Inside the Messy Demolition of the Univision Building
Published: November 20, 2013
“Whose Culture? Our Culture!” “Whose history?” “Our History!” chanted members of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, the Westside Preservation Alliance and Save KWEX as their activist colleagues were hauled off by a San Antonio Police Department van last Tuesday afternoon. In an act of civil disobedience that ended in eight arrests, protestors staged a sit-in at the half-demolished Univision building downtown, moments after a judge dissolved a temporary injunction, which allowed developers to continue the tear-down.
Activists refused to leave the premises and some laid down across the driveway to prevent a truck from entering the site. SAPD issued a warning and eventually arrested the protestors on criminal trespass charges.
Dubbing themselves the “Univision 8” the activists and other concerned parties argue the demolition of the historic Spanish-language news station is an affront to cultural preservation and charge the City with changing the rules in the middle of the game, making effective opposition impossible.
Before her arrest, activist Itza Carbajal with the Westside Preservation Alliance told the Current, “We are frustrated the court didn’t hear us and we are frustrated that the City doesn’t hold accountable their own developers ... Our main concern is that the City doesn’t care about our rich history, it cares more about ‘economic development.’”
In the battle pitting robust downtown housing goals against preserving the cultural legacy of Univision, activists say it’s a fight they’re willing to sacrifice for—even without the aid of the media company itself, who’ve said they’re not in favor of granting the site historical designation.
Established in 1955 as KCOR-TV (the precursor to Univision and later changed to KWEX-TV), the downtown building housed the first Spanish-language television station in the United States. After several decades in its downtown spot, the station relocated earlier this year to northwestern San Antonio. South Carolina-based Greystar is set to build a $55 million, 350-unit multifamily development on the former Univision site. Calls to Greystar were not returned by press time.
The brick-and-mortar structure itself holds significance, according to preservationists. The Univision building was the first instance of mid-century modernism in San Antonio’s downtown core, says Lance Aaron, a Texas-Mexico cultural heritage preservationist present at the demonstration. The only other example is the La Villita Assembly Hall. “For me it was heroic, it was vanguard. And now they’ve wiped out 50 percent of it in the La Villita Historic District,” he said.
Sue Anne Pemberton, president of the San Antonio Conservation Society, concurs; this particular architectural style is scarce in San Antonio, she said. “It’s a national problem and a public perception problem. People aren’t recognizing mid-century modern as important yet,” said Pemberton. But even more, preservationists say, the value of the building is its legacy within the Latino community.
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