san antonio content II

Let’s talk about the weather in S.A. We are blessed with a temperate climate here in San Antonio. Most of the time, our weather forecasters have difficulty finding “storms” to talk about. We do have floods, tornados, hail, sleet, and heat waves, but lately significant weather events come around as often as the proverbial blue moon. I can’t remember when we last had a soaking rain, and we really need one!

The city of San Antonio is located in the south–central portion of Texas on the Balcones escarpment. Northwest of the city, the terrain slopes upward to the Edwards Plateau and to the southeast it slopes downward to the Gulf Coastal Plains. Soils are blackland clay and silty loam on the Plains and thin limestone soils on the Edwards Plateau. The location of San Antonio on the edge of the Gulf Coastal Plains is influenced by a modified subtropical climate, predominantly continental during the winter months and marine during the summer months. Temperatures range from 50 degrees in January to the middle 80s in July and August. While the summer is hot, with daily temperatures above 90 degrees over 80 percent of the time, extremely high temperatures are rare. Mild weather prevails during much of the winter months, with below–freezing temperatures occurring on an average of about 20 days each year.

Above is a pic from the flood of 2002 taken on Route 281 on July 3rd. That summer, it seemed like it rained for forty days and forty nights.

San Antonio is situated between a semi–arid area to the west and the coastal area of heavy precipitation to the east. The normal annual rainfall of nearly 28 inches is sufficient for the production of most crops. Precipitation is fairly well distributed throughout the year with the heaviest amounts occurring during May and September. The precipitation from April through September usually occurs from thunderstorms. Large amounts of precipitation may fall during short periods of time. Most of the winter precipitation occurs as light rain or drizzle. Thunderstorms and heavy rains have occurred in all months of the year. Hail of damaging intensity seldom occurs but light hail is frequent with the springtime thunderstorms. Measurable snow occurs only once in three or four years. Snowfall of 2 to 4 inches occurs about every ten years. Northerly winds prevail during most of the winter, and strong northerly winds occasionally occur during storms called northers. Southeasterly winds from the Gulf of Mexico also occur frequently during winter and are predominant in summer.

Since San Antonio is located only 140 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, tropical storms occasionally affect the city with strong winds and heavy rains. One of the fastest winds recorded, 74 mph, occurred as a tropical storm moved inland east of the city in August 1942. Relative humidity is above 80 percent during the early morning hours most of the year, dropping to near 50 percent in the late afternoon. San Antonio has about 50 percent of the possible amount of sunshine during the winter months and more than 70 percent during the summer months. Skies are clear to partly cloudy more than 60 percent of the time and cloudy less than 40 percent. Air carried over San Antonio by southeasterly winds is lifted orographically, causing low stratus clouds to develop frequently during the later part of the night. These clouds usually dissipate around noon, and clear skies prevail a high percentage of the time during the afternoon. The first occurrence of 32 degrees Fahrenheit is in late November and the average last occurrence is in early March. The highest temperature ever to be recorded was 111 °F (43.8 °C) on September 5, 2000. The lowest recorded temperature ever was 0 °F (-17.7 °C) on January 31, 1949. The most rain recorded on any calendar day occurred Saturday, Oct. 17th, 1998…when 11.26 inches of rain fell at the San Antonio International Airport.
Yesterday I had to answer a summons to jury duty. Bexar County has taken away any excuse that you are unable to get there by giving jurors a free pass to the Via bus system to and from the courthouse. I did not use this service in the morning as I had to be there at eight am and had a pal drop me off downtown, affording me a few minutes extra sleep. However, I did choose to ride one of the new Primo busses back home to the Medical Center area later in the day.

On arrival, I had to get through the security screening at the door. I then made my way downstairs to the central jury room where I, and about two hundred prospective jurors, listened to a welcoming spiel from a court employee. After this, we were all released until 9:30 when we were all called back into the room via the paging system. The first panel of jurors was for a group of twenty-five called for at ten in the morning. I was not among those called for. The second call was for 75 jurors at 10:15 for the criminal court of Judge Melisa Skinner on the fourth floor. This time I was among those called and was assigned a number. We all trooped up to the fourth floor and lined up in numerical order in the hallway. After this, we all stood around waiting for a half hour until the bailiff finally ushered us into the courtroom.

