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Category: none
Comment: Visions of better cities: It's a father-son thing
Web Posted : 11/16/2003 12:00 AM
Mike Greenberg's fine piece "S.A. native works to save N.Y.'s High Line" (Oct. 26, Culturas) about Robert Hammond and his vision to save the High Line and to create a linear park along its former tracks reminded me of another San Antonian who is also a visionary.

That's Robert's dad, Hall Hammond. Robert created a group called Friends of the High Line. In 1978, Hall created a non-profit San Antonio group called Friends of the Parks. With the blessings of the Parks Department, their first project was the restoration of San Pedro Springs.

For those who don't remember, San Pedro Springs is the second-oldest designated park in America (the Boston Commons is first) and was the site of the first Alamo location.

Adjacent to the San Antonio College campus, the 40-acre park has a rich history dating from the founding of the settlement in 1690. Hall approached Charles Butt and the H-E-B Foundation, then in Corpus Christi, for a $5,000 grant to undertake a master plan study for the Park. (I worked as a consultant and prepared an initial master plan for presentation to the parks department.)

Twenty-five years later, Hall and I sit and have lunch by the restored San Pedro Springs. The remarkable restoration was completed in 2000 by Beaty Saunders Architects and RVK Architects under a $7 million project funded by the parks department and the city of San Antonio.

For those who have not stopped by the park, take a picnic lunch in December, when the 200-year-old cypress trees are turning color, and walk around the original spring lake. The architects recreated the spring lake as a community swimming pool and restored the historical elements of the park. In many ways, they re-re- created the original heart of San Antonio.

During our lunch, Hall reminded me that Robert used to come with him to the park to swim in the springs that continue to flow when the aquifer is up.

San Pedro Springs has been watched over by many groups, so the history of saving and revitalizing the park has many authors (Alta Vista, Monte Vista, the Conservation Society, San Antonio Parks Foundation, San Pedro Playhouse, the Parks Department; the list is expandable).

With planning work on the park completed, the Friends then restored Brackenridge Park's Borglum Studio, where world-renowned sculpture Gutzon Borglum conceived Mount Rushmore. They nominated it as a National Register property in 1986, then passed the torch to the San Antonio Parks Foundation.

Hall Hammond then served as chairman for construction of the Lucile Halsell Conservatory at the San Antonio Botanical Garden. This nine-year effort produced one of San Antonio's unique architectural structures, completed in 1989. The conservatory was the vision of Gilbert Denman and the Ewing Halsell Foundation.

For those who have never visited the San Antonio Botanical Garden and its very visible glass structures, the garden, like San Pedro Spring, the missions and the River Walk, is one of our city treasures. Hall now volunteers with the Friends of Big Bend, a visionary project he started in 1996.

I often am reminded as an architect and planner that we can only design the vision of a patron. Central Park in New York, the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, San Pedro Springs and the San Antonio River Walk are products of communities committed to a democracy of place. Every community has these places that are its legacy. They are not the sole property or idea of a single man, but rather visions that create threads of other visions to become a reality.

Robert Hammond and Hall Hammond have woven the threads that help create democracies of place in New York City and in San Antonio.

I'm sure Robert will look forward to a picnic with his Dad on the High Line. The vision is there. They just need a place to sit.

Joe Stubblefield is a principal in SA Architects and Engineers.

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