September 17, 2011: A Visit to the Dallas Arboretum
August 6, 2011: The August Birthdays
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August 24-27, 2011
Prudence's Birthday in San Antonio


For some time, Ron Ruckman has planned Prudence's birthday for Friday, August 26- which is actually the date of her birthday- and of course Fred and I planned to join them.


Getting to San Antonio

Ron Ruckman wanted to surprise Prudence by having Guy Blair come down from Chamberlain, SD, for her birthday, but Guy could not be in San Antonio on Friday; he only had Wednesday and Wednesday night that he could spend. So that's what Guy did; he planned to fly from Chamberlain to San Antonio on Wednesday, have dinner with the Ruckmans on Wednesday and then return to South Dakota the next day. We planned a surprise for Guy. Since Guy had to fly through Dallas to get to San Antonio, and since I helped Guy with his reservations, I knew what seat he would be in on his Dallas-San Antonio flight. I arranged for Fred and I to fly down instead of driving, and I booked the two seats next to him. We planned to surprise him on the plane, and I laid the plans by telling him weeks ahead that Fred and I wouldn't be able to go down to San Antonio until Friday.

Usually, Fred and I drive to San Antonio, but this time we planned to fly. Not just to surprise Guy, though. Earlier in the year, Fred had gotten an email from American Airlines to the effect that the bulk of his miles were expiring, and he didn't see the email until it was too late. Some calls to American resulted in Fred's signing up for a "program" that restores expired miles. It involved a small fee and the requirement that in the following six months he take two round trips on the airline (we had not flown in some time, and that's why his miles had expired). So we planned to fly on this trip to San Antonio and on our next trip to Florida in October to fulfill that requirement. I was able to find very, very good fares for both trips, so it was no big deal.

Anyway, Fred and I drove his SUV to the airport in the morning, and parked it at the airport Days Inn hotel (they have a program that offers extremely cheap parking and a shuttle to the airport). We got the shuttle to the terminal, went through security, and headed to the departure gate. Now, I had assumed that Guy would be on a continuing flight and thus would be on the plane when it came in, so it was Guy who surprised us as we were putting down our bags in the seating area right across from where he was sitting. I had not expected to see him in the waiting area, and so I didn't even notice him when we sat down! He was surprised in that he didn't expect to see us at all, but the surprise didn't quite work out as I had planned. We had a nice, short flight down to San Antonio, and Ron picked us up at the airport. Ron drove us to the bed and breakfast, and while we were greeting Prudence (she knew Fred and I were coming), Guy came up behind her and his presence was quite a surprise.


Exploring the San Antonio Missions

Ron has planned a dinner cruise on the Riverwalk for Prudence this evening; this afternoon, we wants to drive south to the Mission Road to walk through two of the old San Antonio missions- Mission Concepcion and Mission San Jose. Fred and I have been to both of them before (Mission San Jose numerous times), but look forward to wandering around them with Ron, Prudence and Guy.

At left, I have put a map of the San Antonio Missions so you can see where we went. (If the map is not filling the window, please just click on it to enlarge.)

You can follow our progress along the Mission Trail by scrolling the diagram up and down. The Mission Trail actually includes five missions; from north to south they are The Alamo, Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan and Mission Espada. All we will do today are Mission Concepcion and Mission San Jose. Fred found just before we headed out that his camera batteries were all discharged, so I will be doing the picture-taking duties this afternoon.

Ron drove us down to the parking area for Mission Concepcion and we began to walk around.


Mission Concepcion

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña (also Mission Concepcion) was established in 1716 as Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de los Hainais in East Texas. The mission was moved in 1731 to San Antonio. Founded by Franciscan friars, this is the best preserved of the Texas missions.

Originally founded in 1716 in what is now eastern Texas, the mission was one of six authorized by the government to serve as a buffer against the threat of French incursion into Spanish territory from Louisiana. Developed by Franciscans and after a tenuous existence and several moves, the mission was transferred to its present site in 1731. This handsome stone church took about 20 years to build, and was dedicated in 1755. It appears very much as it did over two centuries ago. Due to the fact that it was built directly on bedrock, it never lost its roof, or its integrity. It remains the least restored of the colonial structures within the Park. In its heyday, colorful geometric designs covered its surface inside and out. The exterior patterns have long since faded or been worn away. However, there are several rooms in which to see remaining frescos with all their detail and creativity.

Past the mission gate the road led north along the San Antonio River to Mission San Antonio de Valero (now known as The Alamo) and the military post of San Antonio de Bexar. to the south the road went to Mission San Jose and the two missions beyond.

