The intersection of Iowa and Pine streets, and the surrounding area, was filled with black history as it was once a thriving area of economic and cultural richness. This site was once a center of African American civil rights activity, history, and cultural life in San Antonio. After the railroad laid tracks into San Antonio it became a hub of economic activity. African American professionals, school teachers, medical personal, and others lived in what became known as the Denver Heights. Black Pullman porters, from Local Branch Number 9, once headquartered and had room and board at a house on the northeastern corner of Iowa and Pine, while a segregated
movie theatre was located on the southwestern corner at this exact location.
At the same location, at 701 S. Pine, in the 1960s, was a black pharmacy, L.H. Leonard’s Pharmacy, while across the street; at the southeastern corner was a family owned Chinese grocery store. When I was a city councilman, in 1997, I tried to save the theater and the pharmacy, but the building was in to bad a shape to be salvaged and was torn down. In the immediate area was Muhamad’s Mosque, Tip-Top Cleaners, a Bar-B- Que eatery (once the Old New Orleans Bar B Que Garden at 725 S. Pine in 1931), a black barber shop, and the famous “Music and TV World,” a place where people of all ethnic groups came to buy the latest “soul
music” on vinyl records. At the northwestern corner was a second black pharmacy, Clardy’s Pharmacy, and a Texas styled “Ice House.” In the 1940s, there were numerous neighborhood clubs in the Denver Heights area, or close by, including the “North Pine Street Loyal Neighborhood Club,” which met in the home of Mrs. George Caldwell in the 400 block of N. Pine.
The “Corner” was also the scene of planning for one of the very first Martin Luther King
Marches in 1969, which was organized by the local SNCC Chapter. This March was organized in part at the SNCC office and left from Pittman Sullivan Park, down Iowa Street, past the Iowa and Pine intersection, turned on S. Hackberry Street and ended at Mt. Zion First Baptist Church, where SNCC members and members of the Langston Hughes’ Afro-American Theatre carried Malcolm X posters and gave short speeches on resistance to racism. Also, just a few blocks from Iowa and Pine Streets was the segregated Norris Wright Cuney Elementary School, now Friendship Baptist Church. This was a campus for AfricanAmerican students which originally
opened as the Santa Clara Public School in 1884 in a different location. In 1923, was moved to Iowa Street as the Cuney Annex, and finally, in 1932, the school was moved to 935 Iowa Street and served black students from the Denver Heights area.
One block from the Iowa and Pine intersection, in 1942, was the “St. Clair’s Beauty Shop” in the 600 block of S. Pine, but was once located, in 1938, at 703 S. Pine next to Leonard’s Pharmacy. At 906 Iowa was the Denver Heights Chiropractic Office which was operated by a Doctor W.B. Royse. In the 500 block of South Pine was Briscoe’s Beauty Salon. A few blocks away, in 1938, at 728 S. Hackberry was Inman Cleaners and Inman’s Barber Shop (1931) in the
same block, which serviced the clothes cleaning needs of folks in the Denver Heights. Also in 1931 there existed the “Tasty Café and Sweet Shoppe,” located at 716 S. Hackberry. In 1949, the cost of seeing movie at the segregated black theatre was fifty cents. In 1969, the theatre which was once known as the ‘Ritz, the Keyhole, the Leon,” and the “Leonard Theatre” in earlier times, became the home of Langston Hugh’s Afro-American Theatre and the local chapter of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). It was at this location that SNCC waged a struggle for civil and human rights, against racism, official abuse, and segregation in San Antonio. Langston Hughes’ Afro-American Theatre performed plays, in the same theatre that housed the SNCC office.
The theatre movement spoke to raising awareness of black culture through performances, poetry, and activism. One could often hear the sounds of
African drumming coming from such performances as local activist and organizer Charles Middleton drummed away, while SNCC members trained in Karate, organized the first Free Breakfast Program for School Children in 1969, and memorized the Ten-Point Program of the original Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. . The two groups complimented each other as SNCC planned protests from this site. The SNCC office was “raided” in 1969 by San Antonio Police after a large demonstration in downtown San Antonio that protested the death of Bobby Jo Phillips at the hands of police.