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San Pedro Creek Culture Park looks to the future while preserving its past

Jack Morgan
Everett Fly photographs the AME Church Foundation

A 2020 archeological find on the San Pedro Creek Culture Park Project caused the city to hit the brakes on building that small portion. But now they’re moving rapidly forward again.

The San Antonio River Authority’s Christine Clayton guided eight interested parties past construction fencing where Houston Street crosses the San Pedro Creek.

“This is the AME site,” Clayton said.

She pointed across the creek to the foundations revealed of the St. James African Methodist Episcopalian Church.

Jack Morgan
The AME Church foundation under black tarp

“There are two historic, nationally significant features here: the Klemke-Menger soap factory and the St. James AME Church, which you see here in the outline in the black tarp,” she said.

Black tarp capped the stone foundations of the building that housed both the Church, and before that, the Klemke-Menger Soap Factory.

“St. James AME Church acquired it from the soap factory and then later, after the St. James relocated, the Alamo Ice House came in and then they expanded to include brewing as well,” Clayton said.

Also there was Architect and National Humanities Award medal winner Everett Fly, who researches in public records and newspapers forgotten African American history. He said that census data from the era reveals a forgotten diversity to the Military Plaza area, the blocks around city hall.

“And when you look at those sheets and you count the names, there's more than 100 Black residents in these blocks surrounding Military Plaza,” Fly said. “So there was a neighborhood or enclave here.”

That explains why there was also a Black church there. Research reveals the AME church was there from 1871-1878, and it moved to a location just north of Santa Rosa Hospital, and the ice house took over the facility. Fly said that many of the Black men of that neighborhood found work at the ice factory.

“Back in those days, they had what they called Draymen. And those were, today we call freight truck drivers, but they’d haul them with mules and draft horses and carts and wagons, and they would haul the ice,” he said.

The AME cornerstone found in early 2020 spawned research revealing a lesser-known historic part of downtown. Now, city officials, the San Antonio River Authority and Fly have nearly completed the research and planning phases, and Clayton said they’ve begun to finish out the rehabilitation.

Jack Morgan
Everett Fly

“We do need to stabilize the stone, so we will have you re-point the mortar,” she said.

Repointing mortar removes the outer cement and replaces it with new mortar. Also, one more item to protect the foundation: a capstone.

“And the capstone is going to be a harder stone as well. So that offers some protection,” she said.

They intend to keep the foundation looking much as it does now. Work continues on the San Pedro Creek Culture Park right below it, and Clayton had a welcome announcement to those looking for progress here.

“We will be done with San Pedro down to César Chávez at the end of August, and we're planning a grand opening sometime in October,” she said.

That will open up Houston Street after several years of being closed.

Jack Morgan
AME Church foundation in background
Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Arts & Culture News Desk including The Guillermo Nicolas & Jim Foster Art Fund, Patricia Pratchett, and the V.H. McNutt Memorial Foundation.

Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii