- Before we embark on rehabilitating our historic property, Ruben’s Ice House, to create the first community museum in San Antonio’s predominantly Mexican American Westside, we would like to hire a team of consultants to assist in educating community members, Esperanza staff, board, and volunteers about museum planning and best practices in the rehabilitation of a historic building into a functional museum space. The consultants would also work with the Esperanza to develop a rehabilitation plan that meets the community’s desires for the space.
- This project will create a community-informed plan to rehabilitate a historic structure to give it a new life as a community serving museum, while also educating the community, staff, and board about the challenges of and best practices for rehabilitating a historic structure. The project will foster community knowledge about the building and its surroundings, build community buy-in for the future of the building, and further promote an understanding of and appreciation for community history in the Westside.
- A series of three to five community meetings will be convened (this will depend on the community’s expressed needs) to introduce the community, Esperanza staff, and board to the museum planning process and receive the community’s input on desired amenities, activities, and programs that will need to be incorporated into the design. Three consultants will be engaged: one an expert in rehabilitating historic buildings into museums, one an architect, and one a structural engineer. The latter two previously assisted in rehabilitating the other two designated structures on the property and are familiar with our organization’s commitment to community input. Donations will help us cover the costs of hiring the consultants – all experts in the ir respective fields.
Why it matters:
We anticipate holding the first community input meeting in mid-January with additional community meetings through March. Therefore, we anticipate strong community participation in these meetings with anywhere from 30 to 40 core participants. Our target audience is current and former Westside residents. San Antonio’s Westside is part of the city’s original 36 square miles and is an area notable for its unique working class vernacular architecture, deep ties to San Antonio’s Mexican American history, and as the birthplace of numerous Mexican American leaders, politicians, musicians, educators, writers, and artists. It originally began on the west side of downtown at the San Pedro Creek and spread west, but in the 1950s and 60s urban renewal and the building of Interstate 10 pushed the inhabitants of the Westside further west so that it now extends west from Interstate 10. Since the city’s earliest days the Westside has been predominately Mexican American, though new immigrant groups have also historically had enclaves in the Westside including early 20th century Syrian/Lebanese and Chinese immigrants. The Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) led to a surge of refugees fleeing to San Antonio and settling on the Westside. These refugees brought a renewed wave of Mexican cultural practices and pride to the Westside. Marked by small businesses selling traditional Mexican goods, churches serving a number of denominations, and houses often built by the hands of master builders with no architectural plans, the Westside retains a unique quality that as we say in San Antonio is “puro San Anto.” Westside residents are proud of their community, and especially proud of the people that have come from the Westside, including: former US Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros, voting rights advocate Willie Velasquez, and international singer Eva Garza. The Westside also produced the iconic “Westside Sound” (Rudy & the Reno Bops, The Royal Jesters, etc.), which has been documented a Smithsonian traveling exhibit. While the Westside remains one of the most culturally rich communities in San Antonio it is also one of the economically poorest, with forty-one percent of residents living in poverty. Though the Westside has been studied by historians, cultural geographers, sociologists, and others, outside of academia the impact and meaning of the Westside has rarely been told by the community or for the community. The Museo del Westside aims to correct this pattern.
- Outcomes will include strong community buy-in for the museum, increased community understanding of the museum’s benefits to the neighborhood, and community commitment to the future success of the museum. For the final product of this planning project, the consultants will work with our staff and board to develop a rehabilitation plan that meets the community’s desires for the space and that can be used to solicit construction bids. To ensure that we have met our goals we will ask the community participants to sign off on the final
- We’ve already held multiple community meetings (across multiple constituencies in the neighborhood) to introduce the idea of the museum and collect future exhibit ideas. We have been met by much enthusiasm from community members as it is widely known in the community that the Westside is one of San Antonio’s most historic neighborhoods and yet it is largely overlooked by larger cultural institutions.
- By bringing in a panel of expert consultants we will give the Westside the professional attention it deserves. We have already had great success in promoting the idea of the museum. To date we have held three community meetings next door to Ruben’s Ice House and presented at four meetings of other Westside organizations and have been met with great. We’ve already been contacted by multiple community members who want to donate family artifacts to the museum, including a hand-sewn stage dress worn by the international singer Refugio ”Cuquita” Wilton Luna, La Reina del Microfono, and a large neon sign that once graced the 2-story, 15-room maternity home run by Westside midwife Romana Ramos. We opened our first Westside history exhibit on September 22, 2018 at the community room of the nearby public housing development and welcomed over 150 community members to the opening reception. We are very confident in the community’s desire for more such exhibits and a space to call their own that honors the community’s history. The Museo del Westside project is being overseen by Dr. Sarah Zenaida Gould, a Latina museum professional with over 10 years’ experience in the museum field.
Previously, the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center has raised over $1.2 million to rehab the historic Westside structures known as Casa de Cuentos (now a community gathering space) and Lerma’s Nite Club (a National Register of Historic Places listed building that was the longest-running conjunto club in Texas), as well as to erect a compressed earth (adobe) structure to house a Westside women’s clay art collective.
- The funds will cover consultant fees for a museum building rehabilitation expert, and architect, and structural engineer. All have experience working with community groups for project input, and community engagement with the process is of utmost importance to us, so we want to be sure to hire the right consultants for this project. In total their fees will be $10,000. We are also seeking $500 to cover meals and supplies for the community meetings.
- If we don’t reach our entire goal, we will reduce reduce the number of community meetings to however many we can afford. We are also applying for private grants to help with the costs, but do not know yet if we will receive any additional support at this time.
- When you donate to the Esperanza, you gain ownership and accountability in the organization. Not everyone may be able to make a monetary donation, but you can always help many other ways! You can help get the word out about current campaigns/fundraising goals, use social media to help spread the word and ask for donations, or you could become an official campaign organizer or volunteer!
Francisco Pizana Jr.
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