By Sarah Zenaida Gould, PhD
Last week the National Trust for Historic Preservation named San Antonio’s Alazan-Apache Courts among America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Since 1988, this annual list has raised awareness about the threats facing some of the nation’s greatest treasures.
The Westside Preservation Alliance and Esperanza Peace and Justice Center submitted the Alazan-Apache Courts to the National Trust in February of this year. The annual list is one of the most sought after designations by historic preservationists due to the rigor of consideration to be one of the selected sites.
Opened in 1940-41, the Alazan-Apache Courts—aka Los Courts—is the oldest and largest extant public housing complex in San Antonio. Located in the city’s predominately Mexican American Westside, and conceived at a time when housing, schools, and public facilities were legally segregated, Los Courts have provided affordable housing for San Antonio’s working poor, in an area where historically families have struggled with poverty, lack of municipal services, severe flood conditions, and high death rates.
The Alazan Apache Courts not only introduced critical infrastructure to the Westside, but for nearly 80 years have provided a critical safety net for thousands of people who have contributed to the growth of the city, a city that is currently experiencing a growing affordable housing crisis.
“My family moved to Torreon St. in the Alazan Housing Project when I was two years old. For us, it was really “moving up” because we now had an indoor toilet and bathtub, a living room, a balcony, and a house made of brick….plus the house was affordable for a single mother with five young daughters. Alazan was transitional housing for us until my mother had our house built in the Edgewood District two years later. We have many fond memories of this community,” shared Dr. Gloria G. Rodriguez, a former resident and founder of AVANCE, a nationally recognized program for low-income families with young children.
The Alazan was a planned community that placed the needs of those who lived there in close proximity. “There was a playground, theater, bakery and the school that was walking distance. Professionally, I returned to Alazan many years later to establish AVANCE, and it is still there providing early childhood, parenting services and family support. Alazan is a significant historical landmark that was one of the first federal housing projects in the nation for low-income people. I am so glad they received this prestigious designation,” said Rodriguez.
Though the Alazan-Apache Courts provide the San Antonio community with affordable housing and represent a part of Mexican American history, the San Antonio Housing Authority is planning to demolish these historic structures.
“We should be preserving housing stock, not destroying it. We are talking about 1,200 of my neighbors and friends that would be displaced if our homes were demolished. They want to flush us out to make room for higher income individuals and majority market rent properties,” stated Kayla Miranda, Alazan-Apache resident and community advocate. “In a truly affordable housing crisis, what possible excuse could the housing authority have to reduce available public housing units?”
The plans to demolish Los Courts would not only bring the loss of an architecturally significant site, but also the loss of a deeply embedded community while paving the way for the gentrification that has already taken over other downtown-adjacent neighborhoods. The families at Los Courts are among our city’s most vulnerable and need affordable housing with easy access to downtown jobs. While deferred maintenance and aging amenities have created some willingness among current residents to see the property go, most of the property’s problems could be resolved by rehabilitation.
Rehabilitation of the Alazan-Apache Courts would preserve important architectural history, cultural history, and affordable housing. It is also the most environmentally friendly choice.
“The Alazan-Apache Courts demonstrate that historic preservation can provide solutions for the challenge of affordable housing, while also supporting community history and identity. Particularly during this time of economic crisis, the preservation of historic buildings that provide affordable housing—and the communities that call those places home—should be a priority not only for San Antonio, but all cities nationwide,” said Katherine Malone-France, chief preservation officer at the National Trust.
Now is the time for innovative thinking to rehabilitate and expand existing public housing. Similar public housing, such as Liberty Village and Liberty Square in Groesbeck, Texas, has been successfully rehabilitated to continue to provide affordable housing. To show your support for the preservation and rehabilitation of the Alazan-Apache Courts, please visit the National Trust’s advocacy action page at https://support.savingplaces.org/page/22367/action/1?ea.tracking.id=Partner.