San Antonio, Texas, America’s seventh-largest city, has always owed its troubles, as well as its glory, to its geographical situation within the state, and not just because it is the nearest large city to Mexico. The city sits on the Balcones Escarpment, the line separating the hot, semiarid lowlands to its south from the beautiful, fertile, tree-covered hill country to its northwest. The differences between these two areas have influenced every aspect of the city’s history, economics, demography, politics, architecture, and lifestyle since it was the northernmost Spanish outpost populated by European Canary Islanders and their descendants.
The south side of San Antonio is, and always has been, less productive, drawing large numbers of poorer immigrants—first “Anglo” subsistence farmers, then ethnic Mexicans (mestizos), mostly after their Revolution of 1910, and later the horde of illegal aliens. The Hispanic groups have little in common except in the eyes of politicians, who lump them all under the TV term Latinos. They call themselves “Texas-Mexicans,” “Mexicans,” or sometimes “Tejanos.” They call illegals “Mojados”—wetbacks. The numerous remaining Canary Islanders call themselves “Canary Islanders.” San Antonio itself is now a “majority-minority” city.
Northwest of the city is a large area first settled en masse by German immigrants in the early 1840’s. It has become the refuge of all who could escape the forced decay of the inner city—high taxes, rotten public schools, slums, gangs. The north side of the city is now ruled by developers and populated mostly by those of European descent. Blacks are marginalized, and occasionally radicalized, on the east side of town.
The city government has done everything it could to encourage this de facto segregation. Since World War II, San Antonio has been run by government advocates of welfare for the poor, who bed down with rich land speculators who bought up all the countryside north and west. As high taxation, social engineering, and crime drove thousands of people northwest, that area sprouted ticky-tacky but overpriced houses, gated “communities,” beehive apartments, shopping malls, hospitals, and even the University of Texas “at San Antonio”—in reality, well into the hill country. Both the government of San Antonio and the developers were happy to facilitate this migration, by building spaghetti expressways and superhighways to speed up the escape to the north, while abandoning the original city to its remaining masses, pathologies, and demagogues. Each “Northside” quickly becomes a near-slum, as folks move farther north every few years, leaving devastation behind them in their search for a Promised Land.
The singular stumbling block preventing either the typical “doughnut” city or a simple relocation of the entire municipality 30 miles to the northwest is one small building, known around the world as the Alamo. This shrine in downtown San Antonio draws millions of tourists every year, most of them disappointed when they see the little ruined chapel stuck among modern high-rises and curio shops. Only the Menger Hotel, Robert E. Lee’s pre-war hangout next door, does justice to the Alamo. Most of the high-rises are new, carpetbagger-owned chain hotels, with the highest occupancy taxes in America, catering to those very tourists. The countryside is dotted with larger and more impressive Spanish missions—but these are all on the south side of San Antonio.
The Alamo Chapel was bought, restored, and maintained for almost 100 years by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, but this brought little money to the city government. The Alamo itself, mission and fort, was destroyed in the 19th century, but its chapel remained a thorn in the side of Hispanic demagogues, despite the fact that many of the defenders and Daughters were Hispanic. But fortune smiled on the city council recently: A minor scandal broke out among the Daughters, and the city saw its chance. Before it could act, however, the state of Texas took title to the Alamo Chapel and retained the Daughters to run it. The city was reduced to the street in front.
That still left the city plenty of room to play, however. The council has now announced its plan to steal and raze the surrounding private buildings and turn the whole area into a year-round Fiesta San Antonio—our ten-day spring festival formerly known as Fiesta San Jacinto, to celebrate the anniversary of the battle that won Texas her independence from Mexico. The state intends to approve some of the changes for the Alamo, but it doesn’t yet have the city’s final plans. These are being fought over by every conceivable pressure group, interrupted only by the city’s intention to move or destroy the imposing marble Confederate monument a few blocks away at Travis Park, in front of St. Mark’s Cathedral, Robert E. Lee’s old church.
Because of the Alamo Chapel, the city goes through periodic spasms of “revitalizing downtown.” Henry Cisneros’s bulldozers forced “urban renewal” and erected the huge, empty “Pink Elephant Mall” (or “Pepto-BisMall”), which has since been razed. Projects proliferated: Nelson Wolff’s failed streetcar plan; subsidies for pornography, including murals. No one expects these schemes to revitalize anything, but the sky-rocketing budgets provide officials and bureaucrats with more jobs and healthy raises, and unions with more contracts. Our sales taxes are now among the highest in the country.
Besides visiting the Alamo, many tourists come to enjoy our famous Tex-Mex food and the charming River Walk (recently renamed “Paseo del Rio”), which runs along both sides of a 30-foot-wide, 4-foot-deep river-lock lined with cypress trees, two stories below street level. They sit at city-government-managed cafés by a city-government-owned “river” traveled only by city-government-owned tourist barges, watching thousands of other tourists in T-shirts, baggy shorts, and baseball caps. They are likely unaware that the River Walk was a 1930’s WPA project, a result of the friendship between then-Mayor Maury Maverick, Sr., and FDR. The Maverick family, descended from Sam Maverick, Texas hero and Confederate officer, created a cattle empire on the land southeast of San Antonio, where unsophisticated poor farmers, and their stock, could easily be swallowed up. Most of the Mavericks paralleled the Roosevelts and the Rockefellers, bending with the wind from right-wing (cattle) robber barons to left-wing (political) robber barons.