The judge welcomed all of us, and thanked all of us for responding to the summons, adding that many people simply ignore the call to jury duty. Why is non compliance with a jury duty summons not punished by a monetary fine? We were then told that the case we would be hearing if selected for the jury involved a criminal charge regarding sexual contact with a child. The judge then asked if any of us would have a problem hearing a case of this nature. Fully eighty percent of the jurors hands immediately shot up in the air. I know this is a “hot button” topic, but I could not help but wonder how many of these people were simply trying to avoid serving. This was followed by voir dire by both the district attorney, and the lawyer for the accused. I was silently shaking my head in disbelief at some of the answers given in response to the lawyer’s queries. Guilty or innocent, how would this man ever get a fair trial when many in the room had already convicted him before ever hearing a shred of evidence in the case? I must confess that it was with a sigh of relief that we were told that a jury had been chosen at around 4:30, and that I was dismissed.

oyster Bake
It’s almost Fiesta time San Antonio, and that means that the Oyster Bake will be coming up this next weekend. While I’m sure that many San Antonio residents eagerly look forward to this event, I nust confess that I do not. In a nutshell, here’s why.

I’d heard lots about this Fiesta event from friends and co-workers, and I love oysters: baked, steamed, on the half, or any way that can be devised to enjoy them. I was primed to go. Bring on the bivalves!

Late Friday afternoon we parked our car at the Crossroads Mall, and got in line with hundreds of other people to take one of the Via shuttle buses for the short ride to St. Marys to avoid the traffic and parking mayhem at the Oyster Bake. So far, so good. The bus ride was an easy and inexpensive way to get there. On arrival, we got our bearings, purchased our tickets and coupons for food and drink, and set off to explore the grounds. So, this was an Oyster Bake, “Texas Style”, and whoa, there were lots of folks out to enjoy it. I mean LOTS of people! It was impossible to move, except in one direction, circling around to the right along with all the other patrons. We angled right and left through the crowds to get to the food and beverage vendors lining each side of the venue, exchanged coupons for a couple of beers, thought about turkey legs momentarily, but no way. I was primed for oysters. The crowds were getting thicker and thicker, and I was shuffling my feet to avoid tripping on the empty beer cans littering the ground. I was reminded of Thoreau’s comment about why he did not like cities and crowds: I have to take “big steps and little steps”. I’d seen lots of food and beer vendors, but nary an oyster did I see after two circuits around the grounds. It’s posssible we missed them in the crowds, but I don’t think so. We decided to “call it an evening” and head back home to La Fonda for margaritas. The adventure was not over yet! We boarded the bus to take us back to Crossroads (along with a bunch of intoxicated merrymakers). Not so very long into the bus ride, we heard the unmistakable sounds of retching from behind us, and turned around just in time to see a young lady barfing all over the center aisle, filling the bus with the odors of undigested beer and food. I’ll enjoy my oysters at the Dry Dock Oyster Bar at the corner of Fredericksburg and Wurzback!

Fiesta Oyster Bake

The first Oyster Bake was held in 1916 on the banks of the San Antonio River in conjunction with St. Mary University’s downtown campus when a small group of alumni gathered for their annual meeting and election of officers. Until the early 1940s, the only people in attendance were dues paying members of the then all-male ex-students association of the university.

When did the Fiesta Oyster Bake become an official Fiesta San Antonio event? In 1974, the Oyster Bake became an official Fiesta San Antonio event.

Who coordinates the Fiesta Oyster Bake? The Fiesta Oyster Bake is produced by San Antonio Special Events, LLC., held on the campus of St. Mary’s University and coordinated by a couple of staff members, an all-volunteer Executive Committee, a few hundred key volunteers and managers and 7,000 volunteers who contribute about 50,000 volunteer hours.

I don’t like oysters, what other types of food and beverages do you offer at the Fiesta Oyster Bake? Yes we do have oysters, but if you do not like the delectable shellfish, we offer more than 50 food and beverage items. Our orders include the following:

100,000 Oysters (baked, fried and raw)
25,000 Fried Chicken Breasts (Chicken on a Stick w/jalapeno)
3,000 lbs. Beef and Chicken Fajitas
6,000 Turkey Legs
6,000 Hamburgers

3,000 Slices of Cheesecake
7,500 Ears of Corn
2,500 lbs. Sausage
21,000 gal. Beverages (beer, soda, lemonade, tea, etc.)

How do I buy the food and beverage items?
All food and beverage items must be purchased with special Fiesta Oyster Bake coupons. We have five coupon booths available on Friday and ten coupon booths on Saturday. Our food and beverage prices are very affordable so that all of our patrons can enjoy all that the Fiesta Oyster Bake has to offer.

This last Sunday, I did something that’s a bit “out of character” for me. I’ll be the first to admit, that aside from a few sorties, I’ve pretty much avoided the Fiesta celebrations in the past. I really don’t enjoy massive crowds, especially intoxicated ones (which seem to be the case at Fiesta venues after dark), and hate traffic jams and parking hassles. I did take an express bus with Via from Crossroads Mall to downtown on Sunday. Unlike my earlier experiences with the Via bus system, it left on time, and delivered me to Commerce Street very quickly. My only complaint, and it’s a big one, is when asked how to get the express bus back to Crossroads Mall, the driver told me to take any #92 bus. WRONG! Express service is #93 or #94 to that location. Also, Via’s website lists the fare at the time I was traveling as $1.15. It’s actually $2.00.

