Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Neon Sign That Predicted the Weather


   One of the most iconic signs in San Antonio's skyline was the neon Alamo National Bank sign. Not only did it tower over most of downtown. The sign also predicted the weather.


The Original Sign atop San Antonio's Alamo National Bank Building

From the Express News   December 28, 1968




A key to the flashing neon,  found on back of Alamo National Bank Matchbooks

The sign today, atop the redeveloped Alamo National Back Building, as see from the Drury Suites Rooftop pool







Alamo National Bank Building's New Life as a Hotel


Originally built in 1929, the the 24 story Alamo National Bank Building was one of the San Antonio's tallest office buildings for many years. In 1961,  a parking garage and drive thru banking lanes were added. Ironically, the garage faced the riverwalk, which illustrates what people thought of riverfront access before Hemisfair. 

In 2005, the building was readapted to use as a hotel. The Drury Plaza Hotel lovingly restored the lobby to it's original grandeur. The neon tower above the sign was partially restored, but no longer forecasts the weather. (If the lights on the tower lit in an upward direction, the temp was rising, etc)

                           

The Drury Suites as seen from the Riverwalk



The building today with the new San Fernando Tower atop the parking garage. The San Fernando Tower has a rooftop patio that overlooks the riverwalk, Main Plaza and the Cathedral.




The exquisite stone work. Taken atop the new rooftop pool



The hotel lobby,  restored to it's original grandeur. Notice the stained glass above the entry. 


The Alamo depicted in stained glass on the Commerce Street exit. Notice the side panels. 

These panels originally hung in the lobby. They appear to be metal, but they are actually painted fabric. 

When the parking garage was built in 1961, it backed up to the Riverwalk, but offered no access to the river.  (in all fairness there was no sidewalk outside the parking garage until years later)
The bridge from he hotel connects the hotel to Main Plaza, which originally had limited access to the Riverwalk. 



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San Antonio Uncovered - The Book



Available on Amazon.comBarnesAndNoble.com, Apple iBooks


"This detailed book is at once a tourist's friend and a native's reference. Rybczyk says it was written for the curious native (whatever that is) and secondly for the newly arrived who may wonder "What's so special about San Antonio?" Notice who it was written for first.
Every landmark, legend and myth of San Antonio is here - from the ugliest statue to the histories of the railroad stations. It's a smorgasbord of overlooked and under-appreciated jewels from all over the city. The obligatory shrines and sites are here too - every one of them. Throughout the book's pages Mark employs the rarest type of humor - humor with genuine affection.
Mark corrects the old saw that said San Antonio is "a small town wanting to be a big city." It is, as he says, "A big town that desperately wants to be a small town." With this book as your guide, it's almost as though San Antonio gets its wish."

John  Troessler   Texas Escape






The Travis Club

Intrigue + Mystery + Romance + San Antonio


"What a surprise! . . .a page-turner . . . extremely well-written and well researched. . . I highly recommend this book to all mystery lovers . . . a great read. . . couldn't wait to find out what would happen next . . . I love a book you can't put down, and this certainly fit the bill . . . very engaging . . .  I really couldn't stop reading it . . . a fantastic and completely believable story"


