Owing to Its Long, Storied History as One of the Oldest Cities in the U.S., The Buildings of San Antonio Tell an Impressive Tale
San Antonio is a culturally rich city. The area's history dates back 300 years to 1717, making it one of the 15 oldest cities in the U.S. and the oldest municipality in Texas.
Throughout its long history, many architectural styles have come to define the city. First, there were the early Spanish settlers and the numerous missions they constructed. Later architectural forms incorporated Mexican influences. Today's more modern tastes have produced a rarity in American cityscapes—a distinct mix of old and new.
From that angle—equal parts modern and historical—let's take a look at five of the most architecturally significant buildings in San Antonio.
In 1738, settlers from the Canary Islands laid the first stones of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of San Fernando in what is now the center of downtown San Antonio. With over 280 years of history, it's one of the oldest such cathedrals in the U.S. and one of the oldest buildings in Texas. From its original construction through various renovations, the building boasts hints of Spanish, Mexican, and Gothic design styles and encompasses much of the diversity seen in San Antonio's modern architecture.
The roots of San Antonio's architectural identity originated with five separate 18th-century Spanish missions, which have formed the foundation for the city's future growth. Today, they serve as a window to the past, retaining an old-world charm in an area that is rapidly modernizing.
Four of the five missions—Mission Concepción, Mission Espada, Mission San Jose, and Mission San Juan—form the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. The fifth, and most celebrated of the original missions, is the Alamo, located in downtown San Antonio. Together, they are part of the UNESCO San Antonio Missions World Heritage Site.
It's hard to miss the Tower of the Americas standing sentry over San Antonio. The 750-foot free-standing structure—complete with an observation deck and revolving restaurant—was built as part of the 1968 World's Fair. Although not unlike similar landmark towers in Seattle, Las Vegas, and Toronto, the Tower of the Americas represents a bold step forward for the city, declaring itself an international destination on the rise.
As you would expect from a building meant to house over 5,000 years worth of culture and art, the San Antonio Museum of Art is a prime example of stitching together the past and present. The original building, which includes two towers topped with crenelated parapets, was the home of the Lone Star Brewing Company from 1884 to 1925.
In the 1970s, the building was repurposed as the museum. Since opening in 1981, it has seen several expansions that have added more modern forms—including a glass sky bridge—to the original building's traditional brick palette.
The latest architectural gem to grace San Antonio's wonderfully diverse landscape is the new home of the Linda Pace Foundation’s permanent collection, Ruby City. Designed by renowned British architect Sir David Adjaye, the bright and bold contemporary art center takes its design cues from old Spanish Missions, making it a perfect example of San Antonio's magnificent architectural heritage, and that everything old can once again become new.
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