A small group protested outside Municipal Auditorium Tuesday morning as prominent city and county leaders broke ground on a new multi-million dollar performing arts center, slated for construction atop the existing structure.
Protesters insisted the auditorium, built in 1926, has a long and rich history that deserves preserving. Emma Tenayuca, a labor rights champion who led the pecan-shellers’ strikes in the 1930s, sparked a riot outside the building in 1939 when then-mayor Maury Maverick approved her Communist rally inside the auditorium. While Maverick insisted it was a matter of free speech rights, throngs of San Antonians felt otherwise, storming the auditorium and forcing Tenayuca and others to escape through the auditorium's underground passageways.
Tenayuca’s niece, San Antonio attorney Sharyll Teneyuca (same blood, slightly different spelling), recalled the story with pride, saying, “The architecture of that building, those passages, are tied to her story.
This building tells her fight for labor rights and civil rights.”
Teneyuca and about a dozen others showed at the groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday, objecting to plans to turn the auditorium into the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. The plans, they say, would preserve only the façade of the original building - façadomy, if you will.
Bexar County voters approved $100 million for the construction of a performing arts center in 2008, but Teneyuca insists that plan never mentioned the demolition of Municipal Auditorium. “They shouldn’t be calling it a renovation. That’s just not accurate,” she claimed, saying she and others may soon launch a legal challenge against any new construction.
Speaking to the crowd, Mayor Julian Castro praised the project, saying it falls squarely in line the SA2020 push to reinvigorate the city's downtown. "This is a beloved building, a special building...Probably the best aspect of this project is that it preserves the Municipal Auditorium for generations to come." Before taking to his shovel, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff insisted the new performing arts center would be "an architectural jewel" at the heart of the city.
San Antonio Conservation Society President Rollette Schreckenghost, who attended (not protested) the groundbreaking, seemed resigned to a loss. “We’ve met with the big guys. They know we don’t want that building demolished, but we’ve been told over and over again that’s just not going to happen,” she said. The Conservation Society is now trying to save the “Municipal Auditorium” lettering on the façade, she said - an effort that has so far proved unsuccessful.