                                                       Reviews From Amazon.com Readers




Monday, October 31, 2016

11 Scary San Antonio Ghost Stories

Every town has tales of spirits that inhabit the area, and San Antonio, Texas is no exception. Here are eleven of the city’s most popular poltergeists.
ONE: The Ghost Crossing
Perhaps the most popular tale, the ghost crossing has enticed thousands of San Antonians to trek out to an obscure southeast railroad crossing to participate in an eerie phenomenon. The ghost crossing is on Shane Road, where it intersects with the Southern Pacific rail line. According to the legend, a school bus full of kids stalled on the tracks and was hit by a train. Today if a motorist stops before the tracks and places the car in neutral, the ghosts of those children will push the vehicle over the tracks. To visit the crossing, take Presa south off SE Military Drive. Turn right on Southton Road, then right again on Shane. Turn off your engine and give it a try. If you’re brave, visit the crossing at night. You will be amazed when your car mysteriously moves across the tracks. Is it an optical illusion? Are you really moving downhill? Or is your car being pushed across by ghosts? Part of this ghostly tale is that the nearby subdivision has streets named for the children who perished in the supposed accident. Actually they are simply the names of the neighborhood developer’s grandchildren.
TWO: The Ghostly Nuns
The basement of Santa Rosa Hospital is said to be the haunting grounds for these spectral beings. The ghosts are believed to be the spirits of five nuns who died on October 30, 1912, after trying to rescue children from a burning orphanage. The
wooden building of the St. John’s Orphan Asylum, which went up in flames that night, was located across from the hospital at the corner of Houston and San Saba Streets.
THREE: The Menger Ghost
Said to haunt the old portion of the Menger Hotel, Sallie White was a hotel chambermaid who was murdered by her husband. This poltergeist is rather stubborn, appearing only when she pleases.
FOUR: The Alamo Ghosts
Many guests who have stayed at the Menger Hotel in rooms that overlook the Alamo have said that they have spotted the ghosts of the Alamo defenders. Legend states that General Andrade of the Mexican army planned to destroy the Alamo after the Battle of San Jacinto. But when he ordered his troops to do so, the ghosts of Travis, Bowie, and the others appeared with flaming swords, screaming, “Do not touch these walls!” On Nacogdoches near Loop 1604 sits a stone tower atop a hill. It is said that this tower is also haunted by ghosts from the Alamo days. Lights are often seen at the tower at night, and many believe that the tower was a lookout post for the Alamo and that the lights belong to the spirits of the sentry.
FIVE: The Dancing Diablo
The site for this terrible tale is the El Camaroncito Nite Club, located at 411 W. Old Highway 90. It’s said that in the 1970s a debonair patron was dancing with many different women one evening, and at some point, one lady looked down and noticed that the dapper dancer had the feet of a chicken. This is of course the sign of the devil, so the woman screamed, and El Diablo ran from the club. El Camaroncito Nite Club is now closed, but the chicken-footed dancer has been reported at other establishments throughout the years.
SIX: The Ghosts of Milam Square
Few people realize that the public park between Santa Rosa Hospital and El Mercado was once a cemetery for the Canary Islanders. It is said that if you pass through the square with evil thoughts, you will be visited by spirits.
SEVEN: The Converse Wolfman
Set many years ago in the area of Skull Creek near FM 1518, the legend tells of a thirteen-year-old boy, who spent most of his time reading. The father thought the boy was too much of a bookworm, so he bought him a rifle, thinking that by forcing
the child to go hunting, he could reform him. After his first day out with the gun, the boy came home and told his parents of a wolfman-type creature in the woods. The father, not believing the boy, told him to go out and not to return until he had killed something. When the young hunter did not come home, a search party was organized. At the creek, the boy was found dead, and the wolfman was feasting on his body. The wolfman supposedly returns to the creek during full moons, and when he does, the water in the creek turns blood red.
EIGHT: The Donkey Lady
Also called La Llorona, the donkey lady was a beautiful poor girl who fell in love with a rich aristocrat. Because they were of different classes, they were forbidden to marry. The young lady thus became the man’s mistress and bore him several children. Some versions say she drowned the children because she was poor and could not afford to keep them. Others say she drowned them because she was evil.
Regardless, because of her awful actions, she was condemned for eternity to be a ghost with a donkey’s head on her beautiful body. La Llorona has been reported on Applewhite Road near Zarzamora and at the intersection of Blanco and Lockhill-
Selma. She also has been spotted by teenagers who go to Espada Park to neck. The legend is often told by superstitious parents to warn their children of the ghost that haunts youngsters who play near forbidden waters.
NINE: The Navarro House Ghost
This downtown landmark is the former home of José Antonio Navarro, signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence. Believers in the paranormal have heard footsteps and spotted furniture that has been moved under mysterious circumstances. Some say the ghost is the home’s namesake; others say it is a slain prostitute, a murdered bartender, or a Confederate deserter.
TEN: The Seven-foot Chinese Woman
This large Asian ghost haunts an old cemetery near Stinson Field. One version of the tale claims the seven-foot-tall local woman killed herself because her Chinese contemporaries ridiculed her for being so tall. Some say she died in a fire. The
same area is said to be haunted by a bearded lady as well.
ELEVEN: Midget Mansion
This legend was fueled by the overactive imaginations of teenagers who attended Marshall and Clark high schools. For years, students went after dark to an old abandoned home situated between Datapoint Drive and Medical Drive near the Medical Center to tell the story of a mansion run by evil midgets.


