The National Register of Historic Places-listed La Villita Historic District is located a few blocks from Alamo Plaza near downtown San Antonio. It includes twenty-seven nineteenth century dwellings representing unique examples of early residential development in the city. Most of the dwellings are simple, masonry structures constructed between the 1820s and 1860s with some later examples displaying Victorian characteristics. Generally, the existing dwellings fit into two categories. The earlier Mexican period houses are typically constructed of stucco-covered brick or caliche block and possess minimal architectural detailing. The second phase of construction in the neighborhood was undertaken by German settlers beginning in the 1840s. Though sometimes constructed of different materials, many of the houses strongly resemble the earlier Mexican-period homes (Magruder 2010; Unknown 1969).
Known as Pueblo de Valero from 1795-1809, the neighborhood was originally the site of a Coahuiltican Indian village and was part of the lands allotted to the Mission San Antonio de Valero. There is some evidence that the community was founded at the second location of the Mission San Antonio de Valero. In 1773, the area was open to Spanish settlers migrating to the area from East Texas, and the name “La Villita” in reference to the neighborhood appears in historic records as early as 1792. After a severe flood in 1819, the neighborhood proved to be one of the few areas not dramatically affected. As a result, it became a prime location for the city’s wealthier residents to construct their homes. In the 1840s, Germans settlers began to move into the neighborhood followed by Swiss and French immigrants. It remained a significant area of settlement through the mid-nineteenth century; however, towards the end of the century, the neighborhood began to fall into disrepair. It was during this period that San Antonio’s well-to-do began to settle further from downtown as more efficient transportation and overcrowding in the city
center made it a less attractive place to settle (Magruder 2010; Unknown 1969).
By the early twentieth century, the neglected neighborhood was in danger of facing the fate of other historic residential areas and being demolished. In 1939, San Antonio Mayor Maury Maverick and the San Antonio Conservation Society used federal funding and National Youth Administration labor to undertake a two-year restoration project. The group primarily preserved the resources along La Villita Street, thus protecting an irreplaceable sample of the types of dwellings once common throughout the city (Magruder 2010). Specific resources accessible from the Mission Trails hike-and-bike trail include the Dominguez-Micheli Houses (also known as the German-English School), the Diaz House, the Staffel House (also known as the Anton Phillip House), the Elmendorf (Arciniega) House, and the Cos House. The Cos House is believed to be one of the oldest structures in the neighborhood, dating to the pre-Texas Revolution era. The house received its name because it was reportedly where Mexican General Perfecto de Cos “signed the articles of capitulation” on December 9, 1935 after being defeated by the Texian Army at the Siege of Bexar (La Villita Historic Arts Village 2011). A complete list of all contributing resources within the historic district organized by address is included below.
Currently, many of the buildings within La Villita have been converted into art galleries, restaurants, and banquet and event facilities. For more information about the area and visitor access, see the La Villita Historic Arts Village website as well as the City of San Antonio website. The San Antonio Conservation Society also provides information about the area in their historic walking tour of downtown.