July 5 marks one year since San Antonio’s four Spanish colonial Missions and the Alamo officially received UNESCO World Heritage designation. The Missions are the first Texas site to receive the special honor and the 23rd site in the nation.
On Sept. 9-11, all of San Antonio is invited to celebrate and commemorate the unique designation at the World Heritage Festival, a collaborative organizing effort among the City of San Antonio, Bexar County, San Antonio River Authority, National Park Service, San Antonio Conservation Society, Los Compadres de San Antonio Missions, Los Misiones, and the Rivard Report.
“San Antonio is a city filled with immense history and culture,” said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), whose district is home to four of the five Missions. “We invite the entire community to celebrate San Antonio’s unique legacy at the World Heritage Anniversary Celebration coming this fall.”
A variety of free activities, performances, and other educational opportunities will bring residents and visitors to the festival at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, which is the largest park in the NPS rooted in Spanish colonial history.
World Heritage partners will use the World Heritage Festival to make citizens of San Antonio aware of the uniqueness and importance of each of the Missions, said Colleen Swain, the City’s World Heritage director.
“I hear from a lot of people who have grown up in San Antonio, or who live here, who haven’t been to all five Missions or haven’t been to any of them at all,” Swain said. “(The World Heritage festival) is an opportunity for us to involve our local community, involve a wide range of demographics, a variety of different people from all walks of life and introduce them to the Missions and their rich history and cultural heritage to have them understand why World Heritage is important to San Antonio.”
The festival also will raise funds for NPS projects within the park and other World Heritage-related projects, Swain said. Given the sites’ World Heritage status, restorations are increasingly important to maintain the structures’ historical accuracy amid increased visitation. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff sees funding for the NPS as vital to the success of the Missions.
“It’s important to celebrate (the World Heritage designation), but the focus has been on what we can do to try to enhance that designation and that (is comprised of) a number of different elements,” Wolff said. “The National Parks staff (at the Missions) needs to be increased. We have a lower percentage of employees compared to other national parks across the country, so to provide better service at our park, that’s something we need to continue to work on.”
The festival weekend will kick off on Friday, Sept. 9 with a press conference and a free Restored by Light presentation at Mission San José, located at 6701 San Jose Dr. When Mission San José was first constructed and completed in 1782, its limestone exterior was painted in colorful, geometric patterns that faded over time. Restored by Light will project a lighted design onto the mission’s front-facing façade, mimicking the design once featured on the Mission’s exterior. Below is an example of the event held last year at Mission Concepción.
The family-friendly event will be in conjunction with the NPS 100th anniversary, which is on Aug. 25. Along with the light presentation, there will be activities for kids, tours, live entertainment, and food.
Saturday will be a full day of history, culture, and fiesta. Residents of all ages are invited to participate in the free World Heritage Festival Bike Ride & Walk, a mission-to-mission bike ride in the morning from 8-11 a.m. starting at Mission Park Pavilion, 6030 Padre Dr. Participants can choose from leisurely rides ranging from seven to 22 miles long to each Mission along the Mission Reach and the Alamo.
Representatives from the NPS, each Mission parish, and other partnering entities will be on hand to give historical information about each site and will provide children’s activities, interactive workshops, and giveaways.
Saturday evening will be a showcase of the “musical sounds of San Antonio” at Mission Park Pavilion. Local musicians from a variety of genres will take to the stage as attendees enjoy culinary offerings and craft beer from local food trucks and vendors.
The weekend’s celebrations will culminate on Sunday with a celebratory mass at one of the Missions.
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), whose district includes the Alamo, said the festival is important because it encourages all residents to “have pride within our own community” and its history, especially as the city continues to grow.
“Knowing where we came from is so vital in planning our future,” he said. “As an Alamo Master Plan Committee member with (City Manager) Sheryl Sculley, we look forward to making sure that the Alamo plays a vital role in the (World Heritage Festival) celebration.”
Those wanting more information about the city’s unique settlement history can visit Bexar County’s free Nuestra Historia exhibit at Presidio Gallery, the former Federal Reserve Bank, at 126 E. Nueva St. The exhibit is scheduled to close on Sept. 4, but the County is hoping to extend the closing date through Sept. 11 to accompany the World Heritage festival events, Wolff said.
On the heels of the World Heritage designation, the City and other community stakeholders have been developing a World Heritage Work Plan to address topics like infrastructure, wayfinding, small business development, and sensitive land use and development in the Missions’ buffer zone. The City has been collecting public input at these symposia and other meetings to see how San Antonio can take full advantage of its World Heritage designation while maintaining the authenticity of the area and sensitivity toward area residents.
Land use and development is an issue that routinely bubbles up in these discussions, so the City will continue collecting public feedback about it at a series of open houses held at various libraries around the city. Through Wednesday, July 27, participants can see a map of the World Heritage buffer zone and the proposed Work Plan as it relates to land use in the area and write their comments on a comment card for City staff to review.
Find the locations and hours of operation of each one below:
Central Library, 600 Soledad St.
Sunday – 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Monday-Thursday – 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday – 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
McCreless Library, 1023 Ada St.
Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday – 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Monday and Wednesday – noon-8 p.m.
Mission Library, 3134 Roosevelt Ave.
Monday, Wednesday, Friday-Sunday – 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Tuesday and Thursday – noon-8 p.m.
Pan American Library, 1122 W Pyron Ave.
Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday-Saturday – 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Monday and Wednesday – noon-8 p.m.
Stinson Airport, 8535 Mission Rd.
Everyday – 6 a.m.-9 p.m.
Fire Station 07, 1414 S St Mary’s St.
Everyday – 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Staff will be available at the Public Library locations as follows:
Wednesday, July 6, 13, 20 and 27 – 4-6 p.m.
Friday, July 8, 15 and 22 – 1-3 p.m.
Saturday, July 16 and 23 – 10 a.m.-noon
Those who are unable to go to any of the locations can email their comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Swain will continue meeting with area neighborhood associations as well to gain more perspective on developing the work plan, she said.
“We need to make sure that this land use component is right for the people who live in the community and that, with regards to World Heritage, we make sure it’s balanced and that we’re being respectful,” she said.
Swain hopes to bring the land use amendments in the work plan to both Zoning Commission and City Council for approval by early 2017. But for the second weekend in September, City staff and other community stakeholders can step away from the surveys and work plan drafts to celebrate the Missions with the rest of San Antonio at the inaugural World Heritage Festival.
“It’s an extraordinary honor for our Spanish colonial missions to have been designated as a World Heritage site,” said Mayor Ivy Taylor. “With a vision of making San Antonio a globally competitive city, our missions help put everything we do into historical and cultural context. I am excited that the festival will help celebrate our heritage, our missions and the one year anniversary of their global designation.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the Missions were the third Texas site to receive World Heritage designation, but they are actually the first. They are the third U.S. site to receive the honor in the past 20 years.
Top image: A family admires Mission Concepción. Photo by Iris Dimmick.