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Downtown Reach beckons with beauty, history

 
Downtown Reach beckons with beauty, history
Plans for the San Antonio River Walk were completed in 1929. This unique use of the river has made downtown San Antonio the tourist attraction it is today, drawing visitors from far and near.

The San Antonio River made San Antonio the tourist destination it is today, so we decided to explore it in depth. This is the first of a series of columns about this Texas treasure.

Much has been written about the expansion of the San Antonio River Walk, especially the Museum Reach and the Mission Reach. We would like to present to you a little different perspective. There is a third section called the Downtown Reach that is wedged between the other two. We hadn’t heard much about the Downtown Reach, so we decided to check it out. It begins where the Museum Reach ends -- at the Lexington Street Bridge just across from the El Tropicana Hotel, so that is where we started. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and we found plenty of free meter parking just steps from the entrance to the river level.

The Downtown Reach was completed in 2002, but there is still some construction along the walkway on the east side, and one large construction project near the old Municipal Auditorium, which we could hardly recognize. There is so much detail in this area; it is a visual delight, from the designs in the concrete walkways to the mosaics on the lower walls of the overpasses. Unique benches beckon visitors to rest and smell the roses, or to enjoy watching a mother duck and her ducklings frolicking in the river.

We walked past the Southwest School of Art, originally the home of the Ursuline Academy for Girls, established in 1851. The original limestone buildings, stained glass of the chapel, gardens, and courtyards can still be seen. The original dining room for the old academy is now the Copper Kitchen Café, open for lunch only. During their normal business hours, the entrance gate from the River Walk is unlocked and visitors are invited to walk through the buildings and spectacular grounds. Pick up a brochure for a self-guided tour at the McNutt Welcome Center.

Continuing on, we passed the magnificent vine-covered arched entrance to the Bank of America and then a refreshing waterfall. We were amazed how these features were incorporated into the landscape, providing both access to businesses and that perfect photo opportunity.

Between the Commerce Street and Market Street overpasses, where the walkway ends, wide steps lead into Main Plaza. As we approached the top of the stairs, the San Fernando Cathedral filled our view; it must be spectacular at night.

The Spanish planners of the church and the Plaza de las Islas, as it was known in 1730, could not have imagined how this space would evolve to become the vibrant gathering place of today. Main Plaza has undergone a total facelift and expansion in recent years. Where there were once roads, now are beautiful areas to sit and enjoy the surroundings -- a unique water feature coming up through the cut stone paving tiles of the walkways and flowering plants and shrubs surrounding the plaza.

As we walked back to our starting point on the Lexington Street Bridge, passing under streets named for some of the memorable participants in the fight for Texas independence so long ago -- names like Travis, Bowie, Houston, and Navarro --we couldn’t help but feel pride in Texas’ place in the history of the Americas.

Harry and Linda Kaye Perez are freelance writers from just down the road from Floresville. Together they share a passion for traveling and writing, and discovering the very best in all corners of the world. Email them at Harry-Linda411@att.net.

 
 
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