When the dust soon settles on the former site of Spanish-language KWEX-TV, and images of a handful of protestors become old news, those who support San Antonio’s downtown development and its history can come together and find common ground.
Univision occupied a nondescript, ’50s-era building erected for utility rather than posterity. Its owners showed no interest in its preservation, nor did anyone else for most of the time the property was on the market. The property’s frontage on the San Antonio River was ignored. Broadcast executives did not mount a campaign to celebrate KWEX-TV as the nation’s first Spanish-language television station.
Univision and the site’s new owner, Greystar, a multifamily developer and property management company from Charleston, S.C. with a big presence in San Antonio and Texas, could work with other entities to memorialize Spanish language broadcast history.
A physical memorial can be erected on the former Univision site, of course, but it will be a marker, not an attraction that brings a bygone era back to life. We can take a page instead from those who have worked to preserve English-language broadcast history.
Less than one mile from the demolition site is the former Museo Alameda, now in the hands of Texas A&M University-San Antonio, which has established the TAMU-SA Education & Cultural Arts Center there. The center would make an ideal home to display San Antonio’s pioneer role in Spanish-language broadcast media. The Institute of Texan Cultures is an alternative venue.
The Paley Center for Media in New York, formerly the Museum of Television and Radio, attracts large crowds of visitors each year that can access more than 50,000 programs and broadcasts and view thousands of 20th century broadcast artifacts. The quality of a San Antonio Spanish language media center would depend, of course, on the availability of historical artifacts and broadcast tapes, and the level of investment in creating a museum-quality presentation. The community would have to support such an endeavor.
Much of our cultural and political history is preserved and recreated in curated environments, whether it’s space flight at the Smithsonian, or the Oval Office through time in various presidential libraries. LBJ’s White House can best be experienced today not in Washington D.C. but at the University of Texas-Austin.
Meanwhile, anyone who envisions a more vibrant downtown San Antonio should welcome the Greystar project with open arms. The project is exactly what we as a city have been clamoring for in this Decade of Downtown. What some protest, in fact, many more celebrate.
A few years from now, San Antonio’s center city and the River Walk will be considerably enhanced by Greystar’s $55 million, 355-unit multi-family development. The company’s roots are in Houston and its Texas presence is considerable. What you won’t learn in media reports of protests is that Greystar employs nearly 200 people in San Antonio, and already manages a large portfolio of properties here, including such showcase projects as 1800 Broadway and the Steel House Lofts.
Greystar’s first San Antonio development project is designed by Austin’s Michael Hsu Office of Architecture. Click on the link to see the firm’s impressive work. Unlike the site’s now-demolished building, the new development will include considerable design elements linking it to the River Walk. What long has been a vacant expanse between the downtown River Walk and the King William neighborhood will now become something much more inviting and attractive.
A project of this scope will employ hundreds of construction workers and dozens of contractors. When finished and leased, the apartments will be home to 500-750 educated professionals and affluent retirees whose spending will add considerably to the downtown economy and the vibrancy of local businesses, cultural activities and street life. Residents would be able to walk to the proposed H-E-B grocery store, Southtown and downtown restaurants, bars and shops.
It’s evident that San Antonio’s accelerating urban core growth and development is causing some strain among different groups and individuals discomfited by change. That’s understandable and every accommodation should be made to develop with great sensitivity to the past and the present. But San Antonio can’t become a better city if it doesn’t change. Not every building has historical value, at least not enough to justify its preservation at the expense of imaginative new development.
What played out this week at the former Univision site, protests and subsequent arrests, is likely to happen again as other important downtown projects come before city boards and staff for final approval. We can build a better San Antonio much more quickly if people meet each other halfway in a spirit of compromise rather than an atmosphere of confrontation and protest.