The San Antonio Conservation Society has created a mobile tour for the Texas Star Trail, a sesquicentennial project established in 1986 in cooperation with the San Antonio Sesquicentennial Committee and the Granaderos de Galvez.
Back in the 1980s, explorers could follow the large Texas Star Medallions embedded in the sidewalk to find key historic structures along the abbreviated tour, or track the smaller medallion markers in the sidewalk connecting the sites along the complete 2.6-mile trail.
The new interactive map enables users to follow along the original markers while clicking on and reading about many of the sites, structures, and events that have shaped San Antonio history, from the Alamo in 1836 to the Joske’s of Texas and more.
“The downtown walking tour provides information that you may not know if you’re a tourist, or may be aware of but want to know more about as a San Antonio resident,” said Jenny Hay, preservation outreach manager with the Conservation Society.
Guests can begin the tour by visiting www.txstartrail.com and clicking on “Start the Tour” and selecting areas around their location, or by scrolling down and selecting a colored area from the map. They can also access the app through the Conservation Society’s website at www.saconservation.org.
The old paper rendition of the tour features a QR code that will take users directly to the website. Copies are available at the San Antonio Visitor’s Center or the Conservation Society office located at the Wulff House Headquarters at 107 King William St.
The mobile map breaks the downtown walking tour into five different areas of interest, including Alamo Plaza, Hemisfair, La Villita, Old San Antonio, and the River Walk. The Conservation Society designed each section to be walked in 45 minutes. Many of the landmarks feature then-and-now photographs to allow users to connect to the past while they’re standing in front of the building or site.
A search of the La Villita district yields 15 different map markers, including the Assembly Building. The summary describes a two-story, 132-foot-diameter brick building designed by O’Neil Ford and depicting a large painted daisy on its steel-cable suspended roof.
The sites are numbered and include nearby locations to allow people to begin at any of the spots rather than starting at No. 1 at Alamo Plaza, Hay said.
Nonetheless, the walking tour of Alamo Plaza can be a rewarding experience, complete with descriptions of 21 different locations, including Schilo’s Delicatessen, the Clifford Building, Crockett Block, and more.
The new mobile walking tour is tied into the Alamo Walking Tour and the R.H.H. Hugman River Walk Tour, though it veers away from the traditional excursions.
“Most of the buildings are open to the public – the Old Alamo Bank building is still a working business,” Hay said. “In the future, we’d like to provide specific-themed walking tours, such as a historic bar tour showcasing San Antonio’s historic bars and pubs.”
One of the biggest changes is the addition of Hemisfair to the walking tour. In the future, the Texas Star Trail will likely correspond with new signage at Hemisfair to “foster a sense of discovery through engaging, interactive elements that connect people with the past,” Hay said.
The tour’s individual site descriptions build on the original compilations of Conservation Society member Maria Pfeiffer, updated in 2011 by Board Member Marlene Richardson, along with a brand new brochure and new sidewalk medallions for those that were stolen over the years.
Viewing the map and features on a smartphone screen presents the customary challenge of reading a phone screen while walking about town. Users will sometimes have to use the “back” button to restart the search. Some of the locales must be typed into the search button to read the description. The app is also sensitive to device and location – some areas are easier to search than others.
While the site uses Google Maps, it is a separate web-based application. It can’t be downloaded to a phone screen and immediately clicked on like other apps and must be accessed from the website. This increases accessibility because it can be used on multiple mobile devices, Hays said.
“We’ve received a lot of feedback, and it’s been interesting to hear how the device, including the type of screen, can influence someone’s experience,” Hay said.
The Society launched the app last June and began advertising and working with San Antonio B-cycle in October to create text-to-open options on B-Cycles. An intern has also been digitizing photos for a year to add to the historical cache.
*Featured/top image: Jenny Hay, preservation outreach manager with the San Antonio Conservation Society, uses the Texas Star Trail mobile app to explore features of Alamo Plaza. Photo by Katherine Nickas.