Homeowner hopes to transform historic East Side home into dance studio

Alma Chavarria doesn’t want East Side families to travel far to learn how to dance

SAN ANTONIO – The owner of a historical East Side home is working to honor its history by transforming it into a small dance studio.

The owner of the home on the corner of Cactus and Martin Luther King Drive said it has the best view of the Tower of the Americas and the Alamodome. Homeowner Alma Chavarria wants to share her view with the rest of the city.

“I want people in San Antonio to come and visit when everything is done and beautified, because the house is for everyone,” Chavarria said.

The 113-year old building has received a historical designation from the Office of Historic Preservation because it was once a polling location for Black voters and it was the Abernathy grocery store from 1922 to 1967.

There are rumors Martin Luther King Jr. visited the small house. Neighbors have told Chavarria the home was a meeting place for civil rights leaders in the 1950s and 1960′s. Chavarria said the original property owner, Frank Abