A history lesson about old neighborhoods and race in San Antonio

A history lesson about old neighborhoods and race in San Antonio

John's House on Summit

The old but well-constructed houses in my neighborhood near Woodlawn Lake have always interested me. The homes are all different — my house is stucco, while my neighbor’s house is brick. But they share stylistic touches, like the tiny octangular bathroom tiles, the smooth fireplaces, and the phone nooks built in the walls. There must have been a skilled builder who constructed a wide variety of homes in my neighborhood that all bore his subtle signature.

My cousin and his girlfriend were in town this weekend. (This is my cousin — John Gronbeck-Tedesco. The Tedesco clan calls him “Primo.”) While I schooled them in a game of Texas hold ’em, we talked about the neighborhood, which was developed in the 1920s. I mentioned we can look up the historic deeds to the properties on the county’s Web site. Bexar County Clerk Gerry Rickhoff set up a free, searchable archive of digitized public records that go back to the 1800s.

This morning Primo and I hopped online and we found a pdf of the original deed to my house, written in 1925. The home was sold by Busby Building Corp. to G.A. Wiegand:


Someone named L.S. Busby owned Busby Building Corp., so he’s the guy who built my cool house. Or at least he bossed around the people who built it. We found other deeds with his name on other properties around here. Busby was most likely the person who put his personal touch on this unique neighborhood.

The deed states that Wiegand paid Busby’s company $2,857.95 in cash up front. It looks like Wiegand also got a loan of $5,142.05 for the house. $142.05 went to the Uvalde Rock Asphalt Co. to pay for the construction of the street — West Summit. The remaining $5,000 of the loan was to be repaid at 8 percent interest.

So the price tag of the house and property came out to $8,142.05. That doesn’t sound like a lot. But when you adjust that amount for inflation, it’s nearly $100,000 in today’s dollars. This was a nice neighborhood — one of the first suburbs of San Antonio.

If you know San Antonio, then you know that historically, the city grew along racial lines. Most black residents lived on the East Side. Most Hispanic residents lived on the South and West side. And most White residents lived on the North side.

This pattern didn’t occur by accident, as the 1925 deed to my house shows:

Busby deed restriction

There’s a deed restriction that says the homeowner is prohibited from selling or leasing the house to black people. The deed goes on to say that if this prohibition is violated, the owner can lose the house.

I was aware racial deed restrictions were the norm back then. It’s mind-blowing to read it in black-and-white in a deed tied to a property I own today.

Primo got his doctorate in American Studies and he told me about a 1948 Supreme Court case that ended deed restrictions based on race: Shelley v. Kraemer. The lawyer who won the case? Thurgood Marshall.