One of the last remnants of San Antonio’s ‘Mexican downtown’ deemed unsafe, may soon be demolished – San Antonio Express-News

SAN ANTONIO — The San Antonio River Authority is asking to tear down one of the few remaining structures of Laredito, San Antonio’s old Tejano district of the 1800s and early 1900s.

Listed as the A.W. Walter House, the old two-story landmark is in an area once known as “Mexican downtown.” Ownership of the building at 836 S. Laredo St., just a block from the Bexar County-funded San Pedro Creek Culture Park project, has been passed back and forth between the city and the river authority for 30 years.

The river authority was scheduled to present its case on demolition to the city’s Historic and Design Review Commission on Wednesday, but it has requested more time.

“The structure is in an unusable and unsafe condition and (the) river authority intends to demolish the structure as soon as possible in order to alleviate the unsafe condition,” the authority said in a project description submitted to the city’s Office of Historic Preservation.

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The area once bustled with Mexican markets and businesses. It was home to many Spanish-speaking Chinese refugees who fled Mexico during Gen. John Pershing’s 1916 expedition in pursuit of revolutionary leader Francisco “Pancho” Villa.

The A.W. Walter house sits at 836 South Laredo St. The early 1900s structures was part of an area called Laredito and targeted for demolition. The South Laredo structure was listed as the A.W. Walter House.

The A.W. Walter house sits at 836 South Laredo St. The early 1900s structures was part of an area called Laredito and targeted for demolition. The South Laredo structure was listed as the A.W. Walter House.

Jerry Lara, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Urban renewal of the 1960s “mercilessly hit Mexican downtown … resulting in the removal of large swaths of Mexican American homes and businesses to make way for Interstate 10,” historian Sarah Zenaida Gould told the Alamo Citizen Advisory Committee during a presentation last year.

“Today, the old Mexican downtown has all but been erased from the landscape, with only a few landmarks still standing,” said Gould, executive director of the Mexican American Civil Rights Institute.

Just east of the Walter House is the smaller, historically designated Bergara-Le Compte House, at 149 Guadalupe St., which also is owned by the river authority. The Conservation Society of San Antonio spotlighted the one-story house in a 2018 newsletter as “an extremely rare architectural resource” with origins dating to 1830-1850.

Vacant and previously damaged by fire, the Bergara-Le Compte House has undergone roof replacement, structural reframing, reconstruction of stone walls and other work in recent years, using grants totaling $65,000 from the city, conservation society and Texas Historical Commission.

Vince Michael, the conservation society’s executive director , said the river authority considered moving the house but opted to restore it. Both structures are surrounded by security fencing. The smaller house, built in a style common to San Antonio’s historic Laredito neighborhood, or Little Laredo, is not part of the demolition request.

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Among the surviving architectural remnants are the De La Garza House at 102 S. Laredo and Casa Navarro State Historic Site, 228 S. Laredo St. But the river authority believes the Walter House is too far gone, a casualty of unkind alterations made to suit commercial uses.

A renovated structure is pictured at 149 Guadalupe Street. The early 1900s structures was part of an area called Laredito and targeted for demolition. The South Laredo structure was listed as the A.W. Walter House.

A renovated structure is pictured at 149 Guadalupe Street. The early 1900s structures was part of an area called Laredito and targeted for demolition. The South Laredo structure was listed as the A.W. Walter House.

Jerry Lara, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Besides being a designated landmark, the property is in a zoning district that requires design review oversight along the historic creek. The county’s nearly $300 million Culture Park flood-control and revitalization project is under construction and managed by the river authority. The project has led to the discovery and preservation of an 1870s foundation of one of the state’s oldest Black churches. It also has spurred the demolition of the old county jail, long considered an eyesore, to make way for new development.

Documents on file with the conservation society indicate Albert and Alice Walter purchased the property in 1906. But little is known about the couple or the original house.

Michael said he toured the structure years ago and recalled it being a Victorian-style house that was converted to a soda pop factory in the 20th century.

“While a couple interiors and a bit of original roof survive, the building does not have a great amount of integrity. The big preservation problem is that the house has absolutely no land, and moving it may or may not be feasible given its alterations and condition,” Michael said.

According to research by the conservation group, Guadalupe Rodriguez Sr. and his son bought the corner lot at Laredo and Guadalupe streets after World War I and opened Rodriguez Bottling Works, while also living in the house.

The A.W. Walter house sits at 836 South Laredo St. The early 1900s structures was part of an area called Laredito and targeted for demolition. The South Laredo structure was listed as the A.W. Walter House.

The A.W. Walter house sits at 836 South Laredo St. The early 1900s structures was part of an area called Laredito and targeted for demolition. The South Laredo structure was listed as the A.W. Walter House.

Jerry Lara, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Newspaper archives indicate the building may have housed the Cinderella Beauty Shop in the 1930s. Obituaries from 1952 listed the address as the home of Jose Q. Cavazos, 60, a native of Monterrey, Mexico, who lived in San Antonio for 50 years and was a dancer, actor and impersonator.

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Before the river authority acquired the property in 1987 to construct a flood-control tunnel under the creek, the building had been a carburetor shop. After the tunnel was completed, the property was deeded to the city in 1992 and used for storage of street-sweeping and other equipment, according to the demolition request. The city “re-conveyed” it back to the river authority in 2016 for potential use in the creek project.

But the river authority says the porches of the house are gone. All the windows have been “infilled and modified.” The foundation is unstable, and the interior floor is “rotted and incomplete.” There have even been concerns about the structure collapsing.

Oddly, a basketball backboard and hoop is mounted on the rear, north-facing wall.

The structure is “in very poor condition,” the authority said.

shuddleston@express-news.net

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