San Antonio’s River Walk exists because of a devastating flood 100 years ago this week

San Antonio River Authority was created in 1936

The remnants of a category 1 hurricane in 1921 caused death and destruction in San Antonio, but they also helped push for change.

SAN ANTONIORead more about the history of 1921 from KSAT 12 Meteorologist Justin Horne.

This week marks the 100-year anniversary of the flood that changed San Antonio forever. The remnants of a Category 1 hurricane caused not only death and destruction specifically in downtown and on the West Side, but also helped create change in both state and local regulations.

The damage was linked to poor infrastructure and the fact that San Antonio is in a flash flood valley.

“Over 50 people lost their lives and it was millions of dollars in damages in 1921,” Steven Schauer, director of external communications for the San Antonio River Authority said. “So, it’s tens of millions of dollars of damages done in today’s dollar figure.”

The focus for the city became flood control, which began with the River Walk.

“Where the River Walk is today, by the river bend, that was an original meander of the river. So, that water slowed down in the downtown area because of that bend in the river. As it slowed, it rose higher and higher.”

“Fortunately, there was an idea by a local architect, Robert H.H. Hugman,” Schauer said. Hugman was an American architect considered to be the visionary behind the San Antonio River Walk. “In 1929, this idea of the River Walk was put out there in the community and some business leaders and the historical society got behind the architect’s idea.”

Agencies like the San Antonio River Authority are directly related to the catastrophic floods. In years to come, the Texas Legislature would begin creating river authorities including the San Antonio River Authority, in 1937.

“Unfortunately in 1946, another major storm event damaged San Antonio,” Schauer said. “At that time, the US Army Corps of Engineers was invited to our community with help from San Antonio River Authority in Bexar County, and we continued channelizing the river. Eventually throughout the 80s and 90s, we created two flood control tunnels that run underneath downtown San Antonio.”

By Museum Reach located off East Josephine Street is the flood control tunnel inlet. It sits at about 150-feet below ground and runs three miles underneath.

“It provides a tremendous amount of protection for our downtown that, had it been here in the 1921 flood, downtown would have been perfectly safe,” Schauer said.

Due to the flood control work accomplished in San Antonio, Schauer said it has allowed for them to focus on community projects like Mission Reach.

“Now we’ve come back and done an ecosystem restoration project where we still have the flood control, but we also have a nice natural environment for our community to enjoy as well,” Schauer said.

Although a lot of work has been done, Schauer admits there isn’t enough money or infrastructure to protect everything and everyone from floods. However, the San Antonio River Authority has developed a digital flood plan and flood risk maps to educate home owners and business leaders. The interactive maps allow for people to see if their property is at-risk of floods, and in turn, consider flood insurance.

To view the map, click here.

About the Authors:

Alicia Barrera is a KSAT 12 News reporter and anchor. She is also a co-host of the streaming show KSAT News Now. Alicia is a first-generation Mexican-American, fluent in both Spanish and English with a bachelor's degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. She enjoys reading books, traveling solo across Mexico and spending time with family.