The Lavaca Neighborhood is the oldest existing neighborhood in San Antonio. It is bounded on the north by César E. Chávez Boulevard (formerly Durango), on the south by the Missouri-Kansas Railroad Line, on the east by IH-37, and on the west by South St. Mary’s Street. The Lavaca area is defined by its small 19th century vernacular houses built primarily by working class families beginning in the early 1870s. This was approximately the same time that affluent San Antonians were building much larger homes several blocks away in the King William neighborhood. The neighborhood’s original residents included carpenters, stonemasons, shopkeepers, clerks, tailors, bartenders, teamsters and butchers. The houses are primarily 1-story with some 2-story buildings interspersed and range from the very simple to the highly decorated; notable styles are the vernacular stone or caliche block cottage, Victorian cottage, two-story Victorian, Craftsman and a few Neoclassical.
The area was originally part of the Labor de Afuera, the farmlands of Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo) which were watered by the Acequia Madre, an irrigation ditch built by the Spanish in the 18th century. The mission lands were subdivided into suertes (smaller pieces of land based on a Spanish unit of measure) in the early 19th century, and the property was owned by individuals. By the middle of the 19th century, land speculators including Thomas J. Devine and Sam Maverick had purchased large tracts in the Lavaca area.
When the Augustus Koch Bird’s Eye view of San Antonio was published in 1873, the development in the Lavaca neighborhood was well underway, with construction along Lavaca and Barrera Streets. The later 1886 Bird’s Eye View map documents further development in the area. Subdivisions of land made in 1877 on Barrera and Camargo Streets, and in 1888 on Callaghan Avenue, indicate the area’s ongoin development. In the 1890s, Robert and Sarah Eager and William Leigh subdivided land south of Callaghan and along Leigh Street. Along the western boundary of the neighborhood of South Alamo Street, a firehouse, meat markets and beer gardens stood alongside residences. In the early 20th century, 1 and 2-story commercial buildings were constructed.
The first City Directory for San Antonio was published in 1877, and at that time, Lavaca Street residents included families with German, Polish and Hispanic surnames.
Of those listed, Germans were by far the predominant group. African Americans also resided in the area, primarily at the eastern end of the neighborhood that came to be known as “Baptist Settlement” named for the New Light and Mount Zion Baptist churches, both founded there. The housing in that portion of the neighborhood was razed for construction of the Victoria Courts public housing project in 1941.
The area to the north of Durango Street was an Urban Renewal area where that portion of what once was the Lavaca neighborhood was razed for the 1968 Worlds Fair.
This text is from “The Lavaca Neighborhood Design Guidelines” written and illustrated by Sue Ann Pemberton-Haugh, AIA Mainstreet Architects Inc. as made possible by the Community Partners Program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation through a grant from Pew Charitable Trusts in cooperation with the MainStreet Alliance of San Antonio, Southtown Urban Main Street Program, the Lavaca Neighborhood Association, the City of San Antonio’s Historic Preservation Office and Housing and Community Development Department and the Texas Historical Commission.