David Straus II, a visionary of the River Walk, died May 28.
David Straus II, a visionary of the River Walk, died May 28. Credit: Courtesy / The Straus Family

David Straus II, a decorated military officer, veteran of three wars and a local businessman who helped make the San Antonio River Walk the most visited attraction in Texas, died May 28. He was 98.

Friends and family recalled Straus’ limitless energy, service to country and steadfast commitment to tackling any obstacle. 

Joe Straus Jr. recounted a number of leadership roles his brother held in San Antonio going back decades, including heading up the annual United Way campaign, chairing the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and planning HemisFair ‘68. 

“He served on a number of boards and he was active — he didn’t take a passive role in any of them,” Straus said. 

His older brother lived by the words of President Calvin Coolidge, who said, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. … The slogan ‘press on!’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

David Straus was born in 1923 and grew up on the 1,000-acre La Cima Ranch in northwest San Antonio, land his father later sold to the growing insurance firm USAA for its headquarters. 

After graduating from the Texas Military Institute, he attended Dartmouth College until 1943 when he enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 19. Straus fought in the Okinawa campaign, a major battle waged in the Pacific during World War II. Soon after, he was sent to China to aid that country in protecting a railway during a civil war.

In a book he authored about his service, Straus wrote, “I’m immensely proud of my time as a China Marine. There are a few titles that carry as much instant respect with the Marine Corps veterans who appreciate the proud chapter in history that China Marines helped write on the world’s largest continent in the 20th century.”

Straus was a decorated Marine who served in the Pacific War.
Straus was a decorated Marine who served in the Pacific during World War II. Credit: Courtesy / The Straus Family

In 1951, Straus was recalled to active duty service and assigned to protect a critical outpost in Seoul during the Korean War. For his military service, he received multiple combat awards and medals, and his example inspired grandson Jacob to serve in the Marines for five years.

Returning home to San Antonio, Straus became the third generation to lead the Straus-Frank Co., a wholesale distribution business started by his grandfather in 1870. Straus worked with the company for more than 58 years while also becoming involved in businesses ranging from farming and ranching to restaurants, banking and real estate development.

Some of the properties Straus came to own were located downtown along the San Antonio River.

In 1959, he encouraged the chamber of commerce to hire a Disneyland designer to come up with a plan to renovate the River Walk, according to historian Lewis Fisher

The proposal “horrified” Straus and others for its similarity to an amusement park and was tossed in favor of a more suitable rendering presented by the San Antonio chapter of the American Institute of Architects.  

Straus then convinced building owners to open storefronts at the river level, an effort that eventually led to extending the River Walk and to what would become the site of the world’s fair in 1968.

In a 2018 interview, Jim Cullum Jr. said Straus was the “main guy” behind developing the River Walk and the “volcano of energy” working with him and other business owners to transform the waterway into a favorite tourist destination. But “he was always behind the scenes and never wanted credit for it,” Cullum said.

Straus founded the San Antonio Riverwalk Commission to review permits and development along the River Walk and wrote a policy manual that became the basis of a master plan. In 1964, he formed the Paseo del Rio Association to support businesses along the river. 

It was Straus who financed the development of a prototype for the first river barge, inviting the mayor and City Council members to a lunch served by the Casa Rio restaurant on the barge. 

In addition to his work to improve the River Walk and later develop the Retama Park Horse Race Track in Selma, Straus served on numerous civic boards and commissions, including the Alamo Area Council of Boy Scouts, the Fiesta San Antonio Commission, Southwest Research Institute and the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation.

He also served on the board of Frost Bank, the Bank of San Antonio, Lone Star Brewing Company, the San Antonio Spurs and other organizations. 

Straus enjoyed golf, snow skiing, hunting, gardening and sausage making, according to his obituary. Straus was an uncle to the former speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Joe Straus III.

The deceased is survived by his wife Debbie Straus; sons David Straus III, F. Anthony Straus and their spouses, and Daniel Straus; his brother Joe Straus Jr. and wife Joci; 11 grandchildren and their spouses and six great-grandchildren. 

A private service was held on Thursday. Straus was interred at the Temple Beth-El Cemetery.

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.