The missions communicated with each other and provided mutual support even though each mission was a self-contained community. At one of the entrance signs, you can see an artist's depiction of the mission as it might have looked two hundred years ago. In that artist's conception, you can see that a wall surrounded the large open area in front of the actual mission buildings; this defined an area to which locals could repair in times of danger, such as Indian attacks, or gather for festivals. Just to my right as I faced the mission I could see part of this original wall.

At the right, I've shown a diagram of the Mission Concepcion. As we approached the mission, we split up, with the other four folks going in the main church entrance, while I went on a different path to make a movie. My movie follows that path through the mission building and into the courtyard beyond. You can use the player below to walk with me on this route through the mission:

I went on in to the main chapel where I rejoined everyone. The first thing I did was to ask Guy and Prudence to allow me to take their picture at the front of the chapel. Looking up towards the ceiling at the front of the chapel, we find an old iron chandelier that once held candles but which has now been wired for electricity, and we can also see the vaulted dome ceiling. I was intrigued by the designs in the ceiling, and when I moved directly underneath the dome to look up, I also found that I could position my shot to be directly under the circular chandelier as well when I looked up. You can see the resulting geometric picture here.

I made a movie here in the main chapel, panning around from where Ron, Prudence, Fred and Guy were standing in front of the abstract depiction of the Virgin Mary to show you the entire chapel. You can watch that movie with the player at left.

I took a few other pictures here in the main chapel. In one, you can see the table, chairs and abstract depiction of the Virgin Mary at the left side of the chapel, one of the two hanging decorations that evoke the aspect of the Trinity (one hangs on either side of the altar area) and, finally, looking towards the back of the chapel, the main entry and the galleries above it. You can see that last view here.

From the main chapel, we went out through the convento back to the courtyard. It was here that we saw some of the frescoes that adorn various areas in the church. The integrity of the church and convento roofs at Mission Concepción prevented the deterioration of many fine examples of frescoes. This tediously applied art form covered the front of the church and most of the church and convento interiors. Today only four rooms clearly show remnants of these colorful designs painted over 250 years ago. While many of the existing frescos are simply decorative, several are symbolic. The most famous fresco, located on the convento room ceiling, is a possible depiction of God as a mestizo.

Exiting the convento, we passed an interesting stone staircase up to a covered balcony. Then we found ourselves in the courtyard.

The church of Mission Concepción is an excellent example of Spanish Colonial architecture. A variety of features were incorporated into the construction of this and other existing mission churches in the park. Intricate Renaissance and Moorish details complement Romanesque forms and gothic arches. It is a cruciform (cross-shaped) building of limestone. The roof is vaulted with a dome, with which recent research is suggesting a deliberate placement of windows to illuminate the two side altars on specific feast days. Twin bell towers may have been topped by crosses similar to those in place today. Colorful Moorish designs mix with images showing both Native American and Spanish Catholic influences.

Mission builders, skilled master craftsmen recruited from Mexico, preserved the basic Spanish model, with modifications dictated by frontier conditions. The quarry from which the mission Indians dug the stone to build their community is located on the grounds of Mission Concepción. The church walls are 45 inches thick; however only the inside and outside facings are of solid stone - between the two layers is a filling of small stones and building debris. The native residents of the missions provided labor for the building of these churches. This activity was one way to foster a sense of community and provide a means of training the mission residents as artisans. As we were leaving the courtyard and heading back to the car, I asked Prudence to take one final picture of Fred and me at Mission Concepción.


Mission San Jose

From Mission Concepcion, we drove further south to visit the third mission in the chain- Mission San Jose. Again, Fred and I have been to this mission a few times before, and I think that Guy has as well. But a lot of restoration has been done, and Ron and Prudence wanted to see what it was like.

Founded in 1720 by Father Antonio Margil de Jesús, a very prominent Franciscan missionary in early Texas, Mission San Jose is still an active parish. The fine carvings on the facade of the church gave it the title, "Queen of the Missions." It was also the largest of the missions in the area. At its height, the community contained about 350 Indian neophytes, sustained by extensive fields and herds of livestock. Viewed as the model among the Texas missions, San José gained a reputation as a major social and cultural center. Its imposing complex of stone walls, bastions, granary, and magnificent church was completed by 1782.

So rich an enterprise was a natural target for Apache and Comanche depredations. Although they could not prevent raids on their livestock, the mission itself was almost impregnable. In his journal, Fray Juan Agustín Morfí attested to its defensive character: "It is, in truth, the first mission in America . . . in point of beauty, plan, and strength . . . there is not a presidio along the entire frontier line that can compare with it." The danger was when working the fields or during travel to and from the ranch or other missions. With technical help from the two presidial soldiers garrisoned there, San José residents learned to defend themselves. Already proficient with bow and arrow, the men also learned the use of guns and cannon.

