PASEO DEL RIO [RIVER WALK]
PASEO DEL RIO [RIVER WALK]. The Paseo del Rio, or River Walk, which extends for 2½ miles through the heart of downtown San Antonio, is among the city's best known features, attracting several million tourists per year. The River Walk had its origins in a disastrous flood that hit the city in September 1921. The crest of the flood reached nearly nine feet on Houston Street, killed fifty people, and caused millions of dollars in damage. City officials hired the engineering firm of Hawley and Freese to study how to prevent further flooding. They recommended constructing Olmos Reservoir to serve as a retention basin, straightening and widening the river in selected locations, building an underground channel from Seventh Street (now Brooklyn) to Nueva, and covering the river with concrete. City officials approved the plan, but several individuals and groups, including the City Federation of Women's Clubs and the San Antonio Conservation Society, protested the proposal to eliminate the downtown stretch of the river. Civic leader Emily Edwards wrote a puppet show, entitled "The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg," dramatizing the argument of those in favor of saving the river and advocating that it should be converted into a city park. The play, presented to the city commissioners under the sponsorship of the conservation society, achieved the desired effect, and the commissioners agreed to shelve the plans. In 1929 architect Robert H. H. Hugman proposed turning the area into an urban park with restaurants, shops, apartments, and a walkway. He drew up a master plan, with the fanciful title "The Shops of Romula and Aragon," that presented specific ideas for a system of dams and channels, footbridges, and street-access stairways. Hugman also suggested boat rides on gondolas, modeled after those of Venice. "Imagine," he told the city council, riding a boat "down the river on a balmy night fanned by a gentle breeze carrying the delightful aroma of honeysuckle and sweet olive; old fashioned street lamps casting fantastic shadows on the surface of the water; strains of soft music in the air; all of this would be the night life of Romula." Hugman spent the next several years speaking to business and civic leaders, emphasizing both the commercial and aesthetic possibilities of the plan.
During the 1930s several other civic groups joined the fight to beautify the river, including the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the San Antonio Advertising Club, and the San Antonio Real Estate Board. Hotelman Jack White, who later served as mayor of San Antonio, endorsed Hugman's plan and promoted the improvement of the river. In the mid-1930s a number of property owners along the river agreed to pledge $2.50 per square foot of river frontage to finance the project, but early in 1938, in an austerity move, Mayor Charles K. Quin and the city commissioners rejected the plan. Finally, in October 1938 a group consisting of property owners and residents on either side of the river from Jefferson to Villita streets voted to endorse a tax of 1½ cents per $100 and approved the issuance of $75,000 in bonds. The funds were matched with a $355,000 grant from the Work Projects Administration. In December 1938 Hugman was made project architect, and a short time later Robert Turk was appointed superintendent of construction. More than 1,000 men worked on this initial phase of the project, which included the building of walkways and retaining walls, the cleaning and deepening of the channel, and extensive landscaping. Approximately 11,700 trees and shrubs were planted by the city; garden clubs also donated many plants. Hugman was dismissed from his job as architect of the project in March 1940—reportedly because he blew the whistle on malpractices in the financial management of the program—and was replaced by J. Fred Buenz.
The project was completed in March 1941, but despite the overall high quality of the construction work and design, the River Walk was not an immediate success. The volume of business remained well below projected levels, and the area became a haven for petty criminals and transients. During the early 1960s, in preparation for Hemisfair `68qv, efforts were made to clean up the River Walk and encourage business. The San Antonio Riverwalk Commission was established in 1962, and a new master plan was drawn up. During the mid-1960s improved lighting was installed, several merchants turned their stores to face the river, and the first restaurant, Casa Rio, was opened. The river was also extended into the city convention center. In 1969 the Paseo del Rio Association was established as an independent nonprofit corporation to promote the area. Subsequently, the River Walk was continuously improved. Many new shops and restaurants were opened, and in the late 1980s a large shopping mall, the Rivercenter, was built beside the convention complex. The city's parks and recreation department maintains the area, with an annual budget of nearly $2.5 million. Parks personnel haul off more than 600,000 pounds of trash and plant some 80,000 new plants each year. An estimated one million people ride the barges a year, and some $800 million dollars in tourist revenue is generated annually.
Louise Lomax, San Antonio's River (San Antonio: Naylor, 1948). Mary Ann Noonan-Guerra, The Story of the San Antonio River (San Antonio: San Antonio River Authority, 1978). Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, A Special Place (Austin: 1977). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Vernon G. Zunker, A Dream Come True: Robert Hugman and San Antonio's River Walk (San Antonio: 1983).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Christopher Long, "PASEO DEL RIO [RIVER WALK]," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hpp01), accessed June 19, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.