-by Victoria Ford
Lazy days spent down at the old swimmin’ hole at Brackenridge Park, dancing cheek to cheek with a sweetheart on La Gloria’s rooftop-turned-dance hall and, come September, wiling away the hours at the Iceland Skating Rink were all pastimes enjoyed by San Antonians in what many dubbed “the good ole’ days”, when good, clean fun was never far away, and the family was always welcome. The documentary special, “San Antonio Remembered”, presented by PBS, places the Alamo City’s former main attractions on display in its segment featuring “The Good Times”, with lively, candid interviews from San Antonio natives and informative tidbits of San Antonio history peppered throughout. Playland Park, a popular attraction headed by Mr. Jimmy Johnson that debuted in 1943, featured the latest attractions in family fun, including the only rollercoaster in all of South Texas. The Park was “whites only” for the first twelve years, except that every year on June 19th, when Mr. Johnson allowed entrance to African-Americans from all over South Texas for the Juneteenth Celebration. The locals were practicing their butterfly stroke right along with the catfish at Brackenridge Park and showing off their skills at the Iceland Skating Rink back in those days. West End Lake (later called Woodlawn Lake) featured the horse-riding tricks by Wesley Peacock’s Monkey Drill Team and was also the site of a famous courtship between West Point graduate Dwight D. Eisenhower and Mamie Eisenhower. The affluent flocked to the Hot Sulfur Wells Resort, touted as the cure-all for whatever ailed you, and a place where one could possibly rub elbows with Rudolph Valentino. And because San Antonio was also a prime film location for many famous directors and their stars, Fort Sam Houston military base became a main attraction for the likes of Clara Bow and Gary Cooper. For a little entertainment after dark, La Gloria Roof Garden offered a lively time, while the Key Hole Club claimed its place in San Antonio history as the first integrated nightclub in town.
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Brackenridge Park: “The old swimming hole” was home to “Lambert Beach,” named for the park’s commissioner, Ray Lambert. It was a rocky terrain with clean, fresh water complete with catfish, concession stands with soda jerks, donkey rides, free movies, and boxing and wrestling matches.
Iceland Skating Rink at San Pedro Park: “Many young people skated the hours away” in a family atmosphere. Iceland operated until 1961.
West End Lake: The lake was created as a key attraction to an early suburb, West End Town. Crowds came for free silent movies, Buzz Miller’s water-ski show, and entertaining acrobatic horse riding. The name was later changed to Woodlawn Lake.
Hot Sulfur Wells Resort: Along the San Antonio River on S. Presa St., the nation’s affluent class frequented the healthful spa with its waters touted as a cure-all. Famous visitors included Cecil B. DeMille and Rudolph Valentino.
“Wings”: Filming locations for the silent film “Wings” were Kelly Field, Brooks Air Field, and Camp Stanley. The film won the first Academy Award for Best Picture” and starred Buddy Rogers, Clara Bow, Gary Cooper and Richard Arlen. Fort Sam Houston furnished supplies and troops for the battle scenes, and Clara Bow announced her engagement to Victor Fleming during the filming in San Antonio. Later, Victor Fleming directed the film “The Rough Riders,” another movie filmed in San Antonio.
La Gloria Roof Garden: Opened by Matilde Elizondo in the early 1930s, near Brazos and Laredo streets, La Gloria had dances, refreshments, and police matrons, who watched over the young women to ensure proper behavior. And while the conga dance and other South American dances were forbidden, the patrons had a great time.
Jazz Clubs: The Eastwood Country Club, the Shadowland Club, the Kit Kat Club, the Black Orchid and the Key Hole Club attracted the late night music crowd. Don Albert, from New Orleans, opened the Key Hole and it was the first integrated nightclub in San Antonio. Stars such as Louis Armstrong (“Satchmo”), Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Taylor, and Gene Krupa all played. Peg Leg Bates captivated audiences with his seemingly effortless one-legged tap routines while Big Bertha was a huge hit.
Title: “San Antonio Remembered: The Good Times”
Producer/director/writer: Marlene Richardson
Publisher: KLRN; Alamo Public Telecommunications Council, 1997.
Run Time: 59 min.