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The Lone Star neighborhood, known mainly for its Second Saturday Art Walk, landmark train tracks, and proximity to the former Lone Star Brewery, is establishing its identity as the Lone Star District, starting with the installation of official banners.
The red and blue banners, which include a bright yellow star as a nod to the former brewery, were financed by the the Lone Star Neighborhood Association and installed last weekend. The association asked local artists to submit design ideas for the banners, Lone Star Neighborhood Association President Susan Powers said, and local artist Rigoberto Luna’s design was the winner.
“We’ve been the Lone Star Neighborhood Association going on 20 years now, and I think our area should be identified as the Lone Star District,” she told the Rivard Report. “When you say, ‘the Pearl’ you know exactly where you are going, and we want the same identification.”
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5), who represents the district, said residents “really wanted to self-identify as an association,” similar to what the King William Association has done.
“We want to encourage the neighborhood to take pride in where they live,” Gonzales said. “I think it’s a wonderful way to acknowledge the boundaries of their neighborhood and the work they’ve done to keep the community safe, rid the neighborhood of illegal dumping, and other toxic activity that’s gone on there.”
The Lone Star District banners come at a time when locals have expressed worries about preserving the neighborhood’s identity as a haven for local artists.
While the neighborhood association is continuing its branding efforts, there still seems to be some confusion about how to refer to the area. Some have called it the South Flores Arts District – SoFlo for short – due to the galleries in two buildings on South Flores, while others refer to it as the Lone Star Art District because of the nearby former brewery. And then there’s also the Southtown the Arts District (STAD).
Well, which one is it? One need only try to geotag a photo on Facebook or Instagram during Second Saturdays to get a sense of the confusion. Debates have even unfolded in the comments section of Rivard Report articles that mention artists who have had their work featured in the unique galleries.
Andy Benavides, an artist and business owner of the 1906 warehouse on South Flores Street, is continuing his effort to bring together the King William, Lavaca, Collins Garden, Lone Star, and Roosevelt neighborhoods under one name: Southtown the Arts District (STAD).
The effort launched in 2016, after the City’s Department of Arts & Culture agreed to grant Benavides $75,000 in funding to develop STAD’s website, build a membership base, and pay for marketing efforts.
The initiative, which Gonzales has supported, aims to ease confusion for tourists and provide a map to promote businesses, retail spaces, restaurants, music venues, and galleries located in the Southtown area. Southtown members pay fees ranging from $50-$500 to be featured on STAD’s site, gain exposure on social media platforms, discounts for ads, and exposure in the Convention & Visitor’s Bureau website as well as the Department of Arts & Culture site. It also includes a member storefront window sticker.
“I’m happy to support the [Lone Star Neighborhood Association] in their efforts to self-identify as part of the larger Southtown the Arts District,” Gonzales told the Rivard Report. “It’s very exciting what’s happening there and the fact that people want to belong to it and want to belong to an art district or a particular neighborhood association benefits the whole area as it continues to evolve.”
While some in the neighborhood haven’t been quick to get on board with Benavides’ larger vision, he considers his efforts to be the seed that spurred the growth of the now thriving arts community in the neighborhood.
“There’s more demographic impact if you are defined as an area of town versus being a corner,” Benavides said. “We’re just trying to beautify the neighborhood. It’s not ‘Game of Thrones,’ you know. We’re not trying to take over castles. We want everybody to succeed, and what we’re doing is not meant to be threatening.”
In the 1990s, Benavides opened a framing shop on South Alamo Street in King William and started the famous “First Fridays.” But a need for more studio space prompted him and fellow artist Alberto Mijangos to look at properties on South Flores near the brewery, which ceased operations in 1996. Seeing potential in the area, the two men invested in property and began to transform their buildings into an arts complex.
“I chose to stay here and dedicate my art career to a community where my opportunities came from,” Benavides told the Rivard Report. “Somebody had to test the waters, especially this far south. And I like to think that Alberto and I were the first ones to test the waters.”
Shortly after, Chicano artist Joe Lopez joined the gang at 1913 S. Flores and set up Gallista Gallery. After a 20-year run, he sold it to Sergio Martinez, who gave the building a facelift and a new name: Freight Gallery & Studios. Adding to the growth of the artistic community was sculptor Bill FitzGibbons, who in 2006 purchased a warehouse next to Benavides’ property on Lone Star Boulevard and called it Lone Star Studios.
“First Fridays kind of became its own thing and [Mijangos] and I decided to create Second Saturday,” Benavides said. “It’s been around 19 years, and as the community developed and Bill’s studio became active as well, it created this synergy.”
