Picturing the City’s Past Just Got Easier

sacs-libraryTucked away on the top floor of the Anton Wulff House, the headquarters of the San Antonio Conservation Society, is a library. This library is stuffed with all things San Antonio – 3,900 books, historic maps, oral histories, 13,000 photographs – tracing the city’s past.

Although the library is only open 24 hours a week, this valuable resource has thrown open its doors to researchers everywhere. Not only is the collection catalog online so researchers know what is available, but 475 of the library’s historical photographs have been scanned in for viewing. These are photos difficult to share even in person because they require white-glove treatment for preservation purposes.

The society’s entire Raba Collection has been digitalized. Taken or reproduced by Bohemian-born photographer Ernst W. Raba (1874-1951), these images document the physical attributes of the city, and some of its citizens, between the 1850s and 1930s. Additional rare images now available online focus on events, from everyday scenes to historic ones.


According to Librarian Beth Standiford in the Conservation Society’s newsletter, The Preservation Advocate, this first step toward making the library’s collection more accessible was made possible with Capital Club funds. These gifts are provided by “friends” and include recent large donations from H-E-B; GLI Distributing, Inc.; Valero Energy Foundation; Jabby Lowe; Ann Griffith Ash; Kathleen and Curtis Gunn, Jr.; The Steve and Marty Hixon Family Foundation; Karen and Tim Hixon; The Joan and Herb Kelleher Charitable Foundation; Patsy Pittman Light; and JoAnn Boone and Rio San Antonio Cruises.

The Capital Club allowed the society to hire intern Elizabeth Pople to scan these initial photographs, add them to the online catalog and improve descriptions of them. As additional funds are available, the library will enter these into the template for uploading to the University of North Texas’ Portal to Texas History to broaden access. Future plans also include using Virtual Exhibit software to create online photo exhibits and to begin digitizing the 1982 San Antonio Downtown Historic Resources Survey.

Part of the purpose of the San Antonio Conservation Society is:

…to keep the history of Texas legible and intact to educate the public, especially the youth of today and tomorrow with knowledge of our inherited regional values.

This project certainly fits the bill by making a giant leap in the number of people who can be made aware of the rich heritage of the city. Awareness of San Antonio’s historical assets leads to appreciation of them. If they are appreciated, they are preserved without question – no need to resort to expensive legal battles or to throw oneself in front of bulldozers Wanda-Ford-style.

As someone who spends much time digging through historical graveyards of all kinds, my hat’s off in gratitude to contributors to the Capital Club at all levels. Good friends can be hard to find, but here’s hoping the society finds additional generous ones to further these efforts.


Postcard from Sintra, Portugal: Masonic mysteries surface at Quinta da Regaleira


During interrogation by the Inquisition, a Templar knight cryptically stated: “There exists in the Order a law so extraordinary on which such a secret should be kept, that any knight would prefer his head cut off rather than reveal it.”[40)

from First Templar Nation: How the Knights Templar Created Europe's First Nation-State by Freddy Silva

When the royal family summered at Sintra, society followed. Among those was the Baroness da Regaleira, who purchased Quinta da Torre, dating from the 1700s, in 1840 and transformed it into a place of elegance.

But the next owner lavished more embellishments on the estate, known now as Quinta da Regaleira. Born in Rio de Janeiro to Portuguese parents, Carvalho Monteiro (1848-1920) engaged Italian architect Luigi Manini (1848-1936), who designed the Bussaco Palace for the royal family, to work on the main house and grounds from 1898 to 1911. By the time Monteiro completed his extravagant transformation of the quinta, the days of summering with the royals had come to an end. Following the assassination of his father, young King Manuel II was living in exile In London.

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The extensive grounds designed as an image of the Cosmos are filled with a network of mysterious towers, tunnels and grottos associated with Masonic rituals. The initiation well spirals dramatically downward into the earth (The Mister took the photo peering upward from the depths; one of us does not do subterranean spaces well.). Near the upper gate, workers were assembling stage and props for a Masonic ceremony.

Author Freddy Silva describes Sintra’s connections to the Knights Templar in First Templar Nation: How the Knights Templar Created Europe’s First Nation-State:

In 1152 Afonso Henriques — by now first king of Portugal — donated the entire village to a man who would become the fourth Templar Master of Portugal, Gualdino Paes (one of the five knights sent by Hugues de Payens to “establish a Portuguese crown”), and he did so under unusual circumstances — in absentia, while Paes was in Palestine with the then Templar Grand Master André de Montbard (also allegedly head of the Ordre de Sion).[38] Hundreds of years of earthquakes, neglect and time made their mark on the Templars’ properties in Sintra, but their original foundations remain and now serve modern day businesses, such as the Hotel Central and Café Paris. In 1970 a hypogeum or ritual chamber with access tunnels was discovered beneath said café, with a connecting passageway leading one way to the nearby Palace, and the other uphill towards the Templar castle.

