Friday, June 18, 2021

History & Culture

The Spanish Governor’s Palace was constructed in the early 18th century and restored in the 1930s. This National Historic Landmark represents the last visual remnants of the Presidio San Antonio de Béjar. The Presidio was established as the result of a rivalry between Spain and France in the early 1700s for dominance of the territory that is now a part of the southwestern United States.
To protect his claim against French encroachment, King Philip V of Spain ordered the governor of Coahuila and Texas, Don Martín de Alarcón, to build a mission and presidio at the headwaters of the San Antonio River and San Pedro Creek. On May 5, 1718, Alarcón established the Presidio San Antonio de Béjar to protect the newly established Mission San Antonio de Valero (later known as the Alamo).


The Marquis de San Miguel de Aguayo, governor of Coahuila and Texas from 1719 to 1722, abandoned the original settlement site and reestablished the Presidio at its present location in 1722. He envisioned a large square with pointed bastions at each corner and wrote to His Majesty in Spain that he needed 25,000 adobe bricks and 40 additional laborers to begin construction.
The Presidio furnished escorts for officials and supply trains as well as protection for the priests at the five nearby missions and the families who came to settle San Antonio de Béjar. Fifteen families from the Canary Islands arrived in 1731 to begin the settlement that would become San Antonio. Descendants of these original settlers still call San Antonio their home.
A long line of Presidio captains presided over the military garrison and lived in the small home. In 1804 the last captain, José Menchaca, sold the compound (now six rooms) to Ignacio Pérez, a prominent merchant and land owner. He and his descendants lived in the house for the next half century, during which time Mexico won its independence from Spain, the Republic of Texas was established and Texas became the 28th state. After the Civil War many of the original settler families moved to newer, more fashionable neighborhoods or to their ranches.
A variety of businesses began to move into the buildings around the garrison. In 1890 a new three-story City Hall replaced the old two-story building that also housed the jail. The Pérez property was leased beginning in the mid 1860s. Through the 1920s it housed a variety of businesses including a pawn shop, a wholesale produce store, school classrooms, saloons, a tire shop and a clothing store. During this commercial period, one tenant added a room by closing in the space behind the family’s main living area.

In 1915 the modern era began for this ancient building. Adina Emilia De Zavala (1861–1955), a teacher and one of Texas’s first preservationists, pointed out in a newspaper article that the old stone building across the street from City Hall was more than just a decrepit eyesore–it was, in fact, the remains of one of the oldest and most important structures in the state. She called it the Spanish Governor’s Palace, even though it had actually been the home and office of the local presidio captains and, though substantial, was hardly a palace. She began a 15-year campaign to save the structure from demolition, reconstruct it, and turn it into a museum honoring San Antonio’s Spanish history and heritage.

Adina Emilia De Zavala, born in 1861 near Houston, was the granddaughter of Lorenzo de Zavala, who was the first vice president of the Republic of Texas in 1836. Adina came to San Antonio in 1886 as a teacher. She founded the De Zavala Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas in 1893 and the Texas Historical and Landmarks Association in 1912.

The City of San Antonio eventually purchased the historic property in 1928 and completed the restoration in 1930 during the formative years of historic preservation in the United States and the height of the Spanish Colonial Revival movement.

The restoration resulted in a structure that was larger than the original building and incorporated an embellished, even romanticized, interpretation of the lives and activities of the families who lived here. This interpretation, although not historically correct, has now become a part of the site’s history. Plaques embedded in the walls in each room during the restoration process illustrate this early interpretation. Text panels detail later, more accurate, research.

Photo of Adina pointing