We entered the mission from the south, although that was not the main entrance centuries ago; the church itself faces west. I have marked the current location of the parking area and visitor center on the diagram. We followed one of the walkways north and around to the main entrance to the church proper.

Mission San José had become a lasting symbol for the Spanish mission frontier in Texas, but had fallen into disrepair and partial ruin over the years. The San Antonio Conservation Society undertook to restore portions of the mission community in the 1920s and 1930s. The church, which had lost its dome, bell tower, and a wall, was rededicated in 1937. In 1941, Mission San José was declared a State Historic Site, and later that same year, a National Historic Site. When the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park was established in November 1978, the Spanish colonial mission was assured of protection in cooperation with the Archdiocese of San Antonio and the parish.

Much of what is visible today at Mission San José was reconstructed by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, and today about 80% of the church is original. The National Park Service, with help from taxpayers and the park's friends group, Los Compadres, is responsible for the the extant structures and historical landscape. The granary and the convento required stabilization and some reconstruction work. Other areas, notably the church and the colonnade, were beautifully restored in the late twentieth century, and about ten years ago a new visitor center was constructed. Today, Mission San Jose is is very good shape, and is a wonderful destination.

Inside the church, we walked forward to the beautifully-restored sacristy to admire the blue-and-gilt carvings. Fred took a picture of me at the sacristy, and I turned around to get a picture of the rear portion of the chapel.

In my movie made at the Church of Mission San Jose, I am standing in the middle front of the main aisle and, beginning with the ornate blue carved altar wall, I pan around the chapel. You can use the player at left to watch it.

As we exited the chapel through a side convento, I stopped to snap a picture of Prudence next to a colorful arrangement of serapes, flowers and a depiction of the Virgin Mary, and you can see that picture here. Then we went through a beautiful arched doorway out to the south rear area of the church and the amazing series of arched colonnades.

I find this area of Mission San Jose to be the most interesting. The graceful rows of two-storey arches are pretty amazing; I should do some research to find out exactly what their original purpose was. But with the gardens that have been planted, and the shade the arches offer, the entire area is a pleasure to visit and a great place to relax. You can click on the thumbnail images below to see some of the pictures I took of the area.

In the movie at right, Prudence and I have left the convento building, and are now out in the garden area that has the double-height arches running along one side, and you can have a look around the area with us.

This was our last stop this afternoon. After seeing two of the San Antonio Missions, we returned to Ruckman Haus to get ready for Prudence's birthday celebration on the San Antonio Riverwalk.


Prudence's Birthday Cruise

Ron has planned a dinner cruise for his wife, and right after we changed clothes from our afternoon at the missions, we headed down to the Riverwalk.

For Prudence's birthday cruise/dinner, Ron had assembled nine of us: Fred and me, Nancy and Karl, Guy, his friend Raoul and his girlfriend and, of course, he and Prudence. The cruise barges leave from three or four different restaurants along the Riverwalk; ours was departing from a Mexican restaurant, so our dinner choices were from that restaurant's menu. Each barge carries a pilot/narrator and around fourteen or sixteen people, so we took up a little over half of the cruise. Before we boarded, we had drinks outside the restaurant on the Riverwalk. Fred took a couple of pictures and you can see them if you click on the thumbnail images at left.

Before the cruise, I made a movie to show you our cruise boat looks like and I'll introduce you to everyone who will be helping Prudence celebrate her birthday. You can use the player at right to watch the movie.

When the barge was ready, we and the other guests boarded and found our seats. We ordered something to drink, and the barge was catered with chips and dips. Our waiter from the restaurant came around to take our orders, and then the barge headed out for the first part of the cruise. (The way these cruises work is that while the patrons are out for a half-hour or so, the restaurant is preparing all the meals for those onboard. The barge circles back so that those meals can be served and more drinks offered, and then the barge goes out again so patrons can eat while cruising and listening to the guide narrate.) In the pictures Fred and I took, you can see our group aboard our boat, ready to head out; just click on the thumbnails below to have a look:

Before we headed out, I made a movie of our group. You'll get a better view of our boat here in this movie that you can watch using the player at left.

I took a couple of pictures of our group, too, and you can see them if you click on the thumbnails below:

We have returned to the restaurant to be served our meals, and now we've headed out again. As eat our dinner, we are slowly cruising the San Antonio River while our pilot regales us with stories and information.

We cruised through RiverCenter, a brightly-lit, multi-storey shopping mall is at the end of the only cul-de-sac on the Riverwalk System. I took advantage of the light to film our cruise down the side canal and our turnaround in front of RiverCenter.

Ron has had Fred and I on these river cruises two times before, and we have enjoyed it each time. Fred and I thank Ron and Prudence profusely for allowing us to help them celebrate this evening and for the next two days.


