First Friday to Second Saturday: Remembering Silos, Discovering Lone Star

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Present-day state of the silos. Photo taken by Rene Jaime Gonzalez

Once filled with studios and galleries, the present-day state of the Big Tex silos near the Blue Star Arts Complex are now empty. Photo by Rene Jaime Gonzalez.

Rene Jaime - HeadshotI was first exposed to the King William Neighborhood by way of the First Friday Art Walk, circa 2003, as the event was gaining steam. The walk down South Alamo Street was littered with food stands and artists setting up shop for perusing patrons and tourists on their evening stroll.

As a teenager fresh out of high school, the allure of the vibrant, open atmosphere pulled me right in. Aside from the occasional weekend visit to local flea markets (known in Spanish as pulgas), I had not experienced anything like this in San Antonio, certainly not on a Friday evening.

Setting up shop for First Friday kickoff (circa 2004). Photo courtesy of Wendi Kimura.

Setting up shop for First Friday kickoff (circa 2004). Photo courtesy of Wendi Kimura.

For those of us not yet old enough to frequent the bar or night-club scene, our options to socialize in such a setting were few and far between. Fortunately, being involved with the local hip-hop scene, my affiliations with older dancers and DJs kept us in the loop on 18-and-older events.

It was at these silos that I first came across Justin Parr‘s (TV) I Own You—Turn it off and Keep San Antonio Lame campaigns – the latter expression a satirical response to Keep Austin Weird. At the time no one resented the “lameness”. In support of the artists we purchased t-shirts and bumper stickers, laughing along with the irony and taking it in stride.

At the front of the complex, a tall, chain-link fence served as the gateway to a cultural hub for young adults, newcomers, and long-time residents alike. And though the Mission Reach was not yet a part of the scenery, the night breeze from the river provided relief on sweltering summer nights.

To the left stood the silos, stacked neatly side by side along the barricade, 17 in all. Standing erect at nearly 15 ft. tall, the cool, grey steel seemed uninviting upon first glance. But a passing entry into these artist-run galleries and you were instantly amazed.

Once maintaining grains for the Big Tex Grain Co. production site, these vessels now held a different kind of potential. An artistic capital was on display for all to take in.

Present-day state of the silos. Photo taken by Rene Jaime Gonzalez

Present-day state of the silos. Photo by Rene Jaime Gonzalez.

The artists’ presentations sought to break the uniformity of the arrangement of the silos, injecting homegrown creativity and breathing life into an otherwise dull edifice. Each silo housed its own individual art gallery with paintings, stencils, and multimedia installations lining the walls. Passing the mini-galleries would land you at the end of the compound, awaiting a crowd gathered around a DJ or live band.

The yellow-orange glow of the street lamps created a celestial haze, a suspended feeling. The aura manifested something of a guarantee, an assuredness that somehow this public square would remain as inviting each time you arrived.

The End of an Era

Though the Eagleland and Mission Reach extensions have given the area a new look, the silos are now a sore sight for the eyes. Long gone are the striving artists sharing their street art that once covered the inner walls of the galleries. Overgrown weeds have sprouted up from the rubble. The façades of tarnished aluminum and rusted steel, along with graffiti tags and broken windows, remain as the defining characteristics. (For a closer look, see Infiltration photo gallery).

A Mission Reach access point at Blue Star – abandoned silos and Lone Star Brewery just beyond. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

An Eagleland/Mission Reach access point at Blue Star, the abandoned silos and Lone Star Brewery just beyond. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

In 2007, the site was shut down by property owner James Lifshutz for environmental and rezoning purposes, closing a chapter on San Antonio’s underground arts scene. The silos have remained closed since that year, but new development is underway.

Future plans for the site, designed by Alamo Architects, will include a 320-unit residential area, 6,000 square feet of retail space, and a restaurant from rising chef Johnny Hernandez, with construction already taking place.

"Located in the Southtown arts district across from the historic King William neighborhood , Big Tex capitalizes on the recently completed San Antonio River ecosystem restoration project and populates almost half a mile of its west bank with apartments and restaurants." Words and renderings from Alamo Architects.

“Located in the Southtown arts district across from the historic King William neighborhood, Big Tex capitalizes on the recently completed San Antonio River ecosystem restoration project and populates almost half a mile of its west bank with apartments and restaurants.” Words and renderings from Alamo Architects.

The street vendors of the early days were those looking to carve out a niche in the arts scene, through visual art, pottery, screen printing. They produced and displayed their art in hopes of building a community. With people frequenting First Friday in droves, a small crowd around a vendor was sure to gather more.

