Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Several congregants left City Council Chambers smiling Thursday morning after City Council granted historic designation for 26 churches in the Eastside.
"I stand here on the shoulders of the organizers of this church," Rev. Paul Wilkinson Sr. of New Light Baptist Church told Council. His congregation is 146 years old and was founded five years after slavery was abolished in Texas. These designations, he said, will help preserve the history of San Antonio, District 2, the African-American community, and religious communities.
Thursday's unanimous vote further solidifies the cultural relevance of black neighborhoods that developed in the area after the Civil War. It also increases the total number of officially designated historic churches on the Eastside to 32.
The designations will provide protection from demolition and inappropriate exterior modifications to the structures and represent a next step for those seeking tax credits for rehabilitation and other incentives, said the City's Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) Director Shanon Shea Miller.
There are 16 criteria for historic designation, ranging from age to cultural significance, and properties must meet at least two of them to be considered a historic landmark. The churches on the list represent a wide range of structure types: from regal brick buildings that host services and programs every day to small, wooden churches that have been vacant for years.
Councilman Alan Warrick (D2), whose district includes the historically black neighborhoods on the Eastside, and his staff worked with OHP on the initiative to survey dozens of churches.
"More [churches] may be added to this list," said Warrick, whose great-grandfather was a member of New Light Baptist. There are several other properties that have already reached out to OHP for inclusion.
Crosspoint, a halfway house located at 301 Yucca St. in the former Sisters of the Holy Spirit convent, and a vacant church that has been converted into an artist studio at 803 South Pine St. were originally on the list, but both property owners asked to be removed, Warrick told the Rivard Report.
The building survey, which was started and completed this year, didn't take as long as expected because there had already been substantial research conducted on historic buildings and congregations on the Eastside, Miller said.
The timing is right, she added, because May is Preservation Month and San Antonio is joining cities across the nation in celebration of all things historic. On Wednesday, May 10, OHP will host the Eastside Sacred Places Tour to explore the "traditions and religious heritage of the Eastside." The event starts out with a self-guided tour through four churches that leads to a reception at the Carver Community Cultural Center. Suzanne Yowell, the director of the Texas Sacred Places Project will deliver a keynote speech. The free event starts at 4:30 p.m. and requires registration here.
Greater Corinth Baptist Church, where Mayor Ivy Taylor and her family worship, is included on the list. Its pastor, Rev. Stanley Sparrow, attended the Council meeting and spoke. His church is where Taylor met her husband Rodney and where her daughter Morgan was dedicated, she said.
"I just think it's fascinating that people who had so little built so much," Taylor said of the working-class communities that "scrimped and saved" to build these historic churches.
The list includes East Saint Paul United Methodist Church, Tried Stone Baptist Church, Holy Redeemer Church, and Antioch Baptist Church – built with a more than $500,000 loan, an unheard of amount for a black congregation in 1970s Texas.
Click here to download the package compiled by OHP that includes information about each church and its historical context.
The list of properties will now go to the Zoning Commission for review and likely approval of a historic zoning overlay.