A pedestrian takes the cross walk at the corner of Brazos Street and Guadalupe Street in front of the Progreso Building.
A pedestrian takes the cross walk at the corner of Brazos Street and Guadalupe Street in front of the Progreso Building. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The Progreso Drugstore Building, despite being one of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center‘s most iconic structures in its complex, has sat vacant for two years. But by the year 2020, the Guadalupe’s relatively new Executive Director Jerry Ruiz, hopes to open the Progreso’s historic doors to the public, revealing a new cultural asset to the city’s Westside.

Thing is, he’s not sure what it will be yet.

He and his staff will be gathering ideas during a series of community forums about what the neighbors and larger San Antonio community wants, or needs, the space to become. The first forum will take place on Tuesday, Dec. 8, at 6 p.m. in the Guadalupe Theater, across from the Progreso, at 1301 Guadalupe St. Click here to view the Facebook event page.

Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center Director Jerry Ruiz
Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center Executive Director Jerry Ruiz

“It’s not just for us to have a fancy building or complex, it’s for the neighborhood and whole city,” Ruiz said this week. “So we want to know how this building, as part of our organization, really speak to a need? What can we provide?”

Ruiz will serve on a panel during the event with Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) and representatives from Dockery Architects that are working on preliminary renovation design plans for the Guadalupe.

The building blends traditional Mexican and southwest design with art deco architecture.

The arts and culture nonprofit acquired the building to use as administrative offices in the 1980s, but it was originally built as the Progreso Drugstore in the 1950s. Latino civil rights champion William “Willie” Valásquez, who founded the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project in 1974, also had an office in the building before the building was sold to the Guadalupe.

The historic building began to fall into disrepair and in 2013, the Guadalupe moved its offices into the Galería Guadalupe, formerly an H-E-B store, acquired by the Guadalupe in the early 2000s.

“The idea was that it would be temporary,” Ruiz said, but it has been a matter of finding funds for such a large renovation.

The Guadalupe found that funding in the 2012 Bond Program. The City allocated $800,000 for the first phase of the project.

“That’s just to get the building back to a point where it’s in stable condition,” he said. He expects that work to begin in April 2016. “We probably need another $1.2 million” to complete the renovation.

The Guadalupe will also be applying for capital improvement grants, getting in on the 2017 Bond Program, and federal and corporate grants, he said.

Because phase one is funded by the City, it comes with the stipulation that at least the ground floor of the Progreso be made available as a public amenity – an agreement that the Guadalupe was happy to accept. The Guadalupe was founded on preserving and sharing the Chicano, Latino, and Native American peoples’ artistic and cultural traditions with the public.

“It’s that populist belief that the arts are for everyone,” Ruiz said.  “We’re here to share experiences that people might not otherwise have access too.”

The Guadalupe’s mission is not just about the Latino past, but building its future in San Antonio.

“By educating young people about our rich artistic and cultural traditions, we can endow them with pride and a feeling of self worth. In a community like this, it’s very easy for that pride to get stripped away,” he said, citing the area’s high poverty rates, lack of educational options, and good jobs. “There is a deeply rooted lack of opportunity, hope, or sense of upward mobility … that unspoken subconscious feeling.

The Guadalupe Theater. Photo by Scott Ball.

“The Guadalupe was created to counteract that,” he added.

Generally, the plan is to move administrative functions to the second floor of the Progreso, and open up classroom and/or studio space in the Galería. In its complex of three buildings, The Guadalupe has forums for presenting paintings, sculptures, theater, dance, music, and film.

“Hopefully in five years we’ll have the Progreso Building complete and we’ll be somewhere along the road of addressing the theatre space as well,” he said. “(The theater) needs more modern equipment, the building could use some attention.”

The renovations and improvements are all part of a larger plan to elevate the Guadalupe and the Westside.

Former west side resident Steve Mendiola recalls the kind of food they served behind the Guadalupe Theater when he was growing up. Photo by Scott Ball.

“Hopefully in 10 years this whole campus is a world class facility where we can do work at the highest level,” he said. “That would be really good for the Westside. It will activate it, it will make it safer, it will bring people here from all over the city. … a blended audience with a strong Westside contingent.”

Featured Image: A pedestrian takes the cross walk at the corner of Brazos Street and Guadalupe Street near the Progreso Building. Photo by Scott Ball.

Related Stories:

Guadalupe at 35 Years: Jerry Ruiz Brings Fresh Perspective

Mel Casas Retrospective to open at Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center

Raul Gonzalez Experiments with “Dulce” at Guadalupe

Local, International Artists Explore a ‘Flatland’ at the Guadalupe

Restoration of Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center: An Adventure in Color

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org