San Antonio has been competing with Los Angeles for the title of America’s greatest octopus, using the oxymoron “extra-territorial jurisdiction”—otherwise known as Lebensraum, a casus belli for centuries. The Hill Country is finally learning to defend itself; every village across all nearby counties to the north has incorporated and created a Great Wall by asserting its own extra-territorial jurisdiction. Refugees and developers can still get through, but not big-city taxes or social engineering. However, the refugees bring with them the big-city love for petty oligarchies, shocking the Texas-German farmers who welcome them.
Meanwhile, San Antonio’s city council is crazy at play wherever it can reach. The council has repeatedly constricted the battlefield of the Siege of Béxar (1835, the fight we won in San Antonio, preceding the Battle of the Alamo) until all that’s left is a near-hidden, regularly modernized little bronze marker. Ours is a de facto “sanctuary city,” though no one can find an ordinance declaring it one. The city loves eminent domain for private gain more than Donald Trump does; homes are condemned to give the land to business friends and relatives of councilmen. Every confiscation ensures higher taxes for the government, as well as political donations. It also adds another “home site” northward for a land speculator or developer to sell. The city is currently making plans to annex all of Bexar County and tax many of the escapees.
Hundreds of papers have been written on alienation in modern society—how individuals and families are cut off from one another, and there is no longer a sense of “community.” People don’t know their neighbors. This leads, of course, to overdependence on Washington (Jefferson’s worst nightmare). It does not help when local authorities take a meat cleaver or an eggbeater to the few remaining neighborhoods.
One can drive all the way through San Antonio in any direction and see nothing but gas stations, fast-food joints, parking lots, apartment complexes, strip malls, government buildings, muffler and car-parts shops, whole swaths of cheap old “California Bungalows,” motels, glass-and-steel high-rises, chain restaurants, four-decker expressways, and big-box stores. There is still a thin crescent of well-built large homes on the near northside, constructed between 1910 and 1930, and hidden from travelers by a century of greenery—high trees and hedges. Their owners are safe for a while; they pay exorbitant taxes for protection.
Whole neighborhoods downtown have been destroyed. The quaint stone-and-stucco part of downtown, with narrow cobblestone streets, tiled roofs, tiny chapels, and occasional Spanish Renaissance architecture, is called La Villita and dates to before the Texas War for Independence; it was grabbed entirely and turned into an artsy-craftsy center, rented out by the city at obscene rates with silly rules to bored northside housewives with hobbies. It is now almost empty.
That quarter of downtown wasn’t enough. Next came the adjacent section of mid-to-high Victorian mansions of the German and Anglo settlers. Over 96 acres were stolen and bulldozed in 1968 to create Hemisfair Plaza, which actually made a profit for somebody for over a year. Now it is a hollow void. One old man refused to give up his house. After being forcibly moved without accepting a cent, he wrote embarrassing letters to the newspaper at regular intervals to remind citizens of the theft. When he died, the city council breathed a collective sigh of relief.
That left only one historic section, the one where my family lived in town: the King William District, named after Wilhelm I of Prussia in 1871. King William was too pretty and famous to bulldoze, with its stone high-Victorian, mostly gingerbread edifices, and tree-lined streets named after Confederate and other historical heroes. Many refugees from previously destroyed areas had settled here, as had retired colonels and generals from our military bases. The district had been gentrified, and many of the houses restored to their former glory by young couples, using “sweat equity.” So the city council merely doubled the real-estate taxes every year, through “value assessments,” until almost no one could afford to live there. The newer residents found that their tax bill was higher than their mortgage bill. Within five years, our taxes rose almost to the actual value of the house, and we had to sell. We searched and found the nearest forgotten downtown slum with a large old stone building in it, restored the place, built a fence around it, and bought more guns. We shall never move again. Our original neighbors sold or had their homes taken for taxes and have moved to the northwest. Midway through this process, the city lowered the assessments and taxes in King William back to reasonable levels, claiming it did so in response to the outcry by the earlier residents, though most of them had left permanently. Today the King William area is a haven for homosexual “artists,” with rainbow flags in front of most houses. Our old home is now a party house for the Lavender Brigade.
The few remaining fine old houses and buildings downtown have become city and county offices.
The city council is sometimes subtle. Even after seven years of President Obama, some Americans still wonder what a “community organizer” is. San Antonians don’t, having had gauleiters for years. The city council pressures and threatens the few remaining neighborhoods to organize and give up their property rights to neighborhood associations, with the power of law and confiscation and model “constitutions” and regulations provided by the city. As Mel Gibson’s character in The Patriot declared (when he was still neutral in the Revolution), “Why should I trade one tyrant three thousand miles away for three thousand tyrants one mile away?”
The old San Antonio is gone, leaving without a home those residents who have lived here for many generations and don’t like the northern cookie-cutter suburbs—residents like us, whose townhouse has always been downtown, even before northward expansion gobbled up our family ranch. San Antonio might be an ugly old lady now, wrinkled, expensive, and manipulated by little Rasputins, but she is still our mother. As some Tory wag said, one can’t choose when one lives, but one can choose where one lives. It should be near the graves of one’s ancestors.
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