Enough about that! I had a great time strolling around the Farmer’s Market, and the Fiesta crowds weren’t all that bad. I had “sausage on a stick”, a beer or two, listened to some Mariachis, people watched. and then repaired to the Menger Hotel bar to “rest up” before the trek back to the Medical Center, and home. There, I met some very nice ladies from Iowa, who’d also had a similar inspiration. All in all, it was a very enjoyable afternoon!

Historic Market Square in San Antonio is rich in Mexican culture. The three-square block area is home to a variety of shops, galleries and restaurants, offering the wares and cuisine of Mexico. Market Square consists of Farmer’s Market, El Mercado and Produce Row.

Just across the way from the Farmer’s Market plaza of Market Square, you’ll find the original El Mercado – the largest Mexican marketplace outside of Mexico. Merchants in this large indoor area sell clothing, jewelry, pottery, collectibles and everything in between.

San Antonio’s Market Square is boundaried by Dolorosa, Santa Rosa and Commerce streets and on the west side by I-35. The street address for Market Square is 514 W. Commerce.

Market Square plays an important role in this “uniqueness” of San Antonio. It is a favorite place for visitors and natives alike. Market Square truly reflects the flavor that has always been San Antonio. This most colorful area is located between Dolorosa, Santa Rosa, and Commerce Streets with IH-35 serving as its western boundary. A variety of shops and restaurants line the pedestrian plazas within the three-square block area.

Included in these shops was the Botica Gudalupana, until recently, the oldest continually operated pharmacy in San Antonio. Mi Tierra Café & Bakery anchors the excellent assortment of restaurants in the area. History surrounds both of these businesses. The building that houses Botica Guadalupana dates back to 1820. It was the first permanent structure on Produce Row. Prior to becoming a drug store in 1893, the building was used as a mercantile-dry goods store, a theater-entertainment house with liquor and cockfights, and as a house for ladies of questionable character. The first pharmacy on this site was Cowen Drug, which opened in 1893. Juan Leal bought the store in 1912 and changed its name to Botica Guadalupana. In 1921 Daniel San Miguel began working for Leal and in 1933 bought the store and retained the name. Daniel San Miguel was known as the grandfather of Market Square. His family operated the store until recently.

Mi Tierra Café and Bakery, which actually means “my land” in English, is also a family business. Pete Cortez first opened the doors of Mi Tierra in 1943 and it has never closed – it is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Spicy Mexican food an authentic Mexican bakery and peppy mariachi music have been the mainstays here ever since. The Cortez family tradition is now being carried out by Pete Cortez’s children and grandchildren.

In addition to shops and restaurants along the main pedestrian walkways, Market Square also features a large indoor area with 32 shops called El Mercado. Visitors to this historic square avail themselves to a myriad of activities. They sip margaritas in outdoor cafes, savor the finest Mexican foods including tasty fajitas, listen to the music of strolling musicians and visit shops filled to overflow with pinatas, Mexican dresses, curios, candies, jewelry, art, and an infinite variety of other items. There is also the Farmers Market where farmers brought fresh produce from the fields and offered it for sale. Due to the growth of Market Square as a tourist attraction, fresh produce became an item not in demand. Today, the new Farmers Market Plaza, renovated in January of 1994, contains small to large shops and a food court. A blend of merchandise that is representative of the cultural, artistic and ethnic influences of Texas and Mexico.

The Centro de Artes del Mercado, or Market Square Arts Center, was also a viable part of this beautiful area. Conferences, civic and social functions, dance and drama presentations, art exhibits and concerts were all part of the many gatherings in this magnificently restored two-story building. In 1998 the Centro Alameda and the Smithsonian Institute have combined to create a museum which will tell the story of the Latino experience in America with traveling exhibits, beginning in the fall of 2005. Market Square, just 10 blocks from the Alamo, is easily reached from any downtown location, including all major hotels. Two of the exciting ways to travel to the area are by streetcar and horse drawn carriage.

San Antonio’s Market Square is a perfect example of preserving the past for present and future generations to enjoy and appreciate. There is much history here. As early as 1805, San Antonio had a public market. It was in this year that Antonio Cordero y Bustamante, Governor of the Spanish Province of Texas, ordered the construction of a permanent market for the slaughtering and sale of livestock. The market was built, but was by no means permanent. As a matter of record, San Antonio has had numerous market areas, the last of which is the current Market Square.

