Thursday: Then & Now

Mission San Jose, photograph taken 29 July 2021
Mission San Jose, 1932, image from the San Antonio Light UTSA digital collection, restoration work had progressed well and only the dome was missing at the time of this photograph.

Mission San Jose, established in 1720, moved to its present day location in 1758 after the first two locations proved to be unhealthy due to their location on lowlands. The Mission was secularized in 1824 and began a gradual decline.

During the Christmas Eve 1874 service the church’s dome collapsed. Local citizens became aware of the need for preservation in 1902, but the deterioration would continue during the years of fighting for funding and support. Meanwhile, the bell tower stair turret would explode and the church’s north wall would collapse while souvenir hunters took off pieces of the statues surrounding the front doors, as well as the massive front doors. The church’s bell tower collapsed in 1928.

Preservations were able to purchase the pieces of the land, one at a time, surrounding the Mission as well as the crumbling remains of the old granary. A major highway that would cross the Mission’s former plaza was detoured. It was a hard fought battle with many ups and downs and many starts and stops. Depression era relief efforts made the restoration work possible. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), the Civil Works Administration (CWA), and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided the laborers to rebuild the structures and the walls.

The completion of the plaza was celebrated in June 1936 with what would become the annual “Night in Old San Antonio (NIOSA)” in later years. With the work of many people the Mission became a State Park in 1941 and was also named a National Historic site. It would take over 3 decades of work before Mission San Jose and its 3 sister missions became the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in 1978.

Needless to say, restoration is an ongoing process and on every visit to San Jose I see work being done to protect it and ensure that it will continue to tell its story for many generations.

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