisher
Published: November 15, 1996