You could experience the same connection with food vendors. I remember carrying on conversations with the grillmen of Chicken-on-a-Stick Smokepit selling skewers of chicken, beef and seafood for $5.

Word-of-mouth promotion in San Antonio has proven itself to be the strongest of street-marketing tactics. Keeping this ethos in mind, these artists reached out to connect with you on a visceral level, often times with handmade flyers.

Nowadays the emerging restaurant scene of the Southtown and King William neighborhoods has all but eliminated the food stands. As artists began to establish their works in nearby galleries, the street scene has changed, for better or for worse.

In the silo days, you could enjoy a leisurely walk down the South Alamo Street and encounter other groups of individuals concerned with expanding their cultural horizons in the Alamo city. It’s difficult to find that now. An increase in foot traffic has added to the experience but the streets appear to be more congested than ever before.

The narrow sidewalks over the river bridge can hardly accommodate a couple walking side-by-side, let alone hordes of teenagers headed to Halcyon cafe and bar. The ongoing construction on South Alamo will improve the landscape for pedestrians by providing wider sidewalks and designated crosswalks, but the muddy trek over the PVC pipes and rebar today is enough to turn people away from venturing south past Pereida Street. Even the weekly Southtown Farmers & Ranchers Market has been put on hold until the construction is complete.

Second Saturday Art Walk

Second Saturday Art Walk at the corner of South Flores and Lone Star. Photo taken by Rene Jaime Gonzalez

Second Saturday Art Walk at the corner of South Flores and Lone Star. Photo by Rene Jaime Gonzalez.

So where did everyone go? Enter Second Saturday. The buzz around the burgeoning scene at the corner of Lone Star and South Flores streets has earned a new moniker – the South Flores Arts District (also called the Lone Star Art District), a few blocks away from the old Lone Star Brewery.

The 1906 Gallery, established in 1991 by artist and local community leader Andy Benavides, is a communal art space. From David “Shek” Vega’s Gravelmouth to Joe de la Cruz’s Silkworm Studio, the artist-run galleries showcase a multitude of local and international art every second Saturday of the month. You can find Lady Base Gallery maintained by Sarah Castillo of Mas Rudas along with Gallista Gallery by artist Joe Lopez.

Updated on Jan. 15, 2:19 p.m.: Also among the 1906 Gallery inhabitants is Justin Parr‘s Flight Gallery. His art space resided in the silos for three years before moving to the South Flores Arts District.

I stopped by this past Saturday to check out the closing of “Print Provocateur,” a collaboration between the Serie Project and Gravelmouth, showcasing screen prints touching on the controversial issues of immigration, identity, violence and sexuality, providing a unique insight into the cultural diversity of the community.

I reconnected with many familiar faces of the silo days, their expressions lighting up as we recanted stories of exuberance and mischief on the old haunting grounds. The spirit of the silos carries all throughout the 1906 complex.

After searching for the feeling of what once were the silos, I see that the underground arts scene is alive and well in San Antonio and it seems to me that the place to be is 1906 South Flores.

 

Rene Jaime Gonzalez is currently pursuing an Associate’s degree in Public Administration at San Antonio College. He holds DJ residency at the historic Tucker’s Kozy Korner, just east of downtown on Houston street. Last year NPR Cities published his submission to the “Sound of Your City” project. You can follow his efforts documenting community life in SA through his blog and soundcloud page.

 

 

Related Stories:

Saint Apophenia Guide Us – An Artistic Pilgrimage Unfolds

Where I Live: Lone Star / South Flores Arts District

The Gift of Art: Ditching Black Friday for Second Saturday

A Good Idea Gone Bad Leaves San Antonio Artists at the Altar

Bill FitzGibbons, San Antonio’s Social Sculptor

Artpace Celebrates a Decade of Chalk with “Orange Crush” Saturday

Thinking Outside the Park(ing) Spot

 

20 thoughts on “First Friday to Second Saturday: Remembering Silos, Discovering Lone Star

  1. Andy Benavides is rarely mentioned to be one of the pioneers of First Friday, but he is. Perhaps many aren’t aware of that story, but the way it grew out led him to start Second Saturday. I miss going to the silos back during the residencies, I remember seeing and meeting Octopus Project during that time. The break dance group and graffiti crews were out there in full force back then. Still feels like yesterday, I’m excited to see how the area will evolve for future arts.

