The City of San Antonio’s Planning Commission on Wednesday unanimously approved plans for a 13-unit townhome development on the southernmost edge of the Quarry Golf Club. A few activists spoke out against the plan that they said “erases” and “encroaches” what small traces remain of Mexican-American history in the area.
Until it closed in the 1980s, the Alamo Quarry Market and surrounding area was, well, a quarry. The neighborhood that originally developed around it – a so-called “company town” – did not include the six- and seven-figure luxury homes of Lincoln Heights that exist today. For about 80 years it was “Cementville,” a community of residences and social services largely used by the Mexican-Americans who worked in the limestone quarry for Alamo Cement Company producing cement and cutting stones for buildings and sidewalks.
The 460-acre property and surrounding area has since been redeveloped into retail and restaurant centers, a golf course, office space, condos, and more. Some of the buildings and machinery of the quarry have been preserved and incorporated into the current site, most notably the iconic industrial smokestacks. Plaques have been placed in several locations marking the historic use of the land.
But that’s not enough to properly remember the people that lived, worked, and died in Cementville, said local filmmaker David Cruz.
“We’re not here to block this project,” he told Planning commissioners. “We just want time to be able to really thoroughly examine what’s happening here.”
Cruz asked the commission to delay Wednesday’s vote until more descendants of the quarry workers and San Antonians could be included in the development conversation. He suggested that, if more time was allowed, someone else could buy the land themselves for some kind of educational center that would teach visitors about the history of the quarry and Cementville.
“The greater community was not notified” of this project, he said, adding that this is one of the last plots of land that could host a meaningful remembrance. He and his wife are working on a documentary about Cementville.
Commissioners sympathized with the activists, but said in this case the property owner is well within their legal rights to develop the land for residential use and is not beholden to Historic and Design Review Commission approval. In its ruling, the commission also allowed for a 10-foot decrease in required setbacks along the northern edge of the project along the golf course.
“As a lover of cultural history, I understand the passion. I hope that there is going to be a way to pay respect to this history. I’m not sure if that area of land is the perfect place,” Commissioner Andrea Rodriguez said, citing the property’s tucked-away location off of East Basse and Forestshire roads.
Commissioner Michael Garcia said he hoped more communication could take place between the owner and concerned citizens “in the spirit of diplomacy.”
Plans to put 18 townhomes and a pool on the parcel were put on hold during the 2008 economic recession, said developer Laddie Denton, president of Bitterblue Inc. who has been working on redeveloping some quarry properties since the mid-80s. Now Alamo Cement Co., through its subsidiary Alamo Garden Inc., wants to develop the 7.5 acre strip without a pool and with five fewer townhomes. A covenant on the land was developed with its neighbors in 2008 when the property’s zoning was updated.
The covenant negotiated density, height, swimming pool location, and even what kind of fire places can be installed, said Daniel Ortiz, a local attorney representing Alamo Garden Inc.
“We’re living up to every aspect of the deal,” Ortiz said.
It was always part of the plan to replace the maintenance buildings for the golf course with townhomes, Denton said. “We’re just getting back to it now.
“I’d be glad to talk to (the activists) and do whatever we can,” but the company doesn’t own much of the surrounding property anymore, Denton said after the meeting. Alamo Cement has been selling off bits of its land for decades.
In addition to the smokestacks and several buildings, a faux bois Dionicio Rodriguez (1881 -1955) bench was kept as well as old mining equipment, and the original gates were incorporated into the entrance.
“We were extremely sensitive to the history,” Denton said.
In the hallway outside the meeting room, Ortiz told Cruz he’s willing to set something up to discuss options moving forward.
“The generations of Mexican American workers who toiled in the quarry, who made community, raised children and families in (Cementville), contributed mightily to the history, culture, and development of San Antonio at large,” said Esperanza Peace & Justice Center Executive Director Graciela Sánchez, who read for the Commission a letter from Antonia Castañeda of the Westside Preservation Alliance. “San Antonio’s working class communities, histories, and cultures have yet to receive the same kind of attention from the city’s preservation community as the Alamo, San Antonio missions, and the homes of the rich and powerful.”
The Westside Preservation Alliance works to “preserve the tangible and intangible heritage of San Antonio’s working class communities.”
Local artist Angel Rodriguez-Diaz, who installed “The Crossroads of Enlightenment” sculptures at the intersection of Blanco and Basse roads, also spoke in favor of delaying the vote.
The Planning Commission’s decision will ultimately go before City Council for approval.
This article was originally published on July 13, 2016.
Top image: Smokestacks at the Quarry Market, former site of the Alamo Cement Company. Photo by Fred Van Atta