Esperanza Center Invites Community to Share Stories of Alameda Theater

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The Alameda Theater is not just a pretty building, but a place that holds cultural and historical significance in the city. The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, the Westside Preservation Alliance and the Office of Historic Preservation are hosting a platica, a talk, on Sunday about the memories and history tied to the old theater.

That talk will feature first-account narratives from people who were patrons in its heyday and individuals who were in the front lines to save the building from demolition, such as Maria Antonietta Berriozábal.

Berriozábal, the city’s first Latina councilwoman, helped save the Alameda Theater in the early '80s when many theaters catering to the Mexican community were being knocked down, like Teatro Nacional and Zaragoza. Other storytellers featured will be Martha Tijerina and Maria Elena Torralva-Alonso, pioneers in journalism and broadcasting who will share their experience working and reporting on the Alameda.

Moderated by Dr. Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, it’s going to be a lot of sabios in one space. Folks will be encouraged to share their own stories to the group or sign up for a one-on-one interview.

For damas and caballeros in their 70s to 90s, and even in their late 50s like Graciela Sanchez, executive director at Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, they will remember how much of a production families made in attending a show at the Alameda. Going to the theater meant wearing your Sunday best, having a meal before hand and spending an afternoon seeing a live act before curtains were drawn for a Spanish-language movie, Sanchez said.

Built in 1949, when segregation of whites from Mexicans and African-Americans was the norm, the venue served as the go-to theater for Latinos looking for entertainment in downtown. While the Majestic and the Empire theaters catered to white individuals, Sanchez said the Alameda offered Mexican patrons local acts, radio personalities and some of the biggest stars from Latin America make their mark on the stage.

When many theaters heavily visited by Latinos in downtown and the Westside were knocked down, such as Teatro Nacional and Zaragoza, attempts to save Alameda were solidified in 1994 when the city purchased the building. Renovating efforts have seen its ups and downs over the years, Sanchez said, but this recent drive seems to have a bit more bite.

The Alameda Theater Conservancy, a nonprofit organization with the city, Texas Public Radio (TPR) and La Familia Cortez are stakeholders in managing the restoration and reopening of the theater “as a multi-media live performing arts and film center featuring the American Latino-Multicultural story,” according to their website. Included in the plans are Texas Public Radio setting up their headquarters on the second floor, Sanchez said.

In renovation work, Sanchez does not want to see the city’s Mexican community history get lost. Stories gathered will be archived at the Esperanza Center, which has led the way in documenting the Westside’s Mexican-American community. Sanchez said history gets lost when elders pass away and buildings are torn down or renovated.  Recording people’s stories is one way Sanchez hopes to preserve Mexican-American history in the city.

The event will also feature performances by Jesus Vidales and Rita Vidaurri of Las Tesoros de San Antonio, accompanied by a trio from Mi Tierra Restaurant.

Free, Sunday, January 21, 11:30 am - 2:00 pm, Guadalupe Theater, 1301 Guadalupe St., (210) 228-0201, esperanzacenter.org.