  2. I wondered about the silos. Remember taking the trek, seeing so many faces. Art by the people will thrive in South San Antonio.

  3. Good article. I remember the Silo days. I guess that area could only stay “lame” for so long before the trust-fund hipsters started taking over. Good to see the tradition carries on on S. Flores. May I also recommend the monthly Greaser Gallery over on the east side of I-37.

  4. All I have to say, is that I hope the “hordes of teenagers” stay far from SoFlo. The current energy is really exciting, and far from being “underground” this is where some of the best art in the city is happening! Vision, hard work, and perseverance is what it has been about — what it IS about. Viva SoFlo!

    • Sarah

      That is an amazing historical footnote, one worth further exploration in the way of period photos, if they exist,and/or family stories you might be willing to share with Rivard Report readers.

      –RR

  5. great write up rene – see ya’ll on SoFlo
    Sorry to see the silos going the way of Blue Star(Less&less)Arts Complex

  6. Funny, the one spirit that actually connects the two spaces you totally omitted. Fl!ght gallery which was in the silos for the duration of that time and then at 1906 before the majority of the galleries you mentioned were even conceived. A huge oversight! Shoddy reporting, man. And you even used Justin Parr’s (of Fl!ght) photo as the lead photo! Justin and Flight have ALOT to do with the scene you seem most interested in.

    • Chris and Nate:

      You make a good point. I’ve updated the piece explaining Justin Parr’s residency in both locations with more links to his work. Rene’s reflection on personal memories of the silos and experience of Second Saturday was not intended to be a complete, all-encompassing history of the ever-evolving arts scene(s). As you stated, it’s a scene he is most interested in and is learning about everyday. An oversight, yes – but I would not describe his vignette of the area/scene/experience as “shoddy.” Rene is working on connecting with Justin, if you happen to have his contact information, that would be much appreciated. (iris@rivardreport.com)

      We apologize for the oversight. In general, artists don’t get near enough recognition when they deserve it – and Justin certainly does.

      Thank you for calling this to our attention and keep up the great work!

  7. I have to agree with Mr. Sauter. The omission of Flight Gallery, Justin Parr and Ed Saavedra is a real missing link in this piece.

  8. Unfortunately a lot of First Friday original, middle and present was omitted, purposely or not! First Friday was a victim of it’s own success, and I hope the offspring Second Saturday doesn’t become that. There were a lot of pioneers, even before Flight, El Sol Studios, Pulquerios’, Jive, such as Robert Hughes, Espuma, Peephole Art Gallery, Tienda Guadalupe, Andy Benavides and Joe Lopez, that were not mentioned, but I guess much is not researched or mentioned due to…who knows!
    First Friday artists and vendors are still around, just relocated. I hope everyone gets to experience the “Fist Friday vendors” exprience through the new SoFlo Market, 1344 So. Flores, where artists, artisans and local makers get to meet and greet and sell their products in an art and urban scene. Without the traffic, booze, parking issues, sidewalks and street congestion, this is a more natural and peaceful way of viewing and buying local art, that I hope keeps growing into the Second Saturday trend. soflomarket.com

  9. I am surprised that the four people in the lead photo are not identified in the caption below or elsewhere in the article. I thought I recognized Justin Parr, although I did not meet him until several years later. The art community is close enough that it should be too difficult to find this information.

  10. We’re all on the same boat. Let’s embrace the stories, share the images and celebrate the history being made. The writers who attempt to capture the last 25 years do a great job of sparking conversation and with this will come some clarity for the next generations. If my next master plan goes into effect we’ll be closer than any of us could have ever imagined, for the better of course.
    We love you Justin! UNITED WE ART!

  11. I have lived in San Antonio all my life and never knew this scene existed. How awesome. Thanks for educating someone from the old school vibe.

  12. Thank you for your insight into this incredible art scene. I enjoy reading your articles Jaime, kudos to the Rivard Report in branching out with young talented writers.

  13. Ruth Guajardo,
    Thank you for the nod/mention…. K-C Rutherford here Owner and Artist of the Peep Hole Art Gallery @333 Turner from 1996-2002. It was a nice article i agree but ya…started at the end not the beginning of the story. Let’s just say back when i was there i could leave on skates and visit 6 galleries (on my roller skates mind you) up S. Alamo to Durango to Adams in less than an hour. I am still very impressed with the art today and the continued support SATX has in the local arts and mark my words i will have a gallery again before i die. lol
    thank you again!
    K-C Rutherford
    Peep Hole Art Gallery

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