The original formation of the Lavaca Historic District was approved by the City of San Antonio in 2001. Subsequent additions to the historic district were adopted in 2002 and 2004. The land that now encompasses much of the neighborhood was developed residentially in a piecemeal fashion starting in the mid-nineteenth century. Prior to that time it was part of the Labor de Afuera or farmlands of Mission San Antonio de Valero that later became the Alamo, and of the Elario Montoyo land grant dating from the Spanish Colonial period. The route of the Alamo Acequia, a Spanish irrigation ditch begun in about 1720, extends through the area.
Lavaca’s residential sector is one of the oldest in the San Antonio area that has survived into modern times, and many of the homes in this area are landmark structures of unique character. The district was initially partitioned into residential lots by the city in 1852 and by developers Samuel Maverick and Thomas Devine in 1854. However, no substantial development occurred there until after the beginning of a period of intense building in the King William District in the early 1870s.
Lavaca was initially a closely organized neighborhood with small houses facing both streets and alleys. It was designed primarily for working class families. Archival records indicate that the neighborhood mix during the initial development period included carpenters, stonemasons, shopkeepers, clerks, tailors, bartenders, teamsters, and butchers. Residents were mostly of Germanic heritage, but also included those of Polish, Hispanic, and African American descent. Thus, the neighborhood contains adobe and stone saltbox homes from the Spanish era and the 1850s, several styles of vernacular homes from the turn-of-the-century era, and more modern early twentieth-century bungalows. A commercial strip consisting of meat markets, beer gardens, a firehouse, and two-story brick commercial buildings was added along the western boundary of the area during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. The area was impacted in recent decades by the construction of Victoria Courts, HemisFair, Interstate 37, and commercial development along South Presa Street.
The location of the Victoria Courts public housing project (now replaced by the modern Victoria Commons apartments) was once the home of San Antonio’s earliest African American community known as Baptist Settlement. The settlement dated to the late 1870s, and its last vestiges were lost during construction of the former housing project. With the exception of its loss, much of the residential sector of the Lavaca district has survived the impacts of commercial and institutional development that have surrounded the neighborhood.