Meditations on 4537 Monterey

On August 5, 2015, the Historic Design Review Commission approved a Finding of Historic Significance for the Delgado Homestead on Monterey Street. This isn’t the first landmark to be approved on San Antonio’s Westside. Since 2013, the number of landmarks within the Westside’s historic core has increased by sixty-four, this one makes it sixty five. It isn’t even the first house on the Westside to be landmarked, but it will be the first property to be landmarked through consideration of social heritage. I share in this blog post, a short  first person essay that I gave to our Designation Committee. I wanted to guide them through my thought process in determining significance for a property based more broadly on culture than on architecture. 4537 Monterey will go to City Council for landmark designation later this year. — Claudia Guerra

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The first thing I notice when I look at the historic photo of 4537 (4535) Monterey is the gleeful smile on young Mary Jane Delgado’s face. Of course the chickens make for a great picture, but what I can’t take my eyes off of, is the lovely little fur coat that Mrs. Delgado is wearing. It looks like she might even be wearing pearl earrings as she stands back-dropped by the archway of her family home. When I look at this photograph, I see a holistic image of place. I see family values, traditional life-ways, and of course, a home built by the Delgado family’s hands. I see a place in a working class neighborhood that reflects a distinctive, cohesive, integrated way of life. I see a place that embodies an entire peoples’ cultural heritage. Families on Monterey Street and other areas of the Westside have lived here for four or five generations. Many trace their roots back to Mexico and their family’s eventual move here in order to escape the Mexican Revolution. Others trace their ancestral heritage to San Antonio’s original settlers. Community, here, doesn’t refer just to a physical place, but to the people and the practices that connect to a shared cultural identity and heritage.

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4537 Monterey in 1942 before additions and other changes were made.

One of the first things I did when I joined the office of Historic Preservation was to review the City’s criteria for designation, which is essentially the same as the standards set by the Secretary of the Interior. I wrote down each of our 16 criteria, and I highlighted each and everyone that contained the word “culture.” I found that 7 of them refer specifically to culture. I found that another 3 spoke specifically to significance to the community. It dawned on me that while many arguments have been made about the exclusivity of our criteria, perhaps what we needed to focus on is which culture interpreted the criteria.

For many cultures, the value is structured around buildings and their architectural significance. But for others, like our local Indigenous, Latino, and African-American cultures, what is more important than the bricks and mortar, is what happens or happened in that place. That’s one of the reasons we created the Con Safos campaign. The campaign is intended to democratize preservation efforts by allowing the San Antonio population to tell us which places matter to them, but utilizing a term that is part of the heritage of San Antonio. Con Safos, means, “this is protected, don’t mess with it” as one of its many meanings. 4537 Monterey was identified through that campaign and the criteria used to evaluate it has been interpreted through a cultural lens that focuses on not just the structure being landmarked, but the values and attributes that are connected to the place associated with the structure.

4537 Monterey today. Mrs. Juanita Delgado who is visible on the porch just celebrated her 100th birthday!

4537 Monterey today. Mrs. Juanita Delgado who is visible on the porch just celebrated her 100th birthday!

When Donovan Rypkema was in town earlier this year, I had a chance to talk to him about approaches to preservation that were inclusive and mindful of cultural sensitivities. He told me that we needed to adapt our criteria and our methods but his words came with caution, “it has to be different but not lesser.” 4537 Monterey is different, but not lesser. It speaks to the attributes and values identified by the community it is part of. Attributes that are concerned with family, immigration, labor and a sense of community bound together by traditions. It’s an example of the tangible and intangible integrated. It’s different, but criteria is not diminished.

4537 Monterey is a visible reminder of the conscencia building that is taking place on San Antonio’s Westside. Confronted with new development on San Antonio’s Westside (a reminder of 1960s and 1970s Urban Renewal efforts that erased many places of significance to the community) the community has been working towards building consciousness and conscientiousness of the Westside’s deep heritage. As a newly inscribed World Heritage city, this effort for conscencia is timely. One of the goals of heritage inscriptions is to develop an appreciation of place so people value it. If it is valued, then it will be cared for.

San Antonio’s Westside will not disappear, it will always be a physical place, but if the people who created the Sense of Place, its Spirit of Place, can’t continue to live there, then it will no longer hold the same significance. Landmarking 4537 Monterey, and more places like it will help preserve, sustain and perpetuate its unique culture, that is, its authenticity.

Preservation in San Antonio isn’t just about preserving old buildings. It’s about people, sustainable development, sustainable cultural identity and ultimately about creating a future by respecting our heritage.

I’ll close with the Statement of Significance that Mrs. Juanita Delgado’s daughter, Rachel, submitted with her landmark application. Many thanks to Rachel for allowing me to share her photographs, story and the landmark process with readers.

Our father, Pedro Delgado, came to San Antonio in the early 1930s to pursue his musical dreams. In 1935, he returned to Flatonia, Tx to marry our mom, Juanita Rosas, and bring her to the city. The house was a wood frame shotgun (1942) located in what was considered the “colonias”. There were just a few homes in the area. There was an artesian well across the street also.

Both my parents worked very hard to build their home. Dad gave up being a musician once the family started growing. He worked in construction and mom as a sewing machine operator. She worked at Jay-Ann which was located in the Basilla Frocks building. That money allowed for the addition of more rooms and the exterior to be stuccoed. My sister Mary and I were both born in this house.

We live in a multi-ethnic, working class neighborhood. There were several tienditas like Jimmy’s, Resendiz and Guerreros before the food chains came in. Jimmy’s on W. Commerce was run by a Chinese man though his family did not live in the neighborhood. He often brought in Mexican entertainers. There was also the Fiesta Drive In. Our life’s  revolved around church and family. We were among the first families in the St. Augusta Catholic Church Parrish. Before that, we were  a mission for  St . Alphonsus.  In the mid sixties, a new church was built and renamed St. Jude. There was CYO baseball, thus the  St. Augusta Braves later the St. Jude Braves.

One of the big events was the opening of the Las Palmas Shopping Center in 1957. I remember as a student at Burleson Elementary, going to decorate the store windows at Franklins for the holidays. The center has declined greatly but I hold out hope for it’s revitalization without destroying the history.

Mrs. Delgado and her sister, Marcella, on New Year's Day, 1948, wearing delightful fur coats. Both sisters were employed as garment workers.

Mrs. Delgado and her sister, Marcella, on New Year’s Day, 1948, wearing delightful fur coats. Both sisters were employed as garment workers.

Future post: Community Engagement, Preservation as Democracy, Treatment of Culturally Significant Properties, Historical Context Statements

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