Enjoy My Blog?  Check out my books,

San Antonio Uncovered - The Book



Available on Amazon.comBarnesAndNoble.com, Apple iBooks


"This detailed book is at once a tourist's friend and a native's reference. Rybczyk says it was written for the curious native (whatever that is) and secondly for the newly arrived who may wonder "What's so special about San Antonio?" Notice who it was written for first.
Every landmark, legend and myth of San Antonio is here - from the ugliest statue to the histories of the railroad stations. It's a smorgasbord of overlooked and under-appreciated jewels from all over the city. The obligatory shrines and sites are here too - every one of them. Throughout the book's pages Mark employs the rarest type of humor - humor with genuine affection.
Mark corrects the old saw that said San Antonio is "a small town wanting to be a big city." It is, as he says, "A big town that desperately wants to be a small town." With this book as your guide, it's almost as though San Antonio gets its wish."

John  Troessler   Texas Escape






The Travis Club

Intrigue + Mystery + Romance + San Antonio


"What a surprise! . . .a page-turner . . . extremely well-written and well researched. . . I highly recommend this book to all mystery lovers . . . a great read. . . couldn't wait to find out what would happen next . . . I love a book you can't put down, and this certainly fit the bill . . . very engaging . . .  I really couldn't stop reading it . . . a fantastic and completely believable story"


                                                       Reviews From Amazon.com Readers



Friday, July 22, 2016

The Alamo Was Once Used as a Grocery Warehouse?


   Many don't realize the Shrine of Texas Liberty was once used as a Grocery Warehouse.  French Merchant Honore Grenet bought part of the compound in 1877 and used it for his wholesale  grocery business.  Previously the US Army used the Alamo chapel as a warehouse. 

    A few photos of the Alamo chapel in it's less than glorious days. 










Enjoy My Blog?  Check out my books,

San Antonio Uncovered - The Book




"This detailed book is at once a tourist's friend and a native's reference. Rybczyk says it was written for the curious native (whatever that is) and secondly for the newly arrived who may wonder "What's so special about San Antonio?" Notice who it was written for first.
Every landmark, legend and myth of San Antonio is here - from the ugliest statue to the histories of the railroad stations. It's a smorgasbord of overlooked and under-appreciated jewels from all over the city. The obligatory shrines and sites are here too - every one of them. Throughout the book's pages Mark employs the rarest type of humor - humor with genuine affection.
Mark corrects the old saw that said San Antonio is "a small town wanting to be a big city." It is, as he says, "A big town that desperately wants to be a small town." With this book as your guide, it's almost as though San Antonio gets its wish."


John  Troessler   Texas Escape





The Travis Club

Intrigue + Mystery + Romance + San Antonio


"What a surprise! . . .a page-turner . . . extremely well-written and well researched. . . I highly recommend this book to all mystery lovers . . . a great read. . . couldn't wait to find out what would happen next . . . I love a book you can't put down, and this certainly fit the bill . . . very engaging . . .  I really couldn't stop reading it . . . a fantastic and completely believable story"


                                                       Reviews From Amazon.com Readers




Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Yes, Dwight Eisenhower was the St. Mary's Football Coach

Dwight Eisenhower first played football as a youngster in Kansas. Though it was never his life's passion to be a football star, he was a lifelong fan of the game. The young Midwesterner soon became a football star at West Point. In 1912 Eisenhower was a running back on an army team that included Omar Bradley. He was nicknamed the "Kansas Cyclone," and a New York Times correspondent called him one of the most promising backs in the East. An injury during a game against Tufts ended Eisenhower's football career at the academy during his freshman year.

