San Antonio history rich with presidential visits

SA has hosted many commanders in chief

SAN ANTONIO – On Friday, Donald Trump will officially take office, becoming the 45th president of the United States. While the focus will be on President-elect Trump, it is also important to look back at the 44 presidents before him. 

As it turns out, San Antonio has had many distinct ties and visits from the commander in chief. The first president to visit the Alamo City was Ulysses S. Grant.

"He came here in March of 1880,” said University of the Incarnate Word history professor, Timothy Draves.

"The city was booming. It had grown 70 percent in the decade just before that,” said Draves, of San Antonio.

In those days, security was not an issue.

"They invited everyone in town to come over and it was really quite a party,” said Draves.

Grant was three years out of office, but many sitting presidents would follow with visits to San Antonio.  Benjamin Harrison arrived in 1891 to help kick off the inaugural Battle of Flowers parade.  It was not to be, as the parade was delayed due to rain.  Presidents McKinley, Taft, and Franklin Roosevelt also paid visits to, what was then, a dusty outpost.   

"They've all, I guess, have added a little something to it,” said Ernesto Malacara of The Menger Hotel.

The Menger has hosted 13 presidents, according to Malacara, and boasts a Presidential Suite. 

"We've had Clinton, we've had Johnson, we've had George Bush Senior, Benjamin Harrison, Ike Eisenhower,” explained Malacara.

Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt also famously gathered the Rough Riders at the Menger Bar. The Menger Hotel was also the place where Dwight D. Eisenhower took future first lady, Mamie, on a date. All, while stationed at Fort Sam Houston. 

"Having military bases in San Antonio helps draw presidents in,” explained Dr. John Reynolds, professor of history at the University of Texas at San Antonio. 

President Harry S. Truman alluded to that fact when he stopped here in 1948, as did President John F. Kennedy, with his 1963 visit to Brooks Air Force Base, the day before his assassination. Then, there was Lyndon B. Johnson who married Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in downtown San Antonio. 

Finally, many modern presidents would follow with visits to San Antonio including presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, both Bushes, and the 42nd president, who became infatuated with the Menger Hotel’s famous desert.

"Bill Clinton, of course, fell in love with mango ice cream,” Malacara said of the Menger Hotel’s famous desert.  

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