According to estimates released Thursday by the Census Bureau (search), San Antonio had about 1,214,725 residents compared to Dallas' 1,208,318. The annual estimate measured population as of July 1, 2003.
It's the first change in the roster of America's top 10 cities since the 2000 census, although Phoenix is bearing down on Philadelphia for the No. 5 spot and San Jose, Calif., could eclipse Detroit at No. 10 before the next official headcount in 2010.
"The town is fantastic and the people are great," said Richard "Chad" Chadwick, 58, who lived in San Antonio briefly as a teen and moved back in 2002.
While the San Antonio he remembered as a youth is long gone, Chadwick always loved the warm climate, clear skies and riverside charm he believes the city has maintained despite its growth.
"We're going to progress, we're going to grow," said Chadwick, a career military man. "What you need to do is make it grow the way you want it to grow."
The Alamo City has attracted new residents and annexed neighboring communities while Dallas lost residents and reached its expansion limit.
Mike Eastland, who represents both Dallas and Fort Worth as executive director of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, points to geography as Dallas' biggest limiting factor.
"I guess there's bragging rights to being large, but I think (Dallas was) trying to determine what kind of city it wanted to be and how fast to annex," Eastland said. "About that time there were a tremendous amount of small farming communities around Dallas that began to annex land around them."
Consequently, Dallas is hemmed in by massive suburbs — Plano, Richardson, Irving — that individually rank among the state's largest cities. At the same time, San Antonio, Fort Worth and Houston are surrounded by vast swaths of land they can eventually annex into city limits.
At around 1.7 million in population, the San Antonio metropolitan area remains far smaller than that of the Dallas-Fort Worth region, which stands at about 5.6 million and is climbing heartily.
Still, San Antonio is proud to return to its former glory. The city became Texas' first urban center when Spanish missionaries established it in 1718. It was the state's largest city as late as 1920 before Houston and Dallas surpassed it.
The growth is likely to continue. Tourism and several military bases in the city consistently bring new people to the state and Toyota is building a new plant set to open in 2006 that will create an estimated 4,000 jobs.