After graduation in 1915, the newly commissioned lieutenant received orders to report to Fort Sam Houston. During the fall of that year, Eisenhower was approached by Peacock Military Academy to coach its football team. The school offered him $150 for the season, a tidy sum considering a lieutenant's pay. At first he refused because he felt, as an army officer, he would have no time for football. The head of the academy was a friend of post commander General Frank Funston. Funston learned of the offer and asked Eisenhower to accept it, citing it would be good for the army. The new coach won recognition for his handling of the prep stars. A San Antonio Express correspondent wrote, "Those who have seen this officer operate with a football squad believe him to be one of the best coaches in Texas — bar none." The army officer delivered a winning season for the 1915 Peacock Military Academy football team.

Lt. Eisenhower in his Army Uniform, in the middle of the third row

The year 1916 brought about a new set of challenges. Eisenhower was now married, and Peacock had acquired a new coach. St. Louis College (now St. Mary's University) was now after Dwight to coach their team. The college team was dreadful. They had not won a game in five years and were coached by a group of priests. Not only did they not win, lopsided scores of 50-0 and 80-0 were common. The small squad tied its first game under Eisenhower, then went on to win its next five games. St. Louis lost its last game and finished the season with a record of 5-1-1. Present at every game was the coach's young wife, Mamie. Quarterback Jim Sweeney told the Express, "We thought more of him than we did of any other coach we ever had. We respected him from the time he showed up until he left, and we fought as much for Mamie and the Douds (her parents who also attended the games) as we did the school. He was very frank and honest and we learned more about honor and discipline from him than we did anywhere else."

Mamie was the only woman ever to receive a St. Louis or St. Mary's football letter. The fathers were so pleased with the season that they gave the coach and Mamie a victory dinner, and a long-lasting relationship between the school and the Eisenhowers developed. The president last visited the school in 1962 to talk to students and faculty. In 1987 David Eisenhower, the former president's grandson, visited the school and discussed his grandfather's connection to the university during the school's annual President's Dinner.

Lt. Eisenhower and Mamie on the steps of St. Mary's College

Eisenhower also spent some time helping out with the school's baseball team. Ernest Stecker, a civilian employee, recalled to the Express in 1956 how he incurred the wrath of his coach during a close game. St Louis was behind by one run with two men on, and the team's slugger was in the on-deck circle. Stecker received the signal from Eisenhower to bunt but decided to swing away. On the next pitch, Stecker slammed the ball for a triple, but instead of congratulations, all he received was a stern look. He had disobeyed orders.


“Coming to San Antonio for my birthday is like coming home. I guess there isn’t a city or town in the whole world that holds more happy memories for me.”
Dwight Eisenhower, while visiting San Antonio in 1952







Enjoy My Blog?  Check out my books,

San Antonio Uncovered - The Book




"This detailed book is at once a tourist's friend and a native's reference. Rybczyk says it was written for the curious native (whatever that is) and secondly for the newly arrived who may wonder "What's so special about San Antonio?" Notice who it was written for first.
Every landmark, legend and myth of San Antonio is here - from the ugliest statue to the histories of the railroad stations. It's a smorgasbord of overlooked and under-appreciated jewels from all over the city. The obligatory shrines and sites are here too - every one of them. Throughout the book's pages Mark employs the rarest type of humor - humor with genuine affection.
Mark corrects the old saw that said San Antonio is "a small town wanting to be a big city." It is, as he says, "A big town that desperately wants to be a small town." With this book as your guide, it's almost as though San Antonio gets its wish."


John  Troessler   Texas Escape




The Travis Club

Intrigue + Mystery + Romance + San Antonio


"What a surprise! . . .a page-turner . . . extremely well-written and well researched. . . I highly recommend this book to all mystery lovers . . . a great read. . . couldn't wait to find out what would happen next . . . I love a book you can't put down, and this certainly fit the bill . . . very engaging . . .  I really couldn't stop reading it . . . a fantastic and completely believable story"


                                                       Reviews From Amazon.com Readers



Monday, February 23, 2015

An Illuminating Message - A Sign From God



George Dawson is a docent at the San Antonio Missions National Park. He had heard a local legend concerning Mission Concepcion. It took ten years to verify, but it was true. Franciscan Monks from 270 years ago were sending us a message, but it only appears once a year.

The mystery starts in the early 1700s, when Franciscan monks came to San Antonio and started 5 Missions along the river, Mission De Valero (better know today as the Alamo), Concepcion, San Jose, Espada and San Juan Capistrano. The Missions offered the indigenous people of South Texas protection from Indian attack and disease. It also offered a complex system of acequias that created irrigated farms that help to protect against drought and starvation. However the true ‘mission’ of these outpost were to convert the natives to catholicism and subjects of the Spanish crown.

