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Fronteras: 'They Tore It All Down' The Struggle For Preservation On San Antonio's Near West Side

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Graciela Sánchez — daughter of San Antonio neighborhood and education activist, Isabel Sánchez — is director of the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, which is spearheading the Museo del Westside project. | Credit: William Luther / San Antonio Express-News
William Luther/San Antonio Express-News
Graciela Sánchez — daughter of San Antonio neighborhood and education activist, Isabel Sánchez — is director of the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, which is spearheading the Museo del Westside project.

Residents of San Antonio’s Westside have struggled for years to save homes, stores, dance halls and restaurants from developers who believe the area is ripe for urban renewal.

Graciela Sánchez, director of the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, is familiar with the defeat of a demolition’s wrecking ball. She recalled being separated from her community after her childhood neighborhood, south of Guadalupe Street, was torn down in the 1970s as part of a de-densification urban renewal experiment.

Antonia Castañeda, professor of history emeritus at St. Mary’s University, said the Museo del Westside is a way to amplify the voices of the community and dispel negative stereotypes of West Side neighborhoods.
Antonia Castañeda, professor of history emeritus at St. Mary’s University, said the Museo del Westside is a way to amplify the voices of the community and dispel negative stereotypes of West Side neighborhoods.

“We continue to demand changes in the policies that the city is imposing on us and developers are imposing on us and especially developers that are imposing on our communities,” Sánchez explained, “because for (developers), their bottom line is making money. And for us, it's about saving and conserving and honoring our communities.”

The preservation of San Antonio’s unique cultural heritage is at the center of the Esperanza’s mission. Antonia Castañeda, professor of history emeritus at St. Mary’s University, recognized the need for updates on certain infrastructures, but argued the living conditions are a consequence of policymakers’ history of disregard for the people of the Westside.

“We want to be a compassionate city and we want that compassion to extend to the people of the Westside in this case,” Castañeda said, “but also certainly to all of San Antonio.”

The city’s oldest public housing complex, the Alazán-Apache Courts, is considered one of the nation’s most endangered historic places and is also targeted for demolition. The San Antonio Housing Authority board voted in Nov. to demolish the Apache Courts and replace it with mixed-income units.

While the decision drew stark criticism from community activists, the 1930s property was deemed “no longer fit for modern times,” according to a statement from SAHA to TPR.

“Over the property’s history, its structures, site plan, architecture and unit design have become outdated,” SAHA said in the statement. “The property requires serious deficiencies caused by years of reduced federal funding to be corrected, including inappropriately high population density, deferred maintenance, physical deterioration, obsolescence of major systems, and other deficiencies in the physical cement cinder block structures.”

San Antonio Housing Authority's statement regarding the Alazán-Apache Courts.
San Antonio Housing Authority's statement regarding the Alazán-Apache Courts.

SAHA provides housing assistance to more than 57,000 San Antonians through its Public Housing, Housing Choice Voucher and MIxed-Income housing programs.

The future of the authority’s affordable housing efforts, particularly under a new Biden-Harris administration, and their continued work in the community will be discussed with SAHA in the coming weeks.

The Esperanza Peace & Justice Center hosts a free virtual event — “Don't Demolish: Save the Alazán Apache Courts and Preserve Public Housing!” — Saturday, Jan. 16 at 10 a.m. on the Esperanza’s Facebook page.

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Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter at @terrazas_lauren