The 1830’s brought with them an informal market on Plaza de Armas. This area was later simply called Military Plaza and is the current location of City Hall. In its day, the market served as the town square and meeting place for merchants, craftsmen, promoters, and musicians. San Antonio Chili was born here. This spicy combination of meat and beans was sold on the plaza in huge clay pots simmering on charcoal braziers. The actual dispensers of this legendary concoction were women known as “Chili Queens”. Their reputation spread far beyond the city. Many dignitaries of the era sampled San Antonio chili and loved it. This market area flourished until 1889.

Four years after the fall of the Alamo and the subsequent victory by Sam Houston and his men over Santa Ana and his Mexican troops at San Jacinto, San Antonio had still another official market. In 1840, the City Council passed an ordinance establishing the first City Market House. The decree mandated that a long, low building of stone on the north side of Plaza de Armas be utilized for this market. The building was believed to have been the last remaining portion of the original Spanish Presidio. Strict rules were written by the council on how the market was to be operated. It was a meat market providing a central place for the display and sale of beef, mutton, cabrito (young goat) and hog. A commissioner was appointed to enforce the rules which included a provision that beef on sale be “certified”, meaning the hide, with the brand, had to be displayed to guarantee that no rustlers were involved.

From 1840 to 1860 the Market House and the market on the Plaza de Armas operated side by side. It was a colorful time. The old plaza teemed with life. Ox carts and wagons shared space with anxious vendors and satisfied buyers. Fruits and vegetables were brought to the outdoor market each morning direct from countryside fields. Strolling housewives and chefs from the finest hotels and restaurants in the city purchased fresh goods for the day. German, Mexican, French, English, Chinese and Italian citizens came to the market place, or Mercado, to buy and sell.

In 1860, a new Market House was constructed at 511 W. Market Street, just north of Plaza de las Islas, or Main Plaza. Grecian architectural design was utilized in the construction of this building. Locals called it “The Greek Temple”. It was completed with classic Doric columns and served as the city’s main meat market until it was sold to private entrepreneurs in 1893. The building was converted into a hardware store, then eventually torn down in 1926 to make way for a flood channel cut-off in the San Antonio River. This new Market House continued to complement the Plaza de Armas outdoor market until 1889. It was in this year the outdoor market closed forever giving way to the city’s plan to build City Hall on the exact spot

The official founding of what we now call Market Square followed in 1892. On petition of the citizens of San Antonio, Presidio Square was designed as an open market and not as a park, which it had previously been. Later, the portion of Presidio Square which fronted on Commerce Street, where Centro de Artes del Mercado now stands, was designated as Paschal Square. This was done in 1894 in honor of Mayor George Paschal who died in office. On the west side of this area was a haymarket where fresh produce was sold from wagons. This new marketplace was further developed with the construction, in 1899, of a Victorian style new City Market House designed by Alfred Giles. It stood as the premier market for San Antonio until 1938 when it was replaced by the building that we now know as El Mercado. The present Mercado was built with federal funds and remodeled in an urban renewal sponsored project in 1976.

Since 1894, this area has been the public marketplace of San Antonio. Through the years, private businesses grew up around the market. Establishments on Produce Row flourished. In 1920 the building now housing Centro de Artes was constructed. The market, or El Mercado, thrived until 1950 when a more modern Terminal Market was established on the city’s west side. Most produce farmers and major fruit and vegetable establishments moved south, leaving El Mercado and surrounding merchants in an unenviable position. The years from 1950 to 1976 were not easy ones for the businessmen and women of the area. But, through the leadership of individuals like Pete Cortez and Daniel San Miguel, they found a way to survive. One of the remaining produce farmers sold a customer a bean pot for 25 cents. This small transaction led to the eventual selling of curios and souvenirs in El Mercado and it opened the way for increasing diversity as exemplified by today’s various shops selling products from all over the world.

Concerned area merchants from the private sector, the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, the City of San Antonio, and the Urban Renewal Agency joined efforts in the early 1970’s to bring new life to Market Square. They agreed upon a plan of action and saw it through to completion. The construction of the present Farmers Market, with roof top parking at the west extremity of Market Square, the renovation of the Market House, were all a part of the plan as was the development of pedestrian plazas on Produce Row and Concho Street. Centro de Artes del Mercado was also initiated as a part of this Urban Renewal project. This new Market Square was completed in 1976 with completion of the Centro de Artes renovation following in 1978. Millions of visitors come to Market Square each year. They come to see and feel history. They also come to celebrate during special occasions like Fiesta in April, Cinco de Mayo in May, a Forth of July celebration with a unique style in July, Diez y Seis in September, a Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead presentation in November, and Fiestas Navidenas in December. In addition, it seems there is a celebration every weekend. Market Square is a world of beauty, charm and historical elegance. It is yesterday revisiting today, with a future which remains bright. Market Square plays an important role in the uniqueness of San Antonio.

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