ASMS News & Views

Welcome to San Antonio!

03/31/2016 18:33:46
Bienvenido a San Antonio! Welcome to San Antonio! The city was named after Saint Anthony of Padua in 1691 by a Spanish expedition to the area. San Antonio is the seventh most populated city in the U.S. and the second largest in Texas, with a population of approximately 1.4 million. According to Wikipedia, San Antonio was the fastest growing of the top 10 largest cities in the United States from 2000 to 2010. It is home to The Alamo, the #1 tourist attraction in Texas. San Antonio’s River walk is also consistently in the top five.

The ASMS annual conference was previously held in San Antonio in 1984 and 2005. The 1984 conference was especially memorable because with a little under 1,200 attendees, it was still small enough for the sessions to fit into one hotel (the Hyatt Regency). There were six parallel oral sessions on Monday through Thursday and three on Friday (yes, sessions on Friday), with a total of 206 oral presentations. There were 242 posters spread over the five days, divided into two or three groups of about 25. Instead of a “Closing Event”, there was a mid-week outing held on the beautiful grounds of the Lone Star Brewery, with great Texas BBQ, unlimited beer (really!) and a wonderful country/bluegrass band. You can see in the photos how much fun we had there. (Can you tell who’s singing and dancing?)

An exciting scientific program is planned for the 2016 conference, including 384 orals and approximately 2,900 posters, with an attendance over 6,000 expected - clearly much larger and diverse than in 1984. There’s also a vast array of interesting things to see and do in San Antonio (in the evening, and before and after the conference, of course)—far too many to cover right now—so here’s a brief summary.

The Alamo. Established in 1718, the Alamo was the first mission in San Antonio and served as a stopping place along the way between east Texas and Mexico. The location of the Alamo changed several times until 1724. Later, in the 1790’s, the Spanish military took possession of the mission compound and converted it into a frontier outpost and military garrison. As has been extensively commemorated in books, movies and songs, for 13 days in 1836, nearly 200 “Texians” fought for the Alamo against 1,800 of General Santa Anna’s troops from Mexico. The most famous of the defenders, Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett and William Travis, all died in this fight for Texas independence. A poignant movie depicting the Battle of the Alamo can be seen at the IMAX Theater in Rivercenter Mall. After you see the movie, you can walk over to the Alamo and see where everything actually took place. Many visitors are surprised to find out that the Alamo is in the middle of downtown San Antonio, surrounded by hotels, shops and restaurants, rather than in “open spaces.”

River Walk. According to the San Antonio Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, the River Walk (“Paseo del Rio”) is “the largest urban ecosystem in the nation.” The San Antonio river winds through the downtown area below street level, with 15 miles of sidewalks and paths, lined with a wide variety of restaurants, shops and hotels. You can take a Rio Taxi on the river or a sightseeing tour or dinner cruise. You can also access numerous museums, the King William Historic District and the missions directly from the River Walk. Night-time in the downtown section of the River Walk is especially enjoyable, with outside seating at many restaurants and clubs surrounded by a perpetual Fiesta atmosphere.

The Missions. Franciscan priests built  four  other  missions after establishing the Alamo: Concepción, San José, San Juan and Espada. Each one was three miles apart from the other and a few miles south of the Alamo; they were designed to be self-sustaining and included farming, ranching, crafts and trades. The missions, along with the Alamo, were named one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in 2015. It’s a fairly short drive to the Missions, or you can get to them via the River Walk’s new Mission Reach, an eight mile stretch that has been transformed into a riparian woodland ecosystem. (I had to look up what “riparian” means; now it’s your turn.)

Market Square. This three-block outdoor plaza just west of the city center houses the largest Mexican market in the U.S. There are many restaurants, shops and produce stands surrounding the plaza, including 32 shops at El Mercado and 80 in the nearby Farmers Market Plaza. You can take a VIA Streetcar from the Convention Center to Market Square for just $1.10. The streetcars run every 10 minutes and stop at numerous downtown locations.

Institute of Texan Cultures. Located in HemisFair Park, and within easy walking distance from the Convention Center, this museum/library was established by the Texas Legislature in 1965 and served as the Texas Pavilion at HemisFair ‘68 before being turned over to the University of Texas System in 1969. Exhibits and collections provide an insight into the rich cultural heritage of Texas, with an emphasis on the wide variety of different peoples who chose to make Texas their home. It’s truly a unique museum that offers many surprises about Texas.

Tower of the Americas. This distinctively-shaped 750-foot-tall tower in HemisFair Park was built as the theme structure of HemisFair ‘68.  According to Wikipedia, the tower was “the tallest observation tower in the United States from 1968 until 1996.” There’s an observation deck that can be accessed by elevator for a fee in addition to a lounge and revolving restaurant at the top of the tower that provides panoramic views of the city.

I feel that I’ve barely scratched the surface of San Antonio attractions, and I haven’t even mentioned The Pearl (redevelopment on the site of the former Pearl Brewery, with a large number of restaurants, clubs and shops), King William Historic District (architecture), Southtown (restaurants and clubs), museums (the San Antonio Museum of Art, the McNay Art Museum and the Witte Museum), military bases (Joint Base San Antonio Fort Sam Houston, Joint Base San Antonio Lackland Air Force Base and Joint Base San Antonio Randolph Air Force Base) and the Texas Hill Country, to name just a few. The average high temperature for early June is 91°F (33°C), with lows around 72°F (22°C). There’s usually a breeze in the evening with temperatures in the 80’s, making it ideal for outdoor dining and socializing.

I look forward to seeing you in San Antonio. I know it’s going to be a fabulous conference. It will be somewhat bittersweet for me, because it will be my last conference as a member of the ASMS Board. Ironically, the conference was in Minneapolis for my first year as Vice President for Programs, and Minneapolis was the site of the first ASMS conference I attended in 1981. For my first year as President, the conference was in Baltimore, where I was born and lived until moving to San Antonio. And now, in San Antonio, my adopted home town, for my last year as Past-President.

Hasta pronto en San Antonio!

–  Sue Weintraub
The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio