South Presa Street

South Presa Street and South St. Mary’s Street (formerly Garden Street) are parallel roads that begin near the center of San Antonio and travel southeast through the city. These streets bisect two of the oldest residential areas in the city, the National Register of Historic Places listed King William and Lavaca neighborhoods. This area of San Antonio was originally part of agricultural lands that belonged to the Mission Concepción and Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo). After the mission period ended, it remained largely an agricultural area until landowners began to sell the property to immigrant German and other European land speculators as early as the 1840s. Land developers like Thomas Devine, Newton Mitchell, and Samuel Maverick bought large sections of this land and began to subdivide the property into small plots for residential development (Heck 1984).

Both South Presa and South St. Mary’s Streets were laid out by the 1860s and perhaps as early as the late 1850s. Small homes were built in the northwest part the King William neighborhood during the late 1850s and early 1860s, and it is likely that the same type of development was taking place along South Presa Street just south of South Alamo Street. By 1873, several moderately-sized, mostly one-story dwellings were standing along the west side of South Presa Street near South Alamo, and another cluster of houses was situated near and south of Pereida Street. At this time, the homes along South Presa were located on rectangular lots that spanned to the east side of South St. Mary’ Street, likely to take advantage of a portion of the Mission Concepcion Acequia (Link 6) or ditch that historically paralleled South St. Mary’s Street. Residential development along South Presa Street slowly increased, and by 1886, a few additional homes had been built, several of which appear to have been two-stories. This trend continued, though most homes were still surrounded by empty lots well into the 1890s. Several of these houses, which can be viewed from the Mission Trails hike-and-bike trail alignment, appear to be depicted on historic maps from 1896. These include one-story, wood-framed dwellings at 629, 645, 711 (A.L. Sartor House), 721, 1204, and 1311 South Presa Street and 1442 S. St. Mary’s Street that share some Queen Anne stylistic characteristics such as detailed woodwork, decorative windows, and partial-length front porches supported on columns (Heck 1984; Sanborn Fire Insurance Company var.).

As with the surrounding neighborhoods, the South Presa Street and South St. Mary’s Street area experienced increased residential growth around the turn of the century. A 1904 map shows that most of the lots along South Presa Street were no longer empty by that time, and some had been subdivided so that new dwellings faced South St. Mary’s Street (Sanborn Fire Insurance Company 1904). Three of these newer homes along South Presa Street are visible from the Mission Trails hike-and-bike trail corridor: the one-story, brick-framed Santelben House at 634 S. Presa and the more grand two-story, wood-framed houses at 1011 and 1225 S. Presa. The dwelling at 1225 S. Presa is a classic representation of the Queen Anne Style with its irregular shape, detailed woodwork, and use of different textures on the façade.

The arrival of the streetcar in 1914 and access to new utilities gave rise to several changes along the South Presa Street corridor and the surrounding neighborhoods. In particular, the predominately German neighborhood began to change as members of the second generation German community relocated to more affluent suburbs outside the city core and commuted to work using new types of transportation. Instead of selling their homes in the South Presa/South St. Mary’s area, many of the former residents leased their property to a growing population of Hispanic residents. Many of these individuals were later able to buy property in the neighborhood (Heck 1984).

In addition to new modes of transportation such as the street car and later the automobile, access to utilities such as water, gas, and electricity also spurred commercial development along South Presa and South St. Mary’s Streets in the 1920s; first in the form of food-related shops, then retail stores, and later, automotive‐related businesses. Almost half of the residential buildings were demolished along this corridor to make room for these new commercial buildings (Sanborn Fire Insurance Company var.). Some of these early commercial buildings visible along the Mission Trails hike-and-bike trail alignment were long, one-part (one-story), brick, retail stores, with large storefront windows designed to allow pedestrians to see into the stores and the merchandise. Examples of these early twentieth century commercial buildings visible from the Mission Trails hike-and-bike trail corridor include 611 (Loomis, Fargo & Company), 1012-1032, 1103 (Toudouze Market), and 1415 (Tortilleria Popular) S. Presa Street and 1903 (A. Grona Mattress Company) S. St. Mary’s Street.

By the 1930s, commercial development along the South Presa Street and South St. Mary’s Street corridor had a heavy concentration of buildings related to the automobile industry and included car dealers, battery shops, gas stations, and service stations (Sanborn Fire Insurance Company var.). A prominent example near the Mission Trails alignment is the Frank’s Hog Stand Folly Building located at 809 S. Presa. To make room for these and other types of commercial buildings, more of the original houses along South Presa and South St. Mary’s Streets were removed, which reinforced its change from a residential area to a business corridor (Sanborn Fire Insurance Company var.). Commercial development continued in the area through the mid-twentieth century. Today, visitors to the Mission Trails hike-and-bike trail corridor can visually trace the area’s evolution from an early residential neighborhood associated with German immigrants to a thriving commercial district serving residents in the King William and Lavaca neighborhoods. The area contains remnant residential resources from the mid- to late-nineteenth century, many of which are City of San Antonio local historic landmarks, as well as typical examples of the type of commercial development common throughout the city during the early twentieth century (Heck 1984; Harris et al 2011).

Sources

  • Harris, Brandy, Amy McWhorter, Kelley Russell, and Casey Hanson

    2011 - Historic Resources Reconnaissance Survey Report, “Mission Trails” Enhancement Project, Package V Final Hike-and-Bike Trail Amenities, San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, TxDOT San Antonio District, PBS&J, Austin, Texas, Document No. 100231.

  • Heck, Marlene

    1984 - National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form, South Alamo-South St. Mary’s Street National Register District, Copy on file at the Texas Historical Commission, Austin, Texas.

  • Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, var.

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