Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Since 1978, the Del Bravo Records Shop has sold Tejano and Conjunto vinyl from a brightly-colored space also filled with music memorabilia, including a dress worn by ranchera star Lydia Mendoza. The shop proudly bears the address 554 Old Hwy 90 in bold, white lettering above the front door.
Never mind that the street name officially became Enrique M. Barrera Parkway in 2016, a change led by former Councilman Ray Lopez and approved by City Council, despite a coalition of business owners’ efforts to block it.
On Saturday, the store hosted an event called “Remembering Old Highway 90,” intended to bring together the Westside community to share memories of life on this stretch of road between Highway 151 and Commerce Street. Once part of the Old Spanish Trail and later Highway 3, the roadway became Highway 90 in 1925, and then Old Highway 90 when the new Highway 90 was constructed.
But the era of big-box stores and fast-food chains somehow bypassed this historic corridor tucked inside Loop 410. Lined with mom-and-pop fruterias, auto repair shops, hamburger and taco restaurants, the iconic TV Motel, De La Garza Fence & Supply, and more, the four-lane roadway is also where Chef Johnny Hernandez learned to cook at his father’s café.
Organized by the City of San Antonio’s Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) as part of its Scout SA Initiative, Saturday’s event also marked the very first presentation of OHP’s Legacy Business Award, given to the family-owned Del Bravo Records.
“We protect [historic] buildings, but we also protect our culture from fading away,” said OHP Cultural Historian Claudia Guerra. She added that other authentic local businesses – those whose antiquity, architecture, historical or cultural significance make them a notable part of the San Antonio cultural landscape – will be presented with the Legacy Business Award throughout the city’s Tricentennial.
The first oral history Guerra recorded about Old Highway 90 came from Michael Coormans, owner of 4M Auto Supply, located at the corner of 37th Street and, as he put it, Old Highway 90.
“Maybe it’s not something real famous, but it’s just like family, that’s the value we put on it,” said Coormans, who wore the same gray shirt embroidered with the Old Hwy 90 logo as Del Bravo owner Javier Gutierrez. “That’s priceless.”
Gutierrez said Old Highway 90 is “just like talking about Broadway Street or the Alamo Heights area. You relate it to this side of town,” he said. “It’s our identity, really.”
He said Del Bravo has been located in its current location for 40 years. “So we’ve always been ‘Old Highway 90.’ We have customers call and you tell them you’re on Enrique M. Barrera Parkway, and they’re like, ‘Where is that?’ [We tell them,] ‘Where Old Highway 90 used to be,’ and they say, ‘Oh, I know where that’s at.’”
Gutierrez said he was one of more than 60 business owners and residents located on the highway who in 2015 opposed the proposed name change meant to honor Enrique Barrera, a former District 7 council member and member of the Edgewood Independent School District board. Barrera had served on the city council for five years and was succeeded by Delicia Herrera. He died in 2007.
Attending the event, current District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse said he grew up near Old Highway 90. “I may be Brockhouse, but I’m half Arrocha, too,” he said, adding that he really came to appreciate the area’s value in San Antonio history while on the campaign trail in 2017.
“The name change … has been contentious for years. Every time I walked into a restaurant, I heard about it,” he said. “A lot of cons, a few folks who were for, but a lot of people telling me they want to change it back. … When I came into office, I was asked to look into it, so what I’m doing is [asking] does the street have cultural history, cultural value, and that should have been determined years ago.”
Brockhouse said the event, postponed from December due to inclement weather, is the kind of gathering he would have hosted had he been representing the district several years ago.
“I can’t be any more clear that I am not going to be making the decision,” Brockhouse said. “Ultimately, what we’ll probably do is have some sort of vote, election process, and let it be a community-driven decision, which is how I think it should have been handled a long time ago.”
But on this chilly, yet sun-drenched Saturday, traffic going east on Old Highway 90 slowed at Del Bravo Records. Some made way for the dozens of classic cars spilling out of the parking lot there. Some stopped for tacos coming off a pit outside, and to stroll through ART//CRAFT, a portable art gallery created from a shipping container.
Others warmly greeted old friends and neighbors and listened to the familiar rhythms of Tejano.
“Today, this event is just remembering Old Highway 90,” Gutierrez said. “Now we have a new councilperson for District 6. There’s hope now … that we can put the name back to where it’s supposed to be.”