Apr 12, 2024 - News

Historians aim to tell the full story of the St. Mary's Strip

Abra Schnur looks over a small record while Norman Avila speaks to her.

Abra Schnur with Norman Avila. Photo: Courtesy of JoJoDancer Photography

As the St. Mary's Strip changes, a small group of historians is working to document the memories and interactions of locals, both as a family neighborhood and a musical springboard.

Why it matters: Preserving St. Mary's Strip stories is vital in understanding its place in local history as a hub for showcasing talents, small business development and entertainment as San Antonio's evolution impacts the area.

Driving the news: The Strip finds itself at a potential turning point, amid reverberations of the pandemic and construction that have caused both business closures and the emergence of new restaurants and businesses.

What they did: Archivists Abra Schnur and Michael Ann Coker launched the St. Mary's Strip History Project in January.

  • They aim to record the street's complex history — including its thorny relationship with the residential neighbors and city decisions that have shaped it — so that future generations can grasp its multifaceted significance to the city.
  • The project is seeking histories from the 1980s-2000s.

Flashback: Before the section of Highway 281 was constructed in the 1970s, splitting the thoroughfare, it was lined with essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies, according to the project.

  • Around this time, Hap Veltman, who opened the Bonham Exchange, began buying up real estate to turn the area into an entertainment district.
  • It became one by 1985 with St. Mary's Bar and Grill, Nona's, Tycoon Flats and Pearl Oyster Co.

How it works: The historians are collecting oral histories and memorabilia like promotional materials, videos and more.

  • Those willing to share are invited to complete this form.
  • The ongoing project will eventually be hosted on a public website with digitization help from Trinity University. Some items will be displayed at the TexPop Museum.

Some of the early donations come from Norman Avila, an original member of the beloved Los #2 Dinners (which eventually became Los #3 Dinners).

  • He donated the band's original 45s that were in the jukebox at Tycoon Flats in the 1980s.

What they're saying: "(The Strip) has taken on a new form, and it's an important form for people who are experiencing as it is now, but we can't lose sight of what it's been in past iterations, and all of those iterations solidify that this is a cultural gem for San Antonio," Schnur says.

What's next: The city will host a grand reopening of The Strip, marking the official end of its controversial construction project, on Saturday.

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