By Ben Olivo | @rbolivo | Heron editor
After more than 10 years of planning, the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center is a year away from completing its Museo del Westside, a community space dedicated to West Side history and culture inside the old Ruben’s Ice House on the northeast corner of South Colorado and Guadalupe streets.
The former ice house along with other historic structures on the 800 block of South Colorado comprise the Rinconcito de Esperanza, a cultural hub and city-designated historic district where the Esperanza hosts community workshops and celebrations, such as during Dia de los Muertos, throughout the year.
The Museo del Westside is scheduled for completion in May 2023, and will include gallery space, an archive of West Side artifacts, offices, and a small gift shop, or tiendita.
A groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday morning included remarks by members of the Reyes family, which previously owned Ruben’s Ice House, and District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo, and a three-song performance by Blanca “Blanquita Rosa” Rodríguez of the legendary group Las Tesoros de San Antonio, accompanied by Henry Gomez and Mariachi Esperanza.
“It’s obvious that people want and need this museo, and love and respect the history and the culture and the tradition of the West Side,” Graciela Sanchez, the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center’s executive director, told the crowd of 100.
The small museum is funded by private donations and a $1.5 million reimbursement grant from the city’s Westside Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, or TIRZ. Additional funding sources include the San Antonio Area Foundation, Impact San Antonio, the Houck Foundation and a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
[ Archive: Museo del Westside to showcase West Side history, culture | May 29, 2020 ]
The museum’s first exhibit, “Historias de Westside,” will be a recap of San Antonio’s West Side history from the 1880s through the 1970s, and will include oral histories, historic photos and artifacts from the museum’s Westside Collections and Archive. The Esperanza is designing the gallery’s offerings to be driven by contributions from community members, whether they be oral histories or artifacts. David Gonzales, for example, an artist who used to work at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center down the street, and a member of the museum’s community advisory committee, is donating his record collection of West Side artists.
“Mexican-American history, West Side history, is San Antonio history, and it is U.S. history,” Castillo told the crowd. “So it’s about time that we have a space honoring the historic West Side. It took the Esperanza quite some time to advocate for that money.”
Castillo, who was a West Side housing advocate before being elected as councilwoman in mid-2021, was referring to the years-long effort it took the Esperanza to raise the funding.
The museum itself will take a little more than $1 million to complete, and will include a gallery addition made of adobe behind the structure. In recent years, work was completed to stabilize the wood-frame on one half of the structure with steel beams; a new roof was also placed on top.
Other structures already rehabilitated inside the cultural hub are the Casa de Cuentos, a Victorian-style house that dates back to 1906, and the 1920s Casita, a 200-square-foot home. In 2017, the Esperanza built the Mujerartes clay studio, where a group of women artists create artworks for sale.
Eventually, the Esperanza wants to renovate the other former homes on this three-parcel property for an estimated total cost of $3.1 million. Eleven properties comprise the Rinconcito de Esperanza.
The wooden half of Ruben’s Ice House, which was originally a home, dates back to the 1930s. Around 1950s, it became the M&E Grocery Store, which was run by Manuel and Elida Reyes. About 10 years later, the Reyes’ added a concrete block, transforming the space into an ice house. The men would gather in the front and drink beer, while the women and children would congregate on picnic tables in the back, where the adobe addition is slated to be built, according to research by the Esperanza. They’d sell burgers and puffy tacos from a window on the side of the building. Ruben’s Ice House eventually closed in 1987.
Four of the Reyes’ 10 children attended the ceremony on Tuesday.
In 2007, they eventually sold the building to the Esperanza. They chose the Esperanza, which had the lower of two bids, because of their commitment to save the structure and turn it into a museum of West Side history.
“It evolved into a lot of things, like a grocery story, and then, OK, let’s do a little restaurant like a cafe type thing,” Esmeralda Reyes Rocha, 71, said after the ceremony. “It always belonged to the family.”
Irma Reyes Guevara, 60, remembers how all 10 of the Reyes children each had their own duties at the ice house.
“We were still in school and (after school) we were working here,” Guevara recalls. “We’d come to work, learn how to cook, did everything.”
“All of us did when we were kids,” Manuel Reyes Jr. recalls. “Sweeping, mopping.”
“Everybody had something to do,” Rocha said.
Patricia Reyes Zepeda said she’s excited to see the museum carry on the legacy their parents instilled in them.
“They’re talking about bringing kids into the museum to show them what things use to be like with ice houses, because I don’t know if too many of them exist anymore,” Zepeda said. “To me, it’s great that they are educating the kids about the hard work and educating the kids to be educated, to go to school and do more.
“My dad always used to say, ‘I want y’all to have degrees’ … He didn’t want us flipping hamburgers. To please him, we did what we could in going to college.”
[ Archive: Esperanza center plans rehab of ‘casitas’ to preserve old-style West Side housing | March 4, 2021 ]
[ Archive: West Side poised to receive first historic district designation | June 12, 2020 ]
Heron Editor Ben Olivo has been writing about downtown San Antonio since 2008, first for mySA.com, then for the San Antonio Express-News. He co-founded the Heron in 2018, and can be reached at 210-421-3932 | email@example.com | @rbolivo on Twitter
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