The neighborhood of Saint Cecilia is located approximately two miles south of downtown San Antonio and is bounded by Union Pacific Railroad tracks on the north, by Interstate 37 on the east, by Interstate 10 on the south, and by Roosevelt Avenue on the west.
In 1907, three developers, C.S. Fowler, Empire Reality, and W.A. Baity platted what would become the Saint Cecilia Neighborhood. Lot prices ranged from $175.00 to $1,000.00. Real estate advertisements stressed the convenience of getting to downtown in only eight minutes on the Hot Wells streetcar line.
The presence and community importance of Saint Cecilia Catholic Church provided a name identification that endures today. Saint Cecilia started with a congregation of 40 families in 1919 and grew to over 3,000 families by 1950 before the beginning of a decline when 500 families were displaced to allow for expressway construction. Today, Saint Cecilia has a congregation of approximately 1,400 families.
The ethnic makeup of the neighborhood has changed dramatically over the years. The first residents were largely of English and German ancestry. This continued until the late 1940’s when Hispanic families became a presence. (During the 1960’s Saint Cecilia’s masses became bi-lingual). By 1969 over 50 percent of the area’s population was Hispanic, and by 2002 Hispanics comprised almost 100 percent.
Over the years there has also been a profound shift in the economic profile of this neighborhood. It began as a middle-class, white-collar neighborhood which continued through the 1950’s. Between the end of the 1950’s until the mid 1980’s government and skilled blue-collar workers were the primary occupants. Kelley Air Force Base employed many of these residents. Following the late 1980’s the population shift has been toward unskilled workers and retirees.
The business community initially developed slowly due to both World War I and the post-war recession. During the 1920’s business development surged and prospered which continued until the late 1940’s. "Mom and pop," chain retail (Piggley-Wiggley, Sommers Drug and Winn Variety), and non-retail businesses (General Motors Parts Depot, Presa Food Locker, A-1 Sheet Metal, Carr Plating Company and others) were in business. South Presa Street has always been the neighborhood’s primary shopping venue with Roosevelt Avenue area being the secondary business district.
The majority of the houses built following the initial platting have retained their architectural integrity. Three dominant styles prevail: Classical Revival, Craftsman, and Bungalow. There are also a number of transitional styles. Some attractive restorations have been done and others are underway. Two of the most significant structures are the L.T. Wright House (no relation to renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright) at 342 Wilkens Avenue, and the RB Green Elementary School at 122 W. Whittier. The Wright House was designed by George Willis, a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright, and is an outstanding example of the Prairie style. Recent restoration has returned the Wright House to its original condition and appearance. The RB Green Elementary School building was built by Leo Dielmann in 1915 in the Progressive School style and today is the least altered of the San Antonio Independent School District’s pre-WW I campuses.
Another significant structure within the neighborhood is St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church School at 201 Roseborough Street, at the intersection of Roseborough and Kinney Streets. St. Paul’s Church began through a missionary effort by Pastor F.W. Boblitz in 1908. Church services were held in rented facilities and private homes until 1913. The first chapel was constructed at the corner of South Presa and Roseborough in 1913 at a cost of $978.00 by builder Nik Buenger. The first service in the new chapel was conducted on Christmas morning. As the congregation grew a larger chapel was needed, and the corner stone for the present church at 2302 South Presa was laid in January 1925. The architect was Mr. Van der Stratton and construction was done by Moeller and Weibecker at a total cost of $14,139.20. A substantial expansion of church facilities was completed in 1948.
St. Paul’s Lutheran School is intimately connected to the history of the church. From the earliest days a church school was considered integral to the future work of the congregation. Pastor O.C. Busse started St. Paul’s Lutheran School in September 1913. Private homes and rented facilities were used as classrooms, and church history mentions the conversion in 1925 of the first chapel to a school building. This was the first dedicated academic facility. Student enrollment grew to 60 pupils by 1928, and in that same year the building at 201 Roseborough was constructed. Again, Mr. R. Van der Stratton was the architect. Allen &Allen Company was the builder. Cost for the new school building was $14,565.60. Upon completion of the building, students who had been attending classes in the new church and old chapel buildings were moved into the new two-classroom facility. An interesting feature of this building was a two-lane bowling alley in the basement used as a recreation and social meeting place for the congregation. St Paul’s Lutheran School continued in the 1929 school building until 1962 when new classrooms and a gym were completed. The old school building continued to house a Day Care Center. From 1976 until 1994 the building was occupied by the Presa Community Service Center, a cooperative and comprehensive social service ministry to the community. Today it is a thrift shop operated by the church. The original chapel building located at 211 Roseborough is used by the church’s Child Development Center and has undergone significant modification.
Research by Linda and Larry Segesman
San Antonio Conservation Society volunteers – Historic Survey Committee
- Survey Task Force, August 28, 2003
- Courtesy of the Catholic Archives of San Antonio
- "A Brief History of St. Paul’s Church in San Antonio" published in 1938
- Interview with Pastor Charles P. (Carlos) Boerger and Mr. Howard Schuetze, May 2009