A Night in Old San AntonioFiesta‘s four-day party extravaganza, began Tuesday and carried on through Friday, filling the historic La Villita and its surroundings with celebrants, food and drink booths, stages, and chingos of Fiesta spirit.

A large crowd gathers before the sun sets at NIOSA.
A large crowd gathers before the sun sets at NIOSA. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The purpose of NIOSA is to raise money for the San Antonio Conservation Society, which utilizes the funds to support “its mission of preserving historic buildings, objects, places, and customs relating to the history of Texas.”

Now in its 79th year, the fundraiser annually draws around 85,000 visitors, nets more than $1 million, and employs an army of about 11,000 volunteers – all in the name of celebrating preservation.

“The project that most directly will be impacted by the proceeds of NIOSA this year is the restoration of the Arneson River Theatre,”said Michael Vincent, executive director of the Conservation Society. “It’s one of the most significant designs of the River Walk and central to NIOSA.”

Funds raised will support work related to the Alamo Plaza, Hemisfair, and the World Heritage designated Spanish-colonial Missions, Vincent added. Upgrades to the Edward Steves Homestead and the Yturri Edmunds historic site, which has been closed for a few years and should see a soft opening next month, are also in the works.

Philip Moreno holds up cascarones for sale at NIOSA.
Philip Moreno holds up cascarones for sale at NIOSA. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

NIOSA began as a one-night street festival in 1938. Over the years, it grew and operated under different names – the “River Festival” being one of them – and eventually became “A Night in Old San Antonio” in 1948. By 1958, the festivities had expanded to four nights, and in 1966, the name was registered and trademarked exclusively for the Conservation Society.

Every year, NIOSA features entertainment and culinary options representing the myriad of cultures that have shaped San Antonio over the years. Visitors sauntered through the French Quarter, snacking on beignets and crayfish etouffée, and listened to the jazz sounds of the Dirty River Dixie Band; Sauerkraut Bend was full of German folk dancers and musicians, sausage, and – you guessed it – sauerkraut. The red-lacquered facades of Chinatown were engulfed in scents of egg rolls, Yakitori, and wontons; Mario Flores and the Soda Creek Band paired well with the craft beer offerings – a first in NIOSA history – and Texas bird legs offered in Frontiertown; and the Haymarket was hoppin’ thanks to the sounds of the ever-popular Patsy Torres Band.

According to the NIOSA website, festival revelers annually consume more than 17,000 pounds of beef, 11,000 pounds of chicken, 5,000 pounds of sausage, 3,000 turkey legs, 6,000 tamales, and 30,000 tortillas.

“We have a core of about 1,000 volunteers who put in a full workweek,” Vincent said. “They’re there from early to late – many of them have other jobs and take time off just for NIOSA.”

Easily one of the busiest Fiesta events on the 11-day party’s extensive slate, NIOSA is not for the faint of heart. But San Antonians are dedicated partygoers, so if getting their toes stepped on, being baptized with beer, or having one too many delicacies on a stick are the price they have to pay for historic preservation and a good time, then so be it.

Because we always say ‘Viva!,’ even after Fiesta.

Jeff Martinez laughs with friends at NIOSA.
Jeff Martinez laughs with friends at NIOSA. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report
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Hanna Oberhofer

Before moving to San Antonio in 2004, Hanna was a competitive rhythmic gymnast in her native Austria. She earned degrees from St. Mary’s University and the Texas State Graduate College before joining...

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Bonnie Arbittier

Bonnie Arbittier worked as a photojournalist for the San Antonio Report.