Guy's Departure

Guy had to fly back to Chamberlain on Thursday morning, so we all got up early to go have breakfast and then take him to the airport. Before we left the bed and breakfast, I gathered the group together for a last picture. Then we stopped by a restaurant/bakery that is on the way to the airport. The odd thing about it is that the space also houses a church on Sundays- an actual church (albeit a small, non-denominational one). While we were having breakfast, I snapped a last picture of Karl/Nancy, Ron/Prudence, Guy and Fred. Then we dropped Guy off at the airport.


A Tour of Villa Finale

On Friday, Nancy, Prudence, Guy and Fred took a tour of Villa Finale. Ron Ruckman didn't feel like going, and touring old houses isn't really my thing, so I gave my camera to Fred and the four of them went over for the tour.

Construction began on the Italianate mansion now known as Villa Finale in 1876. It was a part of the then-thriving King William neighborhood, originally settled mostly by German immigrant families, many of whom became prosperous as merchants and bankers. By 1967, when Walter Nold Mathis bought the home, it was a rooming house and, like the neighborhood surrounding it, had settled into a decline. Mathis spent eighteen months restoring the home, and after the exhaustive work was done, he dubbed the house Villa Finale – his last home. In 2004, Mathis gave the 1876 home and his extensive collections to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, so the home could become the first National Trust Historic Site in Texas.

Walter Nold Mathis was a leading preservationist and businessman in San Antonio, Texas. An advocate for city and statewide historic preservation, Mathis was also a civic and cultural leader and a member of one of San Antonio’s original founding families with roots reaching back to the Canary Island settlers of 1731. Although Villa Finale was Mathis’ last personal residence, it wasn’t the last house he owned; he purchased another fourteen houses in King William and invested his own time and money to undertake essential preservation work on them before selling them to individuals who would continue their restoration. Mathis is widely recognized as the catalyst for the revitalization of the King William National Historic District.

Villa Finale is overflowing with Mathis’ 12,500 piece collection which includes distinctive examples of European furniture, ceramics, silver, and fine art. Mathis particularly enjoyed collecting memorabilia surrounding the life and death of Napoleon Bonaparte. The collection also includes a number of prominent Texas artists such as Mary Bonner, and Julian and Robert Onderdonk. Additionally, there is a wide range of Texas decorative arts, such as Bell silver, Texas furniture, and Texian campaign ceramics.

As with many tours of old homes, pictures were not allowed inside the mansion, so Fred could not get images of some of the collection inside. He did take a number of good pictures of the house and grounds, and I've selected the best of them to include here. Since I wasn't on the tour with them, I haven't been able to supply descriptions, but I think most of them should be self-explanatory. Just click on any of the many thumbnail images below to view his pictures:


Dinner at The Quarry

Friday night, August 26th, was Prudence's actual birthday, and so the six of us went out to a place that she and Ron like at the Quarry, the upscale shopping area a few miles from their house.

Before we started our meal, I made a movie of all of the attendees (including myself), and you can watch that movie with the player at left. I also got a nice picture of Prudence and Nancy.

Later, back at Ruckman Haus, Prudence had some of the cake I got for her earlier in the day, and I took a couple of candid shots of Karl clowning around as we were singing "Happy Birthday." (You can have a look at those pictures by clicking on the thumbnails at left.

Karl took some good pictures of Prudence, her sister and the rest of us during our time here in San Antonio, and I want to include some of them here. To view the pictures, just click on the thumbnails below:


A Postscript

Fred and I were scheduled to leave for home on a 1:40PM American Airlines flight, so we were relaxing after Ron's breakfast. I was doing something for Prudence, and I happened to walk past the garden where Fred was sitting by the waterfall. He motioned me over to tell me that he had had a headache since he got up, and that now he had some tightness in his chest. Remembering what happened two years ago, I borrowed Prudence's car and took Fred over to the emergency room at Methodist Hospital- not far away.

Every wait in the emergency room seems interminable, but we got in quickly and discovered Fred's BP to be dangerously high. He wasn't going to be traveling today, so I called American to cancel our space on the flight. Fred stayed in the emergency room all afternoon and into the evening as they tried to bring his pressure down and ran a number of tests. Eventually, he was admitted to the hospital, and there were plans to do a CT scan. The upshot of it all was that Fred was there until Monday afternoon when we were finally able to drive home.

In Dallas, Fred had a triple-bypass on Friday, September 2nd. I will have more to say about all of this elsewhere in the photo album (on the Miscellaneous page for this year). As I write this some seven weeks later, Fred is doing fine.

You can use the links below to continue to the album page for different day.

September 17, 2011: A Visit to the Dallas Arboretum
August 6, 2011: The August Birthdays
Return to Index for 2011