Jan 13, 2023 - News

Historic East Side home with MLK ties could get new life

230 Cactus is shown in the forefront with the deteriorating grocery store in the background.

Alma and Eugenio Chavarria's home in the forefront and the former grocery store, which they hope to convert into a performing arts studio, in the background. Photo: Courtesy of Alma Chavarria

Owners of a home near the route of San Antonio's Martin Luther King Jr. March are working to honor its place in local Black history by transforming it into a performing arts center for the underserved East Side community.

Why it matters: As the East Side grapples with rapid gentrification and loses its original housing stock, 230 Cactus St. — which consists of 106- and 113-year-old structures — stands as an example of the city's social and historical heritage.

  • The home's owners say they've heard stories about Martin Luther King Jr. visiting the house during the civil rights movement.

What's happening: Alma and Eugenio Chavarria, who have lived at the home since 1995, are awaiting approval from the Office of Historic Preservation to renovate the deteriorating residence, which is in need of electrical and plumbing work as well as foundation and roof repairs.

  • They also want to rezone the 113-year-old building on the property, which was once a grocery store and was damaged by a fire in 1998, to turn it into a dance studio.
  • Alma, who sings in the choir at the nearby Mount Zion First Baptist Church and has two daughters who are dancers, has an appreciation for the arts and says she's received support from local instructors to bring the studio to fruition. She tells Axios she wants it to be a resource for the historically Black East Side.

Flashback: Alma says neighbors like George Frederick, a community outreach leader, remembers the home being at the epicenter of local civil rights activism with visits from King and his local associate, Rev. Claude Black, in the 1950s and 1960s.

  • Alma says Frederick remembers King visiting 230 Cactus with close friend and successor Ralph David Abernathy, who was a family member of the original property owner Frank Abernathy, but she does not have documentation. Frederick did not respond to Axios' attempts to contact him.
  • Aside from the oral histories of King's visits, the Office of Historic Preservation in 2018 recommended that City Council designate the house as a historical landmark, for serving as the Abernathy grocery store from 1922 to 1967, as a polling location and as an important community space.

What they're saying: Alma and city leaders including Commissioner Tommy Calvert and Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez hope the home's history becomes better known throughout San Antonio.

  • Calvert, who grew up on the East Side, says Black residents — who account for 6.5% of the city's population — and their contribution to the city's growth are often "overlooked," but the preservation of the home is a "jet stream of hope for Black people in San Antonio."
  • "Much of the history (of the home) isn't common knowledge to the average San Antonian," adds McKee-Rodriguez, whose district encompasses 230 Cactus.

What's next: City Council will consider the rezoning proposal on Feb. 2.

  • The Zoning Commission recommended approval at a meeting last month.
  • If approved, the Chavarrias can begin the fundraising needed to complete the renovation.

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