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The River Walk

Years ago, the sight of gondolas floating through San Antone prompted journalist Ernie Pyle to call the new River Walk “The American Venice.” How did it come into being? For centuries, the San Antonio River provided water to the region's inhabitants. If a Franciscan missionary or a Spanish explorer or a Payaya Indian was thirsty, this stream offered a cool, clear drink. In the first half of the 20th century, as the city's population boomed, the tributary was not so giving. In September 1921, a sudden rainstorm blasted San Antonio, and the Olmos Basin spewed 9 feet of water into city streets. The flood killed 51 people and cost countless millions in property damage.

Following the disaster, outraged citizens called for a flood plan. In a long civic battle, both conservation and commerce prevailed, and so, during the Great Depression, the WPA (Works Project Administration) and local business leaders began the river's transformation. Over a few decades, the troublesome San Antonio River metamorphosed into the placid River Walk. Builders created dams, floodgates, cobblestone walkways, arched footbridges, thick retaining walls and staircases.

San Antonio isn't Venice, but does it matter? The River Walk has its own, uniquely Texan identity: dynamic and lovely and dripping with Spanish Colonial influences. It's also the city's “it” spot. Though this river section is no longer spring-fed, it still bestows plenty on the community before it glides away to the Gulf of Mexico.

Nowadays the city brings out the gondolas only for special occasions, but you can still ride the soft currents on a boat tour or water taxi. If you'd rather explore on foot, you can wander the walkways along the river to find small parks, restaurants and specialty shops.

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