Photos through the years show Fiesta was just as popular back then as it is now

Check out historical photos of Fiesta crowds, food, fashion

The 1937 Battle of Flowers Parade.
The 1937 Battle of Flowers Parade. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)

SAN ANTONIO – Fiesta has a certain charm that’s able to captivate the minds of people who have either lived in San Antonio forever, or those who have just discovered the celebration for the first time.

The majestic, picturesque floats. The smell of fajitas, chicken on a stick and gorditas radiating from the food booths. The sounds of live music bouncing off the downtown walls. And the Fiesta medals, all those medals chanting “clank, clank, clank” in unison — a sure head-turner.

Looking back at vintage photos of Fiesta from the 1930s-early 1980s, it seems like that excitement has remained timeless.

These images by the University of Texas at San Antonio and San Antonio Light are forever documented by the UTSA’s Libraries Special Collections.

Besides the fashion and the absence of skyscrapers, the scenes look almost similar to what a reveler would see today: photos show parades drawing large crowds, socialites gathering at intimate parties and the carnival acting as among the go-to destinations.

But some things that happened back then probably wouldn’t fly today.

Images taken by the Light in 1937 show people pouring out of windows of downtown buildings, even sitting on ledges and cornices for a chance to see the parade.

People in windows and on the street watch the 1937 Battle of Flowers parade. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)

And in 1941, King Antonio King Antonio XXIII George E. Friedrich’s horse had its own float on the river parade. The “snow-white steed preceded the royal ruler on another float,” the caption stated.

According to the Texas Cavaliers, that was the first year the river parade took place.

“The first Texas Cavaliers River Parade included a number of boats for schools, local businesses, civic organizations and the Army,” its website states. “Texas Cavaliers and the parade sponsors decorated every float with bright flowers and vibrant colors, and the tradition of the River Parade began.”

Up until last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Fiesta had been held every year except in 1918 during World War I and from 1942-1945 during World War II, according to the Fiesta Commission.

The tradition started in 1981 with the first Battle of Flowers Parade, which was created by a group that wanted to honor the heroes of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto.

While this year’s party was pushed to June without the Battle of Flowers Parade, Flambeau Parade and King William Fair, among some other key events, the atmosphere of the “Party with a Purpose” still lives. Click here to see all the events that are still in store for Fiesta, which ends on Sunday.

Scroll down to see more images of Fiesta through the years, in black and white.

A woman stands on a box to watch the 1937 Battle of Flowers parade. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
An audience seated at the Arneson River Theater for the river parade in April 1959. (Photo courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections, Zintgraff Studio Photographic Collection)
A Duchess in Cornyation at the Arneson River Theater during a Night in Old San Antonio in April 1959. (Photo courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections, Zintgraff Studio Photographic Collection)
Men sit on a building cornice to watch the 1937 Battle of Flowers parade. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
This 1937 image shows Alamo Plaza looking north during a parade in the Fiesta San Jacinto. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
King Antonio's horse on a float in the 1941 river parade. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
KONO-TV covers the Fiesta Flambeau parade in April 1963. (Photo courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections, Zintgraff Studio Photographic Collection)
A crowd in the 1937 Battle of Flowers parade. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
A KONO-TV cameraman covering the Fiesta Flambeau parade in April 1963. (Photo courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections, Zintgraff Studio Photographic Collection)
People watch the 1937 Battle of Flowers parade from the Hicks Building. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
Rowdy, the mascot, holds a sign saying, "Battle of Flowers Parade or Bust" in front of the University of Texas at San Antonio road sign in March 1982. (Photo courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections)
A woman eats a turkey leg at Fiesta UTSA (OOTSA) in April 1982. (Photo courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections)
The 1939 Battle of Flowers parade on Broadway. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
A studio portrait of Petesie Guerra Lee, Miss Fiesta San Antonio 1954, dressed in an embroidered shirt and Western hat. (Photo courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections)
Dancers perform on stage at a Night in Old San Antonio in April 1972. (Photo courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections)
People in windows and on the street watch the 1937 Battle of Flowers parade. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
Drum majors practice for a Fiesta band competition in 1940. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
Betsy Smith at the Fiesta carnival in 1940. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
Betsy Smith at the Fiesta carnival in 1940. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
Kay Woods leads St. Gerard's High School Band for a Fiesta band festival in April 1940. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
Anne Wright, queen of the Order of the Music, riding on a float during the Battle of Flowers parade in 1939. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
The Alamo grounds and Alamo Plaza during a parade in April 1937. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
A crowd in the windows of the Calcasieu Building gathers to see the 1941 Battle of Flowers parade. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
The 1941 Texas Cavaliers' river parade float. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
Roy Lyons working on a Battle of Flowers parade float in 1939. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
Will Rogers and his musicians pose on a sidewalk along Broadway playing instruments during the 1939 Fiesta. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
Felesfora Benavides sweeps a street after the 1937 Battle of Flowers parade. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
Virginia Fitzgerald (left) and Hazel Nell Astin ride carousel horses at the Fiesta carnival in 1939. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
Street vendors unload cushions for the 1937 Battle of Flowers parade. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
A Texas Cavaliers' cocktail party in 1940. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
A 1902 car in the 1941 Trade Day Parade during Fiesta. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
A sidewalk and street littered with trash after the Battle of Flowers Parade in 1939. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
A band sponsored by the Fiesta San Jacinto Association visits downtown hotels and businesses to promote Fiesta in April 1941. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
Julie Kuest reminds Ted Roberts about Fiesta Week at UTSA in this March 1979 photo. (Photo courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections)
Goliad Band members rest before a performance at a Fiesta band festival in April 1940. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
John Williams (center), a member of the Fiesta San Jacinto Association, rides on the Ferris wheel with children at the carnival in the April 1938 image. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
A woman with a child at UTSA Fiesta (OOTSA) in April 1982. (Photo courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections)
Sarah Garrahan holds a Fiesta UTSA (OOTSA) button during an event in April 1978. (Photo courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections)
Fiesta UTSA (OOTSA) under the Sombrilla in April 1982. (Photo courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections)
KONO-TV covers the Fiesta Flambeau parade in April 1962. (Photo courtesy UTSA Libraries Special Collections, Zintgraff Studio Photographic Collection)
Josephine Spencer and her mother, Mrs. Alexander Burke Spencer, pose in the dresses they wore to the Queen's garden party during Fiesta San Jacinto in April 1937. Josephine Spencer was Queen of the Court of Imperial Russia. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)
Mary Louise Mileau on a carousel horse at a Fiesta carnival in 1940. (San Antonio Light photo courtesy of UTSA Special Collections)

About the Author:

Rebecca Salinas has worked as a digital journalist in San Antonio for six years. Her skills include content management, engagement and reporting.