New Orleans and San Antonio
A Tale Of Two Tricentennials
On May 1, 1718, a mission was established in southwest Texas to be known as the Mission San Antonio de Valero. Four days later, on May 5, the Presidio was opened as a garrison to protect the mission. That date is usually used as the beginning of a city to be known as San Antonio. Only a part of the original mission complex remains, but its name is legendary, the Alamo.
Two days later, on May 7, 1718, and 543 miles to the East a business known as the Company of the West doing France’s work to develop the Louisiana territory officially recognized French territorial colonizer Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville’s preferred site to establish a new city. It would be called New Orleans.
We’ll admit that the exact dates of the above events have been fuzzed a little by time but there is agreement that both cities, though already home to scattered settlements, became official at practically the same time—early May, 1718. For both, this is their Tricentennial year.
Like San Antonio, New Orleans too, though founded by the French, was governed by Spain at one time and from that came some of its architectural character. San Antonio was originally part of Mexican Texas. The Alamo would become the site of the last great defeat on the way to American statehood. What happened there is better known, probably because of movies and legendary characters such as Davy Crockett, than the ultimate victory at San Jacinto near Houston. San Jacinto was Texas’ Battle of New Orleans; Sam Houston was Texas’ Andrew Jackson. (Curiously the two knew other; Houston, once a governor of Tennessee, even visited the Hermitage, Jackson’s home near Nashville.)
Both cities have elements of old world charm, at least in their downtown.
In contemporary times New Orleans’ best-known link to San Antonio has been Tom Benson, who spread his auto dealer empire to the Texas city. Benson’s feuding family is also located in the area. As much as we like San Antonio as a place to visit, we were disappointed when the Saints were temporarily located there after Hurricane Katrina. San Antonio’s then mayor Phil Hardberger was not too subtle in his conviction that the team would stay there and never move back to New Orleans. Fortunately his dancing on the grave ran afoul to the vision of the NFL. (By contrast, Oklahoma City where the then New Orleans Hornets relocated embraced the team yet was more sympathetic, perhaps because that city too, the site of the notorious bombing, knew what it was like to suffer through an urban tragedy.)
For this occasion, however, we should not brood, but celebrate our two anniversaries. We have jazz; they have marimbas. Among vintage places, we have the Roosevelt Hotel; they have the Menger. In the NBA, we have the Pelicans; they have the Spurs. We have “Do you now what it means to miss New Orleans’; they have “San Antonio Rose.”
Most of all, a round of Sazeracs for us; margaritas for them.