History of San Antonio
The splashy history of how San Antonio stays cool during scorching summers
My childhood summers, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, were fairly simple. When I wasn’t napping away half a day, my grandmother would occasionally drive us to a public place to enjoy a cooler climate.
This isn’t to say my house felt like a blaze — except when my grandmom gave our living room window air-conditioner unit "a rest" for a few hours, usually in the middle of the afternoon. (Central A/C was a luxury we could not afford.)
On those days, my grandmother and I would head to Westfall Library, where we’d enjoy the free A/C and read some books, or we’d head for Central Park Mall (now Park North), where I’d visit the toy stores and the arcade.
(The mall was fun except for one summer afternoon when our Crown Victoria broke down, and the two of us had to wait for hours — outside — awaiting rescue from a family member.)
But all of this serves as a reminder — South Texas summers have always been scorching, but that doesn't mean San Antonio wasn't a cool place to spend the season. And just what were some of the more popular summertime hangouts for San Antonians all those years ago?
A history of splashy summer favorites
Of course, locals have always flocked to swimming pools, such as those at San Pedro Springs, Woodlawn and Roosevelt parks, and in Alamo Heights. But smaller swimming pools, such as Patton Heights and Terrell Wells, and fishing holes, like Canvasback Lake, all were particularly popular on the South Side way back in the day. And Edge Falls, a hidden oasis tucked away along the Guadalupe River in the Hill Country, was a great swimming hole that eventually became too popular for its own good.
Locals seeking a cold respite from the summer heat would head for Stinky Falls, the spillway dam on the Comal River in New Braunfels. Stinky Falls got its name more than a century ago when a nearby well was drilled into the ground in hopes that pure artesian water could be reached. Instead, only sulfur water could be found.
The city of New Braunfels eventually capped the well and built “the tube chute” around the same site, reducing the risk that swimmers and divers at Stinky Falls had experienced over the years.
Old-school San Antonians may recall that Splashtown, the water amusement park on Interstate 35, was originally Waterpark USA. For years, a school report card would get you free admission. (A can of Pepsi would work in place of a report card, especially if it featured less-than-flattering grades.)
Other ways San Antonians beat the heat
Further back, in the post-war years, Jim Hasslocher, whose family launched Jim’s Restaurant and Frontier Burger, initially sold watermelon slices to bicyclists seeking a little relief from the heat in Brackenridge Park. Meanwhile, those looking to hit the water could ride a paddleboat or gondola that Casa Rio restaurant once provided for River Walk visitors.
Families looking to get out of the house and catch a breeze at an outdoor movie could count on places such as Fredericksburg Road Drive-In, Alamo Drive-In Theater on Austin Highway, Mission Drive-In on Roosevelt Avenue, Trail Drive-In on Southeast Military Drive, and San Pedro Twin Outdoor Twin Theatre at U.S. 281, which was eventually demolished to make way for the Santikos Entertainment Embassy theater.
If the entire family needed to expend some energy but did not want to endure 90-degree, 90-percent humidity nights at the drive-in, amusement facilities such as Jungle Jim’s Playland were the answer.
During the day, spots like Aladdin’s Castle at Windsor Park Mall and Playland off North Alamo Street were perfect outlets for spending a lazy summer afternoon. The same could be said for iconic establishments such as Pear Apple County Fair on near Holmes High School and Malibu Castle and Grand Prix at Interstate 10 and Loop 410.
Imagine (or recall) that the part of the University Bowl space off I-10 and DeZavala Road was the World of Sports, a building filled with fun activities, and the Crystal Ice Palace skating center.
No doubt we currently have access to even more ways to cool off and entertain one's self on long summer days and nights in San Antonio. But the season always stirs up something nostalgic — and reminds us of our favorite historical summertime hangouts.