We saw it from the road when we were on our way to a bookstore. It was on the right (off Hildebrand, on our way to Broadway, I think) and I would have missed it behind the construction cones along the road and the gritty chain link National Rent-a-Fence. But the gates loomed, demanding to be seen. The statues looking like mysterious cemetery pieces, but alas, there were no tombstones.
We passed it several times and weren’t actually able to go investigate until our last day there.
First we stopped at an old Spanish mission (turned greeting center, perhaps?) with a San Antonio Zoo sign perched near the steps. I suppose we were on the backside of the zoo, or maybe it wasn’t even open, but we found ourselves in a beautiful park.
There were families, and ducks, and families of ducks. But ultimately that ‘cemetery’ was calling our names and we had to go see it. We drove back to the main street and lamented the fence. We entered the parking lot to elsewhere and lamented the fence. Then, we saw that the chain link gate was ajar. Left for someone to go in and out for the day? We determined that it must be open by day and locked up at night to keep out the riffraff. So, cameras in hand, we entered Miraflores, not knowing its name, and explored.
We found the Doctor’s name on several of the tiled benches. To my uninformed eye there was no way for me to know they were designed by Atlee B Ayres, famous San Antonio architect. I just knew they were beautiful and that they were made in honor of or for a Doctor, as the letters were mostly chipped away. Later, we would see the name Urrutia on the gates. There, in the mosaics of those grand gates, his name remained in tact and I took yet another photograph. I skipped jotting down the information in my journal for the sake of spending that precious time getting more photographs. Even though I thought it was ok to be there, something about the whole experience felt a bit like we had discovered a magic-hour of sorts and I didn’t want to waste a moment.
Though, I could spend hours there writing. What I wanted to do more than anything was stay there all day and document every fragmented tile. I longed for a library to access and investigate each piece of art and how it came to be gathered in this statuary field. The gate said the “institute” was founded by Doctor Urrutia in 1921. What institute? Who was Doctor Urrutia? What was the plan for this acreage?
Dr. Urrutia arrived in the States from Mexico in 1915 – as an exile. He was born in the town “of floating gardens” just south of Mexico City and was a full-blooded Aztec Indian. He went to medical school, graduated top of his class, and by the age of 22 was the President’s personal physician. In 1910 Presidente Diaz was replaced by Madero, who was then killed and replaced by Huerta. In all this killing and backstabbing, Huerta had got himself stabbed in the eye, and it was Urrutia who operated on him. Then, according to Walt Lockley, Urrutia functioned a bit like a puppet master for the gangster and helped him run the country.
What happened next is a biography worth reading in itself:
But after dark, Urrutia was also accused of a medical assassination – a federal senator from Chiapas who publicly spoke against Huerta, Belisario Dominguez, was arrested as an enemy of the government, in the Jardin Hotel, on October 7, 1913, then taken to a cemetery, where dark persistent rumor has it that Dr. Urrutia cut out his tongue.
Huerta threw eighty congressmen into prison at one point. Urrutia himself issued an ill-advised ultimatum to the US government, wanting official recognition, and Woodrow Wilson responded with battleships to Veracruz. In the late summer of 1914, as this government fell apart, a lot of the Huertistas and the well-to-do and ex-governors and henchmen drained out through Veracruz. Dr. Urrutia was arrested there by General Frederick Funston and was allowed to exile himself to the US: by ship from Veracruz to New Orleans, train from New Orleans to San Antonio, and two rail cars of treasure smuggled across the border later, to finance his new American life and humanitarian career.
– Walt Lockley
Urrutia died in 1975 at the age of 103, in his sleep, at his grand 15 acre estate in San Antonio. But before that would happen, he would be the first doctor to separate Siamese twins in Texas and he would build something marvelous: Miraflores. And I got to traipse around its remains.
Other artists contributed to this historic monument. According to Capturing Nature, Dionicio Rodriguez is responsible for the ‘rocks’ on the gates, but I’m not sure which aspect ‘rocks’ refers to.
In 2004, the area was added to The National Register of Historic Places, primarily for Rodriguez’s contributions. It is thought that Miraflores contains his earliest work in the states as well as the “most intact and concentrated groupings” of his work. One of those pieces is actually an extremely unique foot bridge in Breckenridge Park that caught our eyes several times.
The blog Urban Spotlight San Antonio describes a plan, in a post dated 2009, that would make the park open to the public. We saw the bridge from Breckenridge Park the post describes, but the public pedestrian walkway was blocked off and locked. I am still unsure if the entrance I used was meant for the public or not. Either way, I am glad I used it and got a chance to see so many beautiful works of art up close. (There’s an extensive history included in that post regarding who owned the property during which decades and how they used it. It’s quite interesting.)
According to SA Cultural Tours:
Much of the statuary originally designed for the park has been lost or damaged over the past several decades. Remaining features include the tiled entrance gates along Hildebrand, designed by Mexican artist Marcelo Izaguirre, as well as the 1946 statue of Dr. Urrutia that originally stood in the center of a large pool. […] The park originally featured a small tower building housing Dr. Urrutia’s library, but it has been demolished. The small remaining cottage, Quinta Maria, was built in 1923 as a guest house. Statuary moved to the park in the 1960s following the demolition of Dr. Urrutia’s nearby home include the Winged Victory with crouching lions, and the replica of Coyolxauhqui, the Aztec moon goddess.
I think my favorite… the place where I could sit for hours and reflect and write… would be near Cuautemoc. He is the last ruler of the Aztecs, extremely energetic, and makes me feel mighty and safe.
Luis L. Sanchez designed him in 1921, and it’s one of the most impressive statues I have seen in person, just for the sheer power it seems to radiate, like Achilles.
I love that Urrutia chose to include him in his garden. Regardless of the sinister rumors that still surround Urrutia and his political dealings – including this statue in his place of exile says a lot about his passions and his identity. He respected his heritage, his elders, and the past. He had a taste for art, I think, I cannot bring myself to believe that he did this for the mere sake of showing off his money. He had a library that has not survived, and clearly had a thirst for knowledge and legacy.
After many business deals and exchanging of hands, The University of Incarnate Word now stands where Urrutia wanted a hospital. The San Antonio Express reported in 1929 that Urrutia’s “grand ambition is to found a hospital here which will perpetuate his work … a hospital composed of pleasant, homelike bungalows surrounded by flowered lawns, clustered around a central House of Administration. For this purpose, he has bought an extensive piece of property on Broadway and Hildebrand.” It sounds to me as though he sought some gentle peace after his years in Mexican politics.
However, Urrutia’s “institution” remained a private garden for hosting his family and parties, for morning excursions to swim laps in the pools, and to feed his peacocks while wearing his infamous cape. I’m a little sorry the property never became exactly like he dreamed, but am glad he put forth the effort to get the gardens going.