The Westside of our fathers, especially during the years between 1920-1950, represent memorable times. The majority of our fathers living in San Antonio during the “Roaring Twenties” and the Great Depression years were initially Mexican immigrants. This population evolved over the later decades into first-generation Mexican Americans.
In 1920 San Antonio had the largest Mexican population in the United States and the majority lived in Laredito, west of San Pedro Creek near downtown, and the Westside neighborhoods adjacent to the Alazan and Apache Creeks.
Much changed over those three decades. By 1930 many Mexicano families began leaving their traditional center of town, called Laredito and moving west to what would be called the Westside. By 1940 Westside businesses, especially Mexican restaurants, bakeries, ice houses and drive-in theaters commanded the strong consumer loyalty of Mexican Americans living throughout San Antonio.
In this essay in honor of Father’s Day, I intend to take us back in time over two interesting generations–
that of the pre World War II to the Korean War era. The Westside of our fathers, those who lived and worked in San Antonio over the period 1920-1950, shows interesting familial intersections as well as business relationships between numerous Mexican families. Here we will look at how these families met and helped each other.
The Westside of our fathers had its birth and coming of age years during a time of global conflict, economic destabilization, and transformational cultural values. San Antonio, with Mexican populations of 41,469 in 1920, the largest in the United States, witnessed a growing Latino community and expansion of new neighborhoods further west and south.
By tracking the rise of Catholic churches, for example, one can determine the direction of that growth. For much of its 250-year history, San Fernando Cathedral has served the Mexican Community. Located just a few blocks east of San Pedro Creek, San Fernando was in close proximity to the Laredito neighborhood.
By the mid-twenties, the Mexican community in Laredito had grown sufficiently to merit an additional church west of San Pedro Creek. The Immaculate Heart of Mary (Corazon de Maria) parish near Santa Rosa and Durango (now Cesar Chavez Boulevard) was in close proximity to meet that religious need.
During the 1920s, San Antonio also struggled to maintain its status as the largest city in Texas. The construction of the Transit Life Tower during this decade was consistent with big city life. The Tower Building with 29 floors was designed to be the tallest building west of the Mississippi. With this landmark and other related road and highway construction projects. Mexican skilled and unskilled workers found jobs in the building industry in significant numbers.
A building and construction boom and the utilization of thousands of workers near the center of the city prompted the rise of small businesses. Laredito, with its Mexican theaters, drug stores, and restaurants was considered the most active Latino neighborhood in Texas.
At the center of the community was Chapa’s Drug Store, owned by the influential Francisco Chapa. To live in San Antonio in the 1920s is to have known or visited Chapa’s drug store on the corner of Santa Rosa and Commerce. A native of Matamoros, Tamaulipas and a
graduate of Tulane University, Chapa moved to San Antonio in 1890. Four years later he founded Chapa’s Drug Store in the heart of Laredito, one block west of San Pedro Creek.
Chapa was elected as an alderman to the 3rd Ward of the city and served as a lieutenant colonel on the personal staff of Texas Governor Oscar B. Colquitt. Mexicanos had lost out politically after the Mexican War of 1846 and Chapa was the first 20th century politicians to win a city post. Chapa ran his drug store, but also published El Imparcial de Texas, a conservative Spanish-language newspaper, that was active in Mexican and Texas politics. Research by Teresa Palomo Acosta shows that Chapa was one of the leading Mexican American businessmen in Texas.
Following the elder Chapa’s death in 1924, his son, also Francisco, ran the drug store. The pharmacy, also known as La Botica del Leon had an African lion mural on the side of the store. That mural has been recently replicated on Santa Rosa Street by Westside artist, Jesse Trevino.
When Ignacio E. Lozano, a native of Mapimi, Durango, Mexico, arrived in San Antonio in 1908, he initially worked in the Spanish-language newspaper El Imparcial, published by drug store owner Francisco Chapa. In 1913, after four years of learning the Spanish-language newspaper business, Lozano utilized his savings to start La Prensa, directly competing with El Imparcial.
Over the next fifteen years, Lozano hired many journalists and printers, including the exceptional San Antonio Westsiders Leonides Gonzalez and Romulo Munguia.
When Leonides Gonzalez fled Mexico, he was serving as mayor of Mapimi in the Mexican state of Durango. Given Gonzalez’s prominent position, he likely knew the Ignacio E. Lozano family who were from the same town. The Gonzalez family arrived in San Antonio in 1911 just as the Mexican revolution was breaking out. In San Antonio, Leonides Gonzalez met Ignacio E. Lozano, the publisher of La Prensa. Gonzalez joined La Prensa and by the 1920s he moved up to serve as managing editor.
Romulo Munguia, Henry Cisneros’ grandfather, came to San Antonio in the generation after Francisco Chapa and Leonides Gonzalez. Munguia arrived in San Antonio in mid-1926, two years after the elder Chapa had passed away. Munguia, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico, had started his printing career at age 12. Born in 1885, Munguia lived in Mexico City and Puebla, where he was a printer, labor organizer, revolutionary journalist, and educational reformer. His wife, educator Carolina Malpica also from Puebla, traveled with him to San Antonio. At La Prensa, Munguia met Leonides Gonzalez, grandfather of former Congressman Charlie Gonzalez.
Romulo Munguia was active as a journalist and printer in San Antonio from the mid-1920s to his death in 1975. While Munguia arrived in San Antonio with little money, he had more than 25 years of experience as a printer and journalist in Mexico.
Upon meeting Ignacio Lozano, publisher of La Prensa, Munguia joined the newspaper as a printer. Mexico appointed Munguia honorary consul in 1958 and he is credited with convincing Mexico’s largest national university to open a branch of the UNAM in San Antonio. Munguia considered himself a devoted patriot of Mexico and never applied for American citizenship.
Many Mexican immigrants, as in the case of Romulo Munguia, remained interested in the affairs of Mexico and active in supporting Mexican Americans for political office. Munguia’s son Romolu Munguia, Jr., followed him in the printing business and ran a print shop for nearly fifty years on Buena Vista Street in the Westside.
Even though these families and others lived in different neighborhoods of the Westside, the Mexican exile community, especially those engaged in religious affairs or small businesses such as the Chapas, Gonzalezes, and Munguias made staying connected easier for those with deep Mexican roots. They used their writing, printing and leadership skills gained in Mexico to build a sense of community in San Antonio and beyond.
Ignacio Lozano, for example, moved to Los Angeles and started La Opinion in 1926. I have written about his community role in my book, East Los Angeles: History of a Barrio. Today, a granddaughter, Monica Lozano, runs the family publishing business in Los Angeles.
The Chapa family kept the pharmacy business open in the Westside for fifty years after the death of the elder Francisco Chapa. Their business closed when Urban
Renewal bought up hundreds of properties and demolished many businesses and homes in the Laredito community to build Interstate Highway 35 and other city buildings, including the city and county jails.
The Chapa family ran Chapa’s Drug Store from 1894 to 1970, a record for Mexican American small businesses. That record was recently topped by the Pete Cortez family who opened Mi Tierra Mexican Restaurant in 1946 and continues to serve residents of the Westside and beyond.
Leonides Gonzalez and his heirs, son Henry B. Gonzalez and grandson Charlie Gonzalez, became politicians and attorneys. The Gonzalez family continues to be one of the most prominent families in Mexican American history.
On this Father’s Day 2019, it is an honor to write about some of the many stories of our fathers from the Westside. It will help historians if Westside families document their histories and record information such as when their families arrived in San Antonio and what work or businesses they were engaged in during their lifetimes. These stories are an important part of the history of San Antonio.