Fifteen minutes’ walk from Sintra’s main square lies another property that right up to the Middle Ages was described as the Forest of Angels. Today it is the site of an extensive property owned by successive Masonic families dating to at least the early 18th century; in 1371 it was still in the possession of the Knights Templar.[39] Its gardens can only be described as a deliberately designed ritual landscape. One of its many wonders is a labyrinth of tunnels dug into the solid bedrock of the mountainside, penetrating deep into the hill as though meant for initiates wishing to immerse themselves in the dark seclusion of the womb of the Earth Mother, much like Gnostic sects have done throughout history. One of these tunnels leads to a shaft sunk forty feet into the earth.

It is described in official brochures as a well, and yet a close examination shows it never did, nor is it capable of retaining water. It consists of five levels of unevenly stacked and undressed limestone blocks, here and there patched and repaired. Behind the blocks hide five low and narrow circular galleries, each accessed through claustrophobic spiral stairs set into the rough wall and in a measured style that suggests a later refurbishment. The top of the shaft is literally an eighteen-foot diameter hole, level with the ground and surrounded by a rough, dry-stone wall in the shape of a horseshoe. This entrance faces northeast and, like Stonehenge’s horseshoe of bluestones, it references the highest position of the light, the summer solstice sunrise, the esoteric reference to ancient wisdom and, coincidentally, the feast day of John the Baptist, to whom the Templars dedicated a disproportionate amount of churches in Portugal and elsewhere.

Now owned by the municipality of Sintra, Quinta da Regaleira (click link to see videos) is operated by a nonprofit. The general public, and Freemasons, share the magical space.

Postcard from Sintra, Portugal: Royal Retreat


Only 15 miles from Lisboa but several degrees cooler, Sintra was a popular summer retreat for the royal family for centuries. King Joao I (1385-1433) began layering changes upon the Moorish base, and successive kings continued altering the National Palace to suit current styles.

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Major feasts must have been served, as the conical twin chimneys top enormous stoves and ovens in the palace kitchen. And, as always in Portugal, a multitude of tiles color the walls.

Postcard from Lisboa, Portugal: Frankly foreign restaurants

Pizzaria Lisboa stacked eggplant

We never go long without “foreign” food in San Antonio or when traveling. “Foreign” in this case means not Portuguese. And particularly Italian. This post represents the final one of our “payback” food roundups from Lisbon: we depend so heavily on the internet for reviews that I feel obligated to provide feedback for those who follow.

We were bowled over by Riso8, mainly because we stumbled across it without reviews. We ate two weekday lunches there with a lot of “suits,” which makes you particularly happy you are traveling and don’t have to wear one and rush back to some office. Virtually no tourists were present. The black ink spaghetti was filled with seafood and broccoli and was wonderful, but beware of splashing the dark ink while twirling pasta. Both the sausage risotto and the calamari with saffron version were polished off happily.

When you view the pizza shots, you will think that’s all we ate in Lisboa. But we were there for four weeks. All of the ones mentioned here were good, but none were major homeruns. But we liked all these restaurants. As we were eating so much seafood, we generally ordered vegetarian pizzas.

Among the spots we hit were Esperanca, Limoncello Cucina Italiana, Momenti Italiani and Pizzaria Lisboa. Lunch specials are absurdly inexpensive at Limoncello, but the must-have dish to order is the grilled asparagus. The presentation of Momenti’s tomato salad was artful, and the chocolate mousse was wonderfully rich. The fresh-tasting stacked eggplant – not fried – was luscious at Pizzaria Lisboa, the casual option restaurant opened by a hot chef, Jose Avillez. The dish I plan on duplicating at home is his broiled pineapple with lemon basil sorbet for dessert. Totally refreshing.

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A block from our apartment, we kept watching as they put the finishing touches on Oui, Moules & Huitres. They opened our final week, and the mussels, with numerous options available not laden with cream, were perfect. Across the street from the touristy Cervejaria Trindade, it should be able to attract a following soon.

Another place seemingly new because the menu the French proprietors offered at lunch was radically different – now burger centric - than what online reviews indicated is Velha Gruta off of Largo de Camoes. Ignore those reviews. It is totally uncharacteristic of us to order burgers, but these were far more flavorful than most - whether veal, chicken or salmon – and were topped with interesting combinations of distinctive cheeses and grilled vegetables and served with frites. Expect locals not tourists, friendly owners and a nice, inexpensive liter of house red wine.

Gandhi Palace was good, not great, but sometimes you just need to spice things up….