If La Fonda on Main is a San Antonio institution, Alicia Govea Guadiana was the warm, welcoming portal leading guests to its inner sanctum. She served as its hostess for just over 50 years and made the venerated restaurant, many feel, the success it has been for decades. She passed away on April 13 at the age of 74.
“She was much more than a hostess,” said Cappy Lawton, who has owned La Fonda on Main with his wife, Suzy, since 1997. “She knew hundreds, thousands of people, and had a savant ability to remember names, even if she hadn’t seen them for years.
“But she had trouble editing,” he added. “She’d say to a regular diner, ‘This lady isn’t your wife!’ But she didn’t have a malicious bone in her body.”
Late Tuesday afternoon, La Fonda hosted a reception for Guadiana on its patio and private dining room, “Casa Alicia.” More than 100 friends and family members enjoyed Mexican appetizers, memories of Guadiana, and tales of meals at La Fonda.
One of the first arrivals, Linda Hardberger, said she often has lunch there with Betty Sutherland.
“She would always call me Señora Mayor,” said Hardberger, whose husband Phil was San Antonio’s mayor from 2005 to 2009.
Mayoral candidate Ron Nirenberg said Guadiana always had a warm greeting for everyone, and called him “Papi Chulo.”
Former UTSA President Ricardo Romo translated the term of endearment for the gringos in the conversation, explaining that it means “cute daddy.”
“She never called me that,” said Bob Zeigler, a former president of San Antonio College, with mock outrage.
One of Alicia’s twin sons, Jose; Jose’s wife, Elizabeth; Alicia’s daughter, Catherine; Catherine’s fiancé and two of five grandchildren sat together under a tree.
John Berry, practically family, seemed like he was right at home. When Guadiana was hired in 1965, Berry was 10 and his grandmother owned La Fonda on Main. At the time, Berry, who recently closed La Fonda Oak Hills after an alteration to the I-10 and Loop 410 interchange limited customer access, lived with his family in the restaurant building, upstairs.
“We were real tight,” Berry said of Guadiana. “I ate breakfast with my family and Alicia almost every morning. She was a super sweet lady, like an aunt. She called me ‘Juanito,’ and when I came into the restaurant [more recently], she always gave me a hug and a kiss.
“She was an unusual asset to the restaurant – one of a kind.”
Guadiana’s trademark hairstyle – two buns behind her ears, making her “the original Princess Lea,” quipped guest Irma Enderle, – was captured in a portrait Lawton commissioned by Lionel Sosa. A giclée print of Guadiana stood in the patio, as though she were part of the throng.
Why a print?
Romo pointed to the portrait, as though she were standing there, and said, “One day Alicia pulled me aside and said she wanted to give the painting to UTSA.”
Her image also gazes with a serene Mona Lisa expression from La Fonda’s Fiesta medals many guests and food servers wore. The popular medals were created in 2014 and are especially treasured since they’re sold out.
Generations of Trinity University students regarded Guadiana as a pretend mother, aunt, or grandmother, including Raymond and Mary Jane Judd. Raymond Judd said he started eating at La Fonda on Main in the early ‘50s, and met Guadiana after he attended theology school and returned to Trinity as chaplain.
“Cappy [Lawton] brought blossoms of new life to La Fonda,” he said, “but it would have died without Alicia.”
Mary Jane Judd said she still orders a chalupa when she dines there, same as when she came with mates from her dormitory floor in the early ‘50s. Phil LeMessurier and his wife Sarah Joe have dinner there every Sunday night, just as Sarah Joe’s family did when he was courting her in 1957. Guadiana was part of the appeal.
Guadiana came to San Antonio from Mexico with her husband, artist José Guadalupe Guadiana, an accomplished artist who had been her teacher in Mexico City. While in Mexico, he assisted Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros on mural commissions; a fanciful stone bas-relief mural he created, Students, adorns the north face of UTSA’s Downtown Frio Street Building.
Several of his paintings were offered for sale throughout Casa Alicia and La Fonda’s patio, including those that had been included in a UTSA exhibit after he died. Painted in heavy lines and bright colors, they depict bizarre scenes that Kent Rush, who curated the exhibit of José Guadiana’s work, describes as being in the realm of Latin American Magical Realism.
Alicia, too, was an artist who made her own colorful skirts and jewelry.
One of her closest compadres at work was Jose Picón, general manager of the restaurant since the Lawtons bought it.
Yes, she was “hard-working” and “always in a good mood.”
On top of that: “She knew four generations of guests by name,” he said, “where they liked to sit and what they liked to eat.
“She’d say, ‘I remember when we got you a high chair,’ to people who were getting ready to have grandchildren,” Picón recalled.
Retired Trinity University art professor and interior designer Elizabeth Ridenhower stated calmly amid the noise of the party, “La Fonda was Alicia. And we should carry that legacy.”