Little Village Lights Up San Antonio: Congress Closing Social Site Is Rich with History

Article excerpt

Just west of the Convention Center lies a cobblestone town that dates back to the 18th century. Located on the south bank of the San Antonio River, La Villita (or little village) was the city's first neighborhood. Initially used by squatters who used the area to farm outside of the Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo), it became an ally in the Mexican revolt against Spain, and later in the Texas Revolution. After the Texas Revolution, La Villita was inhabited by European immigrants from Germany and France who became San Antonio's business leaders, bankers, educators and craftsmen.

By 1850, San Antonio had 3,488 residents, and was dominated by three cultures--Mexicans, Americans and Germans. Noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, during his 1857 visit to San Antonio, remarked that "the triple nationalities break out into the most amusing display." The cultural mix that occurred at this time is best illustrated by the variety of architectural styles reflected in La Villita's buildings. The architecture portrays the evolution of buildings from palisado to Victorian Houses.

The character of the La Villita neighborhood changed again in the early 20th century. Longtime residents lived side by side with new businesses and institutions, in 1895, the city's first Episcopal church for African-Americans, St. Philip's, was organized and located in the old German Methodist Episcopal Church building on Villita Street. New businesses occupied the now-historic buildings with many of the houses turning into rental facilities. The neighborhood soon fell into a depression. But a regentrification led by then-mayor Maury Maverick changed the atmosphere of the little village, and it soon transformed into the present-day thriving artists' colony. …