The San Antonio River became a muddy, trash filled eyesore in the early 1900s. Alarmed city leaders rallied to save the beloved waterway by clearing away mud and debris, planting grass, and pumping water into the empty channel. Civic organizations, inspired by the nationwide City Beautiful Movement, soon called for more ambitious improvements.
Their vision of a lushly landscaped river was shared by local architects but was at odds with engineers who favored flood channels without vegetation. When work finally began after the massive 1921 flood, groups including the newly formed San Antonio Conservation Society successfully lobbied to preserve and enhance the river's natural beauty. Architect Robert Hugman's visionary river project, completed in 1941, became the defining feature of downtown San Antonio.
The River Walk remained a quiet linear park until HemisFair '68 attracted new hotels, shops, and restaurants. Thirty years after the fair, planning began for the San Antonio River Improvements Project to extend the River Walk beyond the downtown area, creating a thirteen-mile greenbelt from Brackenridge Park south to Mission Espada.