In San Antonio, Texas, the local Housing Authority wants to demolish part of the Alazan-Apache Courts, one of the city’s first public housing developments. It opened in 1941 to provide segregation-era housing for Mexican-Americans.
Home to 1,055 low-income families, the chronically under-serviced landmark is in line for a federal grant that would transform it into a mixed-income community, but not necessarily preserve its historic architecture.
A decade ago, the local landmark would have faced little chance of survival. But after years of grassroots activism led by the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, and by the preservationists who (in 2009) launched a community group called the Westside Preservation Alliance (WPA), the city is waking to the use of historic preservation as a way revitalize neighborhoods.
WPA has been working with San Antonio’s Office of Historic Preservation in recent years to designate over 60 buildings on the Westside as historic properties.
“At issue is the notion that redevelopment is good for the community and it’s a notion of progress,” says historian Antonia Castañeda, a retired professor. “But the idea in San Antonio has been you get rid of old, dilapidated structures that ‘blight’ the community, rather than repurpose or actually redevelop them for reuse.”
One recent success: Esperanza Peace and Justice Center renovated Casa de Cuentos into a cultural center with federal Community Development Block Grant funding. Today, the Esperanza-owned building stands as a testament to the neighborhood revitalization benefits of preservation, says Executive Director Graciela Sánchez.
Now, that part of the city’s Mexican-American heritage, the San Antonio Missions, has achieved UNESCO recognition and protection, neighborhood regeneration based on repurposing and renewing historic buildings is kicking into high gear.
2015 photo of Alazan-Apache Courts office by Larry D. Moore via Wikimedia Commons.