Today, the four remaining missions are all active Catholic parishes with many of today’s members able to trace their ancestry back to the original parishioners.  Because of this, many believe that the Missions have always been intact and active.  This is a mistaken notion.

  The Mission period in South Texas actually ended in the early 1800s when they became secularized  during the 1824 Mexican Revolution. Shortly thereafter, the Governor of Texas ordered the Mission’s surrounding property to be sold. 

   Mission De Valero, better known as the Alamo, is a well documented example of what became of a former mission. Over the years it has been used as a fortress for revolutionaries, an army depot and a wholesale Grocery warehouse.  The others suffered similar fate and were left in a state of disrepair and decay. Slowly, different Catholic orders came to San Antonio and saw an opportunity to restore  these chapels. 
   Mission Espada was one of the first to return to active status with the arrival of French Priest Father Francis Bouchu in 1858.  He helped to rebuild and restore the decaying church. Later he helped to save Mission San Juan to the south.
   Benedictine monks from Pennsylvania arrived in San Antonio in 1859 and worked to restore San Jose in hopes of making it a mission. 
   The Brothers of St Mary who came to the city to establish St Mary’s Institute (and later St Mary’s College) were given farm land at Mission Concepcion to grow food for  their students, and for a time used the chapel as a barn.


Caption Reads "Mission San Jose - 134 Years Old" 
Possibly taken in 1854

   In the early 1900s, the local Catholic Diocese regained control of the four remaining missions, but  the church had little funds for preserving these decaying relics of the Spanish crown. Of all the missions, San Jose was in the worst state. The chapel and granary’s roofs had collapsed as had the tower. The ownership of San Jose’s surrounding grounds were also in dispute having passed through many hands over the years. The mission who have slowly become a modern day ruin if it were not for the preservation efforts of the San Antonio Conservation Society and the US Government’s Civil Works Administration in the 1920s and 1930s. 

   Of the 4 remaining missions, only the chapel of Mission Concepcion withstood the test of time. It is still in its original condition and stands as the oldest unrestored stone church in the U.S. The church’s  exterior was once painted with brightly colored geometric designs that attracted the indigenous people to the compound. Those have faded over the years, but many of the Mission’s original interior frescos are still intact. 

Today the 4 Mission are under the watchful eye of the National Park Service and are constantly observed and cared for.  But the many years of decay, neglect, multiple owners and restoration have take their toll. Particularly when you consider that one of the Missions most amazing secrets was almost lost forever if it were not for the tenacious efforts on a National Park docent named George Dawson. 

Dawson had heard a local legend from a retiring docent that light through various windows at Mission Concepcion illuminated certain parts of the church on various religious holidays.  It took ten years of research and observation for him to verify that the Franciscan monks who built the mission were sending us a message.  On August 15th, 2003, Mr. Dawson discovered that on the annual Feast of the Assumption, (held every year on that date to celebrate the Assumption of Mary into heaven) at 6:30pm, light from the two west facing windows would meet behind the alter to illuminate a painting of Mary. Simultaneously, a lens above the door created a beam of light that would center under the church’s dome.  The phenomenon is called Solar Illumination and was used to convey the presence of God to Native Americans, as the ‘Light” is a metaphor for Christ.

Through the years, Dawson discovered numerous illuminations, including three from the south window of Concepcion’s Dome that marked the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th and the winter solstice 2 weeks later. 

San Antonio's Mission Concepcion - The Oldest Unrestored Stone Church in the U.S.
Notice the Windows above the Door, placed there to create the light effects 






George Dawson standing before the effects of Solar Illumination on the Feast of the Assumption
Photo by Carol Baass Sowa | Today's Catholic

   A few years later, a similar illumination was noticed at Mission Espada, when beams of light lit the statue of St Francis of Assisi, (the Franciscan’s founder) on October 4th, the Feast of St Francis. On March 9th, on the Feast of a female St Francis, the illumination effect returns to Espada.

