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The funds needed to complete restoration work on a culturally significant “little corner of hope” on the West Side are on the way after getting approval from City Council.

Rinconcito de Esperanza, a hub for the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center’s historical and cultural programming, will receive $1.5 million over three years for its $3 million project to rehabilitate existing structures for a museum and create a multipurpose outdoor space for outdoor performances and events. 

Located at the corner of South Colorado and Guadalupe streets, the cluster of historic structures Esperanza began restoring in 2012 includes Casa de Cuentos, Ruben’s Ice House, a 1920s casita, an art studio, and several other structures. The first phase of the $4.6 million project is complete, and a second phase is set to start in the spring and be completed in December 2022. 

Graciela Sanchez, director of the Esperanza Center, said in addition to the group’s fundraising efforts, she has been asking since 2009 for funding through the Westside Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ). But until the youth arts nonprofit Say Sí received TIRZ money for its new facility last year, most of those funds had gone to increase affordable housing on the West Side.

Sanchez felt it was her organization’s turn to seek public support to augment their fundraising efforts. “We’ve been here in the West Side for 25 years, and they’re just coming in, so if you can give them $3 million, you can give us $1.5 million,” she said of Say Sí. “[TIRZ funding] has to be about public use and public access, and everything we’re offering in the program will be for public use, for free, and it has been.”

Founded in 1987 by a group made up of mostly Chicana activists, the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center is a nonprofit focused on social, environmental, gender, and economic justice in San Antonio. The center offers arts and cultural programs to “bring a new political consciousness to community gatherings, and build solidarity among diverse groups and causes,” according to its website.

In November, the group joined with others in a march to protest the San Antonio House Authority’s plan to redevelop a historic public housing complex on the West Side. 

At Rinconcito de Esperanza, which means “little corner of hope” in Spanish, the Casa de Cuentos is a century-old home where from the 1940s to 1960s, Westside resident Emilia Sanchez provided food and shelter for people in need. 

Since Esperanza purchased the house in 2002, it has housed workshops, performances, senior and youth gatherings, exhibits, and hosted the annual Paseo por El Westside event. The house is used by visiting artists and cultural workers from Mexico, Peru, Chile, and throughout the U.S.

In the same block is the Casita, considered an example of a typical family’s Westside home during the early 20th century. Esperanza uses the Casita as guest quarters and for programming and has installed air conditioning, electricity, and a sink, and modified it for accessibility. 

With the TIRZ funding, the group has plans to restore seven other smaller structures on the site as well as Ruben’s Ice House, which it purchased from the owner’s descendants in 2007.

Ruben’s Ice House will be completely renovated and a gallery addition built for housing the Museo del Westside, Sanchez said. Renovation plans call for air conditioning, new fixtures and sinks, new windows, electrical upgrades, and other improvements. 

Ruben’s Ice House will be completely renovated and a gallery addition built for housing the Museo del Westside, featured here in the rendering.
Ruben’s Ice House will be completely renovated and a gallery addition built for housing the Museo del Westside, featured here in the rendering. Credit: Courtesy / Esperanza Peace and Justice Center

In addition to the TIRZ dollars, the organization will use a $75,000 grant from Impact San Antonio it received last fall for the renovations and a $50,000 donation from an anonymous donor in Dallas, Sanchez said.

“This is money that the entire city is investing that will support and be shared with the larger city as well,” Sanchez said. The group’s programming provides the kind of cultural and social bridge-building that breaks down stereotypes, she added.

“[Instead of] living in a culture of hate and ignorance and greed, it becomes a culture of loving and compassion and giving and sharing … what we’ve all kind of learned from our parents and grandparents and great grandparents.”

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.