January 8, 2020

St. Paul Square and the Area



St. Paul Square (Sunset Station) and the surrounding area is

steeped with important historical events and structures that point to a black community that was once very large in the area. Councilman Joe Webb Council, the District 2 representative at the time helped secure the walking bridge across E. Commerce and was dedicated to Homer Rodgers and important businessman and civil rights activist.  According to Jean Rodgers-Clack, one of the daughters of Homer Rodgers, when the walking bridge was dedicated they took a photo on top of the bridge which featured Homer Rodgers, Jr. (son), Rev. LaVelle Lowe, Jr.  (Vice Chairman-San Antonio Development Agency), Jean Rodgers-Clack (daughter), Flossye M. Rodgers (wife), Burghardt (Burk) O. Edwards, Jr. (St. Paul Square Development Coordinator, San Antonio Development Agency), and others. The history of these will be recorded in the near feature in cooperation with Jean Rodgers-Clack, Aubrey Lewis and Charles Williams.


According to Jean Rodgers-Clack, in talking about her father’s business and others in St. Paul Square, “You could be suited for hand crafted silk embroidered shirts or a tailor made suit at Homer Rodger’s Acme Taylors and Hatters, grab a cab at the Red Top Taxi stand or stop in at the popular grocery and bakery. . . .  If you needed the services of a bail bondsman you’d see Henry Nance or Hays Pendergraph”. 


St. Paul Square also had other historic structures which included the Cameo Theater. The theatre was in the black community at the time (1940 and later) but after the area was gentrified and the black businesses replaced much of the history was sabotaged by racists.  The theatre was in walking distance from the black community. East Side residents often could be seen trekking up E. Commerce to see a film produced by black filmmakers. During these times lengthy films were often divided into two parts and during the intermission people would be entertained with the recordings of the latest black music by such artists as Booker  T. and the MGs. Famous black entertainers also performed there including  Fats Domino, B.B. King and Louis Armstrong.


Also in the area was a black business section that housed the offices of Dr. Madison Preacher, Attorney Hattie Briscoe, and barber Paul White. Paul White was one of the last participants to see the end of black businesses on E. Commerce Street. E. Commerce Street had a strong history of black life and culture that once dominated the area. After the street was made one way and black businesses destroyed, it was returned to a two street to benefit downtown business interests that wanted to expand the business corridor east and gentrify the neighborhood. Paul White was a black barber and a fixture on the city’s near East Side. He mentored and hired such famous local barbers as Charles Williams.


Paul lived at a time when black businesses existed up and down East Commerce Street. He cut hair at a time on East Commerce Street. At 1412 East Commerce, next door to the Cunningham Pharmacy, in the same building, was Taylor’s Barber Shop. Taylor’s Barber Shop is where famed barber Paul White worked and gave Charles Williams his first job. When Paul White died he was 86 years old and only John Inman, a black barber a few blocks away on South Hackberry Street was older than Paul White. Customers often noted how he looked out of his window and were saddened at what the city had done to destroy black businesses and the cultural life that went along with living in a segregated city, but we are going to fix that soon with historical markers.



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