Ruben Mendoza, an archaeologist who first documented Solar Illuminations in a California mission in the year 2000,  says the Franciscans built these chapels as “ecclesiastical computers,” and used sunlight to make calculations such as the date of Easter. It was also an effective tool in the conversion of Native Americans to Christianity.  Dawson says that the sun was extremely important to indigenous peoples, “It was part of their world view. It was part of their religion. It was part of their lifestyle.”

   The recent discovery of Solar Illuminations is yet another way for us to appreciate these relics of the Spanish Crown. Today as part of both the National Parks System and the local Catholic Diocese,  all 4 missions are involved in ongoing restorations. That, along with living farms, functioning acequias, active congregations and the Mission Reach section of the San Antonio Riverwalk, the Missions have created a lasting appreciation for the oldest part of San Antonio. 
   In 2015, the rest of the world discovered the sites, as they were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The UNESCO designation was the first in Texas and only the 22nd in the US. 


  
  

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Intrigue + Mystery + Romance + San Antonio


"What a surprise! . . .a page-turner . . . extremely well-written and well researched. . . I highly recommend this book to all mystery lovers . . . a great read. . . couldn't wait to find out what would happen next . . . I love a book you can't put down, and this certainly fit the bill . . . very engaging . . .  I really couldn't stop reading it . . . a fantastic and completely believable story"


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Monday, November 24, 2014

Dionicio Rodriguez - San Antonio’s Most Accessible Artist (aka The Story Behind Alamo Heights Bus Stop)

   

Thousands of San Antonians have caught the bus on Broadway near the Alamo Heights Central Market grocery store and have sat in a peculiar bus stop that appears to be made of petrified wood. But few know the story behind the unique piece of ‘faux bois’ artwork, and the man who made it. The city's most accessible work of art was built at the corner of Broadway and Patterson in 1931, by Dionicio Rodriguez. The bus shelter was donated to the city of Alamo Heights by the Alamo Cement company and has only been moved once, a few feet when the street was paved.
   Many are fooled when looking at the bus stop, believing that the shelter is made of petrified wood. Actually it's made of cement, Rodriguez's chosen medium. The artist, who was born in Mexico City in 1891, learned the unusual art form from a Spanish national who showed him a unique chemical process to make cement look like petrified wood. One of Rodriguez's earliest patrons was Dr. Aureliano Urrutia, who introduced him to Charles Baumberger Sr., founder of Alamo Cement.

A Piece formally at the old Cementville Headquarters.
   Baumberger commissioned several pieces, including the Alamo Heights shelter, a fish pond at the cement plant, and a unique fence also at the Alamo Cement plant headquarters. The old cement plant office has been redeveloped into a restaurant, where patrons can now enjoy the work that had been hidden for years.


   Two examples of his work can also be found in Brackenridge Park.
A Dionicio Rodriguez Bridge in Brackenridge Park 

    Two examples of his work can also be found in Brackenridge Park.  A bridge near the park's headquarters and an old entrance to the Sunken Gardens were both his creations. The gate to Sunken Gardens reads "Chinese Tea Gardens" rather than Japanese Sunken Gardens. That's because the entryway was made during World War II when anti-Japanese sentiment was high, and the name of the gardens was changed.

The Chinese Tea Garden gate at Brackenridge Park


 Other examples of his work can be found at private residences throughout the city, as well as in Memphis, Little Rock, Washington, New York City, Chattanooga, Cuba, and Mexico.
   Rodriguez was very secretive about the chemical process that transformed the appearance of the cement. Once he started, he used simple tools such as a fork, knife, and spoon to shape his creations. Rodriguez also preferred to use local cement in his work because it contained no sand or mortar.

A cemetery outside Washington D.C. That featured a number of Dionisio Rodriguez pieces including this bridge.



   Rodriguez died in San Antonio in 1955, leaving behind numerous pieces of art made from his mysterious process.  One of his protégées, his great nephew Carlos Cortez continues his faux bois artwork, include the grotto on the Museum Reach extension of the Riverwalk.





The Pool of Hebron at Memphis Memorial Park 

The Memorial Park Crystal Shine Grotto in Memphis, Tennessee
A Lakewood Park Shelter in North Little Rock, Arkansas

A Conch Shell Gate in Port Arthur




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