SAN ANTONIO CONSERVATION SOCIETY
SAN ANTONIO CONSERVATION SOCIETY. The San Antonio Conservation Society was founded by a group of San Antonio women, led by Emily Edwards and Mary Rowena Maverick Greenqv, on March 22, 1924, after the disastrous 1921 flood resulted in flood-control measures that threatened drastic physical changes in old San Antonio. The organization immediately began a program of public education in conservation and preservation, including lectures and history-oriented entertainment. The society was incorporated on July 8, 1925, with the purpose of preserving and encouraging the preservation of buildings, objects, and places related to the history of Texas and its natural beauty; the group has remained active to the present in the purchase, restoration, and operation of historic sites. In 1926, after failing to preserve the old Market House, which was its original intention, the society discovered that a new river channel was to be cut and that the large downtown river bend would be drained and cemented. The society was instrumental in saving this area of the San Antonio River, the only remaining meander that survived rechanneling and tunneling in the city. The federal Work Projects Administration provided the labor for landscaping and construction of river walks, footbridges, and a riverbank theater. This midtown area became known as the Paseo del Rio, with many shops and restaurants along the river. After the city purchased the Spanish Governor's Palace in the late 1920s, members of the society were named to supervise restoration, landscape and gardening, furnishing, and to fill curator positions. In the early 1930s San José Granary, with some adjoining land, was purchased by the group, and the WPA furnished labor for restoration. Soon after, the society collaborated with Bexar County agencies, the Texas Department of Transportation, and the Catholic Church in the restoration of the church's San José y San Miguel de Aguayo Mission and in the reconstruction of the mission enclosure. The San José Granary in 1941 and the adjoining land in 1950 were given to the state of Texas, and the society was successful in having the entire complex of Mission San José designated a national historic site, the first so honored in Texas. In 1983 this site was transferred to the National Park Service for inclusion in the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.
In 1941 the society purchased property that contained the 200-year-old aqueduct that carried water to San Francisco de la Espada Mission, designated a national historic landmark in 1966. This site was also transferred to the National Park Service for inclusion in the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in 1983. In 1942 the 1850 Jeremiah Dashiell House, an old stone house overlooking the river bend, was purchased and became the society's headquarters; in 1950 the nearby 1855 Otto Bombach House was acquired. In 1957 twenty-five acres of pecan bottomland near the acequiaqv of San Juan Capistrano Mission was acquired, and Acequia Park was established, deeded to the city of San Antonio in 1975, and transferred to the National Park Service in 1983. Scheduled for demolition in 1960, a group of three stone buildings that had been the home of José Antonio Navarro was acquired and restored. In 1975 this property was deeded to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which maintains it as the José Antonio Navarro State Historical Park. In 1961 the society was given the Yturri-Edmonds home and the Travieso Mill on Old Mission Road. The Oge Carriage House from King William Street and the 1855 Postert House, a small caliche block and stone rubble structure, were moved onto this property. This historic site currently serves as a house museum operated by the society. In 1965 sections of the Ursuline Convent (see URSULINE ACADEMY, SAN ANTONIO), designed by early architects Jules Poinsard and François P. Giraud, were purchased, and in 1969 this property was entered in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1975 the society sold this property to the Southwest Craft Center, which operates a creative arts and crafts school at the site. Three outstanding houses, the 1876 Steves Homestead, the 1876 Ike West Home (both on King William Street in the King William Historic Districtqv), and the Charles Zilker House on Elm Street, were acquired. Other sites and structures acquired by the society between 1952 and 1988 for purposes of preservation include the O. Henry House, the 1870 Anton Wulff House, the 1870 Louis Gresser House, the 1893 Staacke Building, the 1891 Stevens Building, the 1913 Rand Building, the 1878 Hertzberg Clock, the 1867 August Stuemke Barn, and the 1926 Aztec Theater. In every case the society assumed ownership of historic properties only to protect, preserve, or restore them, and then found an appropriate use for each. Some have been sold or given to other organizations and individuals, while a few are still owned by the society. The Steves Homestead, for example, has been maintained by the society as a historic house museum since 1954, while the Anton Wulff House has served as society headquarters since 1975. In addition, the society accepts façade easements as a means of ensuring the preservation of historic structures. The society currently holds five façade easements-for the 1891 Reuter Building, the 1879 Old Bexar County Jail, the 1926 Emily Morgan Hotel, the 1906 Fairmount Hotel, and the 1925 Builders Exchange Building.
The society achieved national recognition for its long-standing annual Christmas presentations of two Mexican folk dramas, Los Pastores ("The Shepherds") and Las Posadas ("The Inns"). Also popular since its inception in 1947 was Night in Old San Antonio, held each spring at the time of Fiesta San Antonio in La Villita. Ecology was also an interest of the group. San Pedro Park was preserved as a recreational area through the society's efforts in the late 1940s; an annual tree-selling project was sponsored beginning in 1952, and trees were planted as well as sold by the organization. Travis Park, which had been deeded to the city in the 1850s, was leased by the city in 1954 to a corporation for an underground parking garage. The Conservation Society brought suit, and in a state Supreme Court decision in 1957 the lease arrangement was declared null and void, thus proving the society's contention that dedicated parkland had legal rights; Travis Park was therefore preserved as a city parkland.
In 1947 the Conservation Society added an associate membership, from which new active members were taken, and in 1955 a junior associate membership was created to enable young members to study regional history and traditions. Beginning in 1949 the society annually presented awards to people and organizations that best served the cause of conservation. The society's charter was amended in 1962 to include members' concern for the state's natural beauty and to emphasize the educational character of the society. An adjunct to the organization, the San Antonio Conservation Society Foundation, was chartered by the state on May 19, 1970. In 1975 the Conservation Society relocated its headquarters to the restored Anton Wulff House at 107 King William Street, and in 1982 the August Stremke Barn was moved to the site. The society has had thirty-six presidents since its organization; Emily Edwards served as the first president from 1924 to 1926, and Mrs. Roland T. Jones held that office from 1993 to 1995.
Lillie May Hagner, Alluring San Antonio (San Antonio: Naylor, 1940). Charles W. Ramsdell, San Antonio: A Historical and Pictorial Guide (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1959). San Antonio Conservation Society, Conservation in San Antonio since 1924 (San Antonio, 1970). Vertical Files, San Antonio Conservation Society Library.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article."SAN ANTONIO CONSERVATION SOCIETY," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/gas01), accessed May 23, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.