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The Driskell-Owens-Pickard Family Film Collection - Summer Vacation and Celebrations (1977-8)

Kelli L. Pickard

Silent | 1977

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  •  Aquarena Springs amusement park in San Marcos 
  •  Ralph the Swimming Pig, one of the park’s most popular attractions 
  •  Brackenridge Park, including the San Antonio Zoo and Chinese Sunken Gardens (now known as the Japanese Tea Garden) 
  •  Boat ride down the San Antonio River 
  •  The Alamo and Hemisfair Park 
  •  Texas State Capitol Building and Governor’s Mansion 
  •  University of Texas at Austin campus, including Texas Memorial Stadium 
  •  Feeding Fritos to squirrels on the lawn of the Governor’s Mansion 
  •  Christmas in Longview 
  •  Snowfall 
  •  Kelli’s seventh birthday 
  •  Graduation party at Oak Forest Country Club 
  •  Christmas 1978 
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This home movie captures moments from the lives of the Pickard family between July 1977 and December 1978. The film begins during the family’s summer road trip through Central Texas. The Pickards begin their vacation in San Marcos, where they visit the Aquarena Springs amusement park. Next, the family heads to San Antonio to tour the sites. After stopping by the San Antonio Zoo and Chinese Sunken Gardens (now known as the Japanese Tea Garden) in Brackenridge Park, they take a boat ride down the San Antonio River. The Pickards end their trip in Austin, where they visit the Texas State Capitol, the Governor’s Mansion, and the University of Texas at Austin campus. Back home in Longview, the family celebrates Christmas and daughter Kelli’s seventh birthday. The following year, the Pickards attend a high school graduation party at the Oak Forest Country Club.
Opening in 1951, Aquarena Springs was a resort and amusement park located on Spring Lake in San Marcos. Attractions included glass-bottom boat tours, a sky ride, and a submarine theater. (For the latter, the audience partially descended into the water to see a performance by the “Aquamaids,” young women wearing mermaid tails who stayed underwater by sipping from air hoses.) Arguably the most popular attraction was Ralph the Swimming Pig, who began each show by taking a “swine dive” into the lake to drink from a milk bottle held by a trainer. At its peak, Aquarena Springs attracted 250,000 visitors annually, remaining a popular tourist destination from the 1960s through the 1980s. 
Texas State University purchased the property in 1994, initially planning to update the theme park and use it to underwrite academic research. Dwindling attendance and surging costs, however, made operating the park—then known as the Aquarena Center—impossible. Ralph made his final performance in February 1996. Texas State ultimately tore down most the facility to return Aquarena Springs to its original condition. (The area is one of the oldest continually inhabited locations on the continent.) What remained eventually became the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, an educational center dedicated to water research. The center still conducts glass-bottomed boat tours.
The Japanese Tea Garden opened in San Antonio’s Brackenridge Park in 1918, converting an abandoned quarry into a complex of walkways, stone arch bridges, and a pagoda. In 1926, the city invited local Japanese-American artist Kimi Eizo Jingu and his family to move to the garden to maintain it and open the Bamboo Room, a cafe where light lunch and tea were served. After Jingu’s death in the late 1930s, his family continued to maintain the garden until 1942, when they were evicted as a result of anti-Japanese sentiment during World War II. A Chinese-American family then operated the facility until the 1960s, renaming it the Chinese Sunken Garden. In 1984, the park was rededicated as the Japanese Tea Garden in a ceremony attended by Jingu’s children and representatives of the Japanese government.