Benavides’ warehouse is also his home, where he lives with his wife Yvette and 11-year-old son Augusto. In addition to his picture-framing business, he and his wife created SMART (Supporting Multiple Art Resources Together), a nonprofit that provides artistic opportunities for students in the area. Yvette and Andy Benavides are in the process of making STAD a nonprofit, with plans to include an 11-member board to continue its mission.
“We live here and push this place 24/7,” Yvette Benavides said. “We’re an incubator for the arts, we have an education program, a residency program, and bring artists from all over the world.”
She remembers going door to door – from the mechanic down the street, to the dry cleaner, and to Steel House Lofts – to share STAD’s mission and involve others in the vision to connect the neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, at Lone Star Studios, FitzGibbons and several artists from his studio have been calling the area the Lone Star Art District. Other visiting artists and residents who enjoy Second Saturdays like the differentiation between Lone Star and other places such as the Blue Star Arts Complex, adding that each has its separate identity.
“I’ve seen this area develop tremendously,” said local resident Eddie Peña during August’s Second Saturday. “I lived on the Northside, but just seeing the local scene like this made me want to move down here, so now I live in the area. I feel this place is totally different and its identity is totally separate from a place like Blue Star.”
Setting an Anchor
At the same time, revitalization in the area has made some longtime residents nervous about gentrification and unwelcome development. FitzGibbons told the Rivard Report that he’s confident the vigilant neighborhood association and the committed artists who reside and work in the galleries, won’t let that happen.
“In a lot of areas in Chicago, New York, etcetera a developer owns a building, he gets artists in there for cheap rent, the rents go up because it becomes a hip place, and then the artists go to the next spot,” FitzGibbons said. “Well, these buildings here are owned by artists – we’re not going anywhere. This is going to be an anchor for the artist community.”
FitzGibbons said many residents in the neighborhood don’t consider themselves part of Southtown and embrace simply being identified as Lone Star.
Even if some people are confused about what to call the Lone Star area, FitzGibbons said, “people aren’t confused on how to get here.” And although the Lone Star Brewery redevelopment project is currently at a standstill, he said he’s confident the multimillion project will be completed down the road.
“The potential for Lone Star exists,” Gonzales said, echoing sentiments from other members in the community who envision a place like the Pearl, but on the Southside.
While that works itself out, FitzGibbons said he’s focused on continuing to foster the arts. He started a new statewide and artist-run organization called the Lone Star Art Alliance, with the mission of helping Texas artists show internationally and bringing international artists to the state.
“My passion is to grow the international artist community not only just in San Antonio but in Texas, because what I have experienced in my lifetime is that when artists come together country to country, that’s when magic happens and you build these bridges,” he said.
For Benavides, opening up avenues for locals and students alike to appreciate art in its many forms, also is at the core of his mission as an artist and businessman.
Every second Saturday of the month, when the various galleries, homes, and businesses near South Flores Street and Lone Star Boulevard open their doors for the neighborhood’s monthly art walk, new art enthusiasts and curious locals arrive eager to shop for art, learn more about local artists, or try a new craft cocktail at Dorcól Distilling Company.
“Through interactive events like these, art lovers start to lose that fear of becoming art collectors,” said Mexican-American artist José Balli, who exhibited oil paintings and mixed media related to the U.S.-Mexico border at Lone Star Studios in August. “If I can have a $4,000 dollar painting and another one at $15, then it’s easier to bridge the gap and have an interaction between the artist and the collector.”
Artists in San Antonio still have a hard time surviving financially just on their art alone, Balli said, but events like Second Saturday are a step in the right direction.
“Any time artists come to neighborhoods like this, they breathe new life into it,” he said. “It’s cultivating and that’s important.”
Amid the identity confusion and the new district banners, the Benavides family said they plan to stay focused on their mission and collaborate with the artist community, striving to keep it inclusive.
“We know that we are on this cusp of a very slow rehab,” Gonzales said. “Sometimes it seems like it’s happening fast, but it actually has not been fast. It’s been many many years since First Friday evolved and then Second Saturday and the neighborhoods involved.”
In her role as Councilwoman, Gonzales said she’s excited about the neighborhood’s evolution, adding that community efforts over time are what has made the area successful today.
“It’s not about individuals, it’s about the art and the neighborhood,” Yvette Benavides said. “So I go and I enjoy the art and the artists and support them. It’s a bigger picture. It’s bigger than us.”