Octagonal Bank of New Zealand banker's desk carved from Australian red cedar, Dunedin, circa 1883.

Octagonal Bank of New Zealand banker's desk carved from Australian red cedar, Dunedin, circa 1883.
Octagonal Bank of New Zealand banker's desk carved from Australian red cedar, Dunedin, circa 1883.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The West End, 100 years old, and over 1,000 acres - Sunday, November 11, 2018

You can live in a city for quite a while and still learn a lot about it. That happened to us this weekend when we did Cultural Landscape Foundation tours in San Antonio. The Cultural Landscape Foundation connects people with places. San Antonio is the 23rd U.S. city to have the privilege of expert speakers guiding us around local landscapes and telling us the history of these places.

Today was our last tour of the weekend. It was an Oregon-rain-type day, with just enough cold, wind, and drizzle to make it pretty miserable outside. However, being Oregonians, we brought umbrellas and nice, warm coats for the adventure.

When we arrived, we didn't see anyone there. After sitting in the car for 10 minutes, a few people had started to congregate in the parking lot. Upon meeting them, we found out it was our tour guide and two other couples who had come for the tour. 

We waited a few more minutes, and when no one else showed up, we figured the weather dissuaded them from coming out. Our tour leader said 24 had signed up. He is part of the community association that oversees this landscape. 

History: [NOTE: The historical information comes from a handout we received at the start.] The park in which we started our tour began as a recreation area to enhance a new suburb outside of San Antonio. The development of the park we were in and a lake went hand in hand with the growth of the surrounding neighborhoods.

In 1887, General W. Russ organized the West End Townsite Company and acquired 1,000 acres of land that is now a lake and surrounding neighborhood for an exclusive residential development. The Alazan Creek meandered through here.

In 1888, the Company obtained a franchise for a streetcar company. To run its tracks, the Company built up land across the path of the creek, damming up the waters and forming a lake. Dirt for the dam was dug up from the opposite side of the lake, to create what is now the casting pond. Later, the lake was deepened by dredging with mule teams.

The new pool was named West End Lake. Two artesian wells were drilled to fill it. Improvements included a roadway around the lake, some landscaping, a boat landing, and a clubhouse on a floating island. When the floating island did not work out, the clubhouse was moved to the bank of the lake. West End became the social center of the city.

As other suburbs developed, West End declined in popularity. The depression of 1893 added to the Company's financial woes. The people who loaned money to the Company (Julia Anderson and F.H. Baldwin) foreclosed on the property, and the lenders took possession. At his death, Baldwin left his interest in West End Lake to the University of Cincinnati, a city-owned institution. Anderson joined with the University to give 87 acres of land to the City of San Antonio on the condition that the lake and surrounding area be improved.

In 1920, the West End Improvement Club was organized to work with the city in the development, improvement, and beautification of West End and the lake. The club changed the name of the lake and, with the approval of the City Council, West End Lake became Woodlawn Lake.

Many more improvements were made to the park including the addition of a playground, community building, concrete-lined swimming pool, a new arch proclaiming "Josephine Tobin Driveway," a spillway, more dredging was done, and a new artesian well with a pump station was added so the lake could be maintained as a live body of water.

In the 1970s the Woodlawn Lake Comunity Association was formed to carry on the work of its predecessor, the West End Improvement Club. In 2000, Woodlawn Lake Park was designated a historic district. A flood control project (widening an inlet channel) took place from 2013-2015. In 2016, WLCA began work on a Centennial Garden, a native plants habitat for birds and butterflies, to mark the park's 100 years.

After our history lesson, we took off on a short walk to look at the lake and the Centennial Garden.  

Made by children in the park's summer program to
commemorate our country's centennial.
Woodlawn Lake was known for its miniature boat sailing club. Our tour guide didn't know if this club was still going.

Tile art on the side of the Sailing Club clubhouse.
Egyptian goose napping by the lake.
A lighthouse in the lake is for decoration only,
Swan Lake?
Pretty tile work on the planters: picnickers.
Kite flying. 
When we finished looking at the lake and its landscaping, we were invited to go on a short walk. At that point, the other four people bailed out. They missed the most interesting part of the walk (in my opinion). We walked a few hundred feet across a parking lot and road to the Centennial Garden. As we approached the garden, two other tour experts met us at a picnic shelter. These guys knew every plant in the landscape and I believe one of them was a lepidopterist. He identified the butterflies we saw today.

Centennial Garden to attract birds and butterflies.
As we walked through the garden, I was able to ply these guys with all sorts of questions about the best plants for butterflies and hummingbirds. Three tour guides for the two of us! Wow.

Male Monarch butterfly with mist flowers
and dwarf lantana in the background.
Here is a list of hummingbird, butterfly, and moth friendly plants (at least in South Central Texas):

  • Dwarf Porterweed (comes in red, blue, salmon, and pink): Plant 4' apart. It has a tall, spiky flower (cut off spike when done blooming), and is an evergreen
  • Sensitive Plant: ground cover. Be sure to get the kind without thorns!!
  • Dwarf Lantana: comes in different colors (red, yellow, orange)
  • Tropical Milkweed: About 2-3' tall with a red flower
  • Asters: Fall blooming, bushy, about 2-3' tall with a lavender flower. Lady Aster can be mowed down to 2" and will still flower. It makes a great ground cover as it spreads.  Do NOT get the New England asters!
  • Frog fruit (he gave me some starter plants, no less)
  • Crag lily: endangered species; has a yellow spike flower
  • Sweet almond verbena: tall
They wanted me to be sure to get photos of their signage, so I obliged.


After our tour, we drove by the Basilica of the Little Flowers. We've talked about going to see it many times and since we were so close, we drove by. My picture had to be taken quickly because church was letting out and we were blocking traffic for a few seconds.

Basilica of the Little Flowers.
Again, we had another very interesting day. We are so enamored of The Cultural Landscape Foundation tours, that we are planning to go to Nashville next April. I can't wait to see what gems we find in Nashville to tour! (April is when we start our 6-7 month 5th-wheel travels from San Antonio to the northeastern United States.) 

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