Giving Life to a Park for the People
By Ricardo Romo and Dr. Carlos Orozco
Milam Park is a small, historically beautiful gem of the city of San Antonio. The park is located between the old multiethnic farmer’s market and the San Rosa Hospital now known as Children’s Hospital of San Antonio (CHOSA).
A large Mexican style gazebo or kiosk, patterned after one in Guadalajara, was assembled in Guadalajara and reassembled in the center of the park in the early 1990s. East of the kiosk is a delightful children’s playground (“El Jardin de los Ninos”), a small plaza for activities, and beautifully designed memorial fountain with plaques commemorating those buried in the old Campo Santo [cemetery] beginning in 1808 and who were exhumed and moved in 1860 to San Fernando Cemetery #1.
Milam Park was transformed beginning three decades ago with the efforts of the Friends of Milam Park from a little used and unattractive park to a gracefully landscaped leisure spot. It includes donated park benches, picnic tables around the park, and game tables west of the kiosk to the Ben Milam statue. A quarter mile walking trail with exercise stations and a
palisade borders the park.
The Friends of Milam Park grew out of a medical mission trip to Mexico City in 1989 when Drs. Hugo Castaneda and Carlos Orozco and the CEO of the Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital, Mr. Mike White, were
enjoying a beautiful “Parque de San Jacinto.” Their mission of creating a similar park in San Antonio with a kiosk in the center for music and art enjoyed by the people grew out of that experience.
The team embarked upon this dream after realizing the potential of the historical but unused Milam Park as a fulfillment of that dream. The
effort took flight with the support of Mi Tierra Restaurant owner Jorge Cortez and the Cortez family, and “park protector” Ms. Adelita Navarro, a descendant of the famed 19th century Texas patriot, Jose Angel Navarro.
Friends of Milam Park gained the support of former editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Express News , Mr. Charles Kilpatrick and his enthusiastic wife, Margie. Also, Mr. Bobby Corbo, CEO of Carbo Electric and a
long-time friend of Orozco, joined the group supporting construction and electrical power needed. Maria Rosales from Mi Tierra served as secretary and organizer. Alicia Orozco agreed to manage the financial issues (a tough job with a determined group who did not worry about costs but trusted the funds would come). The effort received a grant from the state parks and organizers also obtained funds from individual and corporate
A large amount of work was done though individual and corporate volunteers with 280,000 bricks laid under the supervision of mason Adrian Perez. Funds from named bricks at the four entrances to the kiosk were used to help with the construction of the park. Dr. Castaneda, through the Mexican Consul, obtained the Kiosk which was graciously gifted by the Mexican State of Jalisco.
Two architects should be recognized for their pro-bono work. The kiosk was designed by Arquitecto Salvador de Alba who had looked at the park from the top floor of the old Frost building remarking “it is a beautiful piece of land but no people.” Architect Jose A. Jimenez assured that the park would be architecturally appreciated. His design of the park follows a “Golden Rectangle.” It is best appreciated looking down on the park from the 10th floor of the Children’s hospital. Also, he designed the Memorial Fountain on the far east end with old plaques of those previously buried (1808-1860) in the park. The park committee also placed a separate plaque honoring Jimenez himself.
Several important events are commemorated in the park, such as a statue of Francisco Madero whom many believe declared the Mexican Independence from the park. “The Diez y Seis de Septiembre” has been celebrated with the ringing of the “Campana.” La Posada has been celebrated annually from San Fernando Cathedral to The Crucifixion re-enacted on the Westend of the park. Incredibly significant was the discovery of Ben Milam’s gravesite and his re-interment at the foot of his statue in 1993. The annual Christmas Tree and park lighting with events for
children began in 1995.
There is a need for hope, especially this 2020 year. The Christmas event in Milam Park has helped in this need. Initially it was a big event with H.E.B. and Rosemary Kowalski leading the way. The energetic Ms. Belinda Ramirez has done a great job for the past several years.
This year a rejuvenated Friends of Milam Park continued the Christmas tree lighting through sponsorships. The mission of a people’s park with events, renovation of the park, and the enhancement of the multicultural history of Milam Park remains. Helping the homeless in the park will be an added mission next year.
Copyright by Ricardo Romo and Dr. Carlos Orozco. All photos taken by Ricardo Romo and used with his permission.