Lying on the San Antonio River Walks’ southern bank, La Villita is an artisan village that features art galleries, souvenir kiosks, locally handmade goods, pottery, custom jewelry, and gift shops at the center of downtown San Antonio. Listed under the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, the “little village” also boasts various stunning architectural styles, from cobble-stoned streets to Adobe-made buildings and Texas Vernacular limestone structures. Though it is now a treasured cultural art hub, the district has a long history spanning nearly 300 years, mirroring the American, Spanish and European, and American influences that molded San Antonio’s past. In this article, let’s take a look at La Villita’s tale and embrace its evolution across time.
La Villita’s History
La Villita traces its roots from the 18th century, with its first settlers were probably agregados (squatters) who had no legal rights to the land. Lying on the south of Mission San Antonio de Valero, the military presence from Presidio San Antonio de Béjar served as a refuge for the people, allowing them to live with a decent level of tranquility. The first houses were old brush huts, before stone, brick, and adobe-made structures replaced them in 1819 after a flood.
Amidst Texas’ fight for independence from Mexico during 1935, La Villita became the revolt’s center. General Martín Perfecto de Cos surrendered to Texan soldiers under the helm of commander General Edward Burleson after their five-day onslaught, called the Siege of Bexar. The capitulation happened in a house (now called the Cos House) at Villita Street, owned then by Mayor José María Salinas.
After the submission, peace failed to bring harmony in San Antonio as war difficulties continued, and Indian raids and Mexican invasion threats persisted. Around 1850, the residents in San Antonio became pretty diverse, as European immigrants from Germany and, later on, France and Switzerland came into the area. Such an event provided a cultural mix, best reflected by the evolution and variety of architectural styles in La Villita’s structures.
In the late 1870s, La Villita became a thriving neighborhood with lawyers, doctors, watchmakers, saloon keepers, dressmakers, shoemakers, stonecutters residing and trading in the area. As San Antonio’s population nearly doubled a decade after, more people had also chosen La Villita as their home. However, its development wasn’t sustained, and La Villita dwindled into a slum area in the early part of the 20th century.
Fortunately, San Antonio Mayor Maury Maverick had a vision for La Villita. In 1939, he authored the La Villita ordinance, which was then adopted by the City Council, aimed to restore and preserve the area as a symbol and monument of San Antonio’s colorful history.
In the same year, La Villitas began its transformation as a training ground for artisans and artists. In 1969, San Antonio established it as the La Villita Historic Arts Village and was then listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
La Villita Today
What was once one of the first settlements in San Antonio, La Villita, is now the local artists’ home where they showcase their crafts. But, aside from witnessing impeccable artistry, what the La Villita crowd get a trip to San Antonio’s vibrant history as seen in its spacious plazas, like the Plaza Juarez, and stunning structures like the Bombach House, Canada House, and San Martin House, among many others.
Then, don’t forget to check custom jewelry, handmade accessories, pottery works for some unique keepsakes. Suppose you’re looking for something to fill your appetite, La Villita’s remarkable grounds are also brimmed with several restaurants, offering traditional to contemporary menus and flavors that can tickle your taste buds while enjoying a panoramic dining experience.
For events like wedding ceremonies, holiday parties, concerts, conferences, or anything in between, La Villita also has charming venues where you can stage these events and build extraordinary memories.