On the corner of North Zarzamora and West Laurel streets stands a faded building, once home to a donut shop, a laundromat, and a famous conjunto music club.

Lerma’s Nite Club was once a staple destination for San Antonians looking to enjoy a night out. Though many residents of the Westside neighborhood where the club still stands remember it as a place their parents frequented, community members hope a renovation project will usher in a second life for the venue.

“For countless musicians … Lerma’s was home for the music they loved and the music we loved,” said Norma Cantu, a board member of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, the nonprofit that owns the Lerma’s building. “It is safe to say many of the inductees into [the Texas Conjunto Hall of Fame] played here. Many of us in San Antonio of a certain age danced at Lerma’s. It’s a site of our history.”

Lerma’s closed in 2010 for code violations, but was listed on the National Register of Historic Places the year after it shut down. On Monday, community leaders tossed dirt with ceremonial gold shovels just outside the construction fencing surrounding the building.

The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center has led the effort to renovate it. The City of San Antonio pledged $500,000 to the project in 2015 and Bexar County committed another $500,000 in 2017. Community members raised additional funds for the more than $2 million project, which is estimated to take a little less than a year. Once finished, Lerma’s will reopen as a conjunto music club.

Susana Segura, the coordinator for the Lerma’s project, estimated that construction would take about eight to 10 months to complete, with the club ready to open in a year. The first phase of the project – stabilizing the existing structure – will take an estimated $1.25 million, Segura said. 

The project was initially a high-priority item for Bexar County Commissioner Paul Elizondo, who died in December. Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2) succeeded Elizondo and inherited his list of desired projects. He said he has been meeting with stakeholders to ensure that the renovation will proceed on schedule, and is mostly involved from a supportive standpoint.

“We’re going to have ongoing conversations about how the County can continue to support it,” Rodriguez said. “For example, [the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center] asked for a county community space or a Bibliotech [to occupy some of the space], as Lerma’s is only part of the building.”

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said his architectural background allowed him to bring his technical opinion to City Council when recommending funding the Lerma’s project back in 2015 as a new council member. He gestured to the roof in need of repair and other elements that require attention before the building can open its doors again.

“This is a special place in the heart of this community,” he said. “You can see down the street the Basilica of the Little Flower. The things [the community] grew up with are right here and falling apart. Bringing them back is a testimony to how we want to protect our history and heritage here in San Antonio.” 

Graciela Sanchez, executive director of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, said she hoped to see everyone back next year for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. She also honored the multicultural heritage of the area; the corner Lerma’s sits on was the intersection of where an African American neighborhood and a Latino neighborhood met.

“One side of the street was African American and the other side was Chicano and Hispanic,” she said. “Lerma’s is where everyone can come together.”

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.