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La Villita Restoration Photographs for National Historic Preservation Month

May 20, 2013

By the 1930s, La Villita had become a slum on the edge of downtown San Antonio.  The 19th century stone and caliche-block cottages were in disrepair, yet occupied by tenants and squatters.  Through the leadership of Mayor Maury Maverick, the City of San Antonio acquired the property.  In October 1939, the city adopted the Villita Ordinance “recreating the Little Spanish Village:  for the promotion of understanding and peace between the American nations; to preserve Spanish and Southwestern Culture; to foster arts and crafts.”  It was a two-year project sponsored by the city and the National Youth Administration (NYA).   Working from designs by architect O’Neil Ford, NYA workers restored the historic structures and constructed new facilities for artisans and community events. 

These images are from our San Antonio Light Photograph Collection (MS 359), Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection (MS 355), and General Photograph Collection (MS 362).  They document the preservation of regional architecture and the transformation of a neglected urban area into a vibrant craft and recreational center.  

Mayor Maury Maverick (right) gives novelist Thomas Mann and his wife a tour of the La Villita restoration project, February 1940.  (MS 359: L-2357-A)

Mayor Maury Maverick (right) gives novelist Thomas Mann and his wife a tour of the La Villita restoration project, February 1940. (MS 359: L-2357-A)

La Villita (to the left of St. John’s Lutheran Church) when it was a middle-class residential neighborhood, circa 1876.  (MS 362: 082-0130)

La Villita (to the left of St. John’s Lutheran Church) when it was a middle-class residential neighborhood, circa 1876. (MS 362: 082-0130)

Some of the debris left behind by former occupants of the La Villita houses, 1939.  (MS 355: Z-1386-A-2)

Some of the debris left behind by former occupants of the La Villita houses, 1939. (MS 355: Z-1386-A-2)

National Youth Administration (NYA) workers form bricks for the streets and walkways of La Villita, December 1939.  (MS 359: L-2317-H)

National Youth Administration (NYA) workers form bricks for the plaza and walkways of La Villita, December 1939. (MS 359: L-2317-H)

Henry Salazar constructs a facsimile of an original window shutter in NYA arts and crafts shop, January 1940.   (MS 359: L-2340-G)

Henry Salazar constructs a facsimile of an original window shutter in NYA arts and crafts shop, January 1940. (MS 359: L-2340-G)

One of the large oak trees brought in from the surrounding countryside under the direction of Stewart King, local landscape architect, December 1939.  (MS 355: Z-1386-A-6)

One of the large oak trees brought in from the surrounding countryside, December 1939. (MS 355: Z-1386-A-6)

NYA workers construct kiln for ceramic studio. (MS 355: Z-1386-A-5)

NYA workers construct kiln for ceramic studio. (MS 355: Z-1386-A-5)

Priscilla Camacho, NYA worker in the ceramic studio at La Villita, March 1941.  (MS 359: L-2690-A)

Priscilla Camacho, in NYA ceramic studio at La Villita, March 1941. (MS 359: L-2690-A)

Oralia Flores (left) and Stella Toscano, NYA students, work on hooked rug in new weaving building at La Villita, September 1940.  (MS 359: L-2690-A)

Oralia Flores (left) and Stella Toscano, NYA students, work on hooked rug in new weaving building at La Villita, September 1940. (MS 359: L-2690-A)

Bird’s-eye views of La Villita from the Smith-Young Tower (now Tower Life Building). Left photo (MS 359: L-2203-P) shows the area in July 1939, when the project was announced.  Right photo (MS 359: L-2203-B), shows it in May 1941, after completion of the restoration of the historic structures.  Construction continues on Boliver Hall (center), a new community building funded by the Carnegie Corporation.

Bird’s-eye views of La Villita from the Smith-Young Tower (now Tower Life Building). Left photo (MS 359: L-2203-P) shows the area in July 1939, when the project was announced. Right photo (MS 359: L-2203-B), shows it in May 1941, after completion of the restoration of the historic structures. Construction continues on Boliver Hall (center), a new community building funded by the Carnegie Corporation.

Maury and Terrell Maverick dance at an event on the newly completed “Juarez Plaza” in La Villita, 1941.  (MS 362: 096-0399)

Maury and Terrell Maverick dance at an event on the newly completed “Juarez Plaza” in La Villita, 1941. (MS 362: 096-0399)

Our oral history collection contains reminiscences of the NYA restoration of La Villita, including

O’Neil Ford (http://digital.utsa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15125coll4/id/623), 

Terrell Maverick Webb (http://digital.utsa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15125coll4/id/465),

Louis Lipscomb (http://digital.utsa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15125coll4/id/1681), and

Mary Green (http://digital.utsa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15125coll4/id/1361).

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Donna permalink
    May 21, 2013 2:48 pm

    The “La Villita Ordinance” itself is also very beautiful. You can view it in the minutes of the Meeting of the Commissioners of the City of San Antonio, October 12, 1939, at the following link:
    https://webapps.sanantonio.gov/FileNetArchive/%7B7573A07B-F7D3-4631-9DC4-FDB75B6A998A%7D/%7B7573A07B-F7D3-4631-9DC4-FDB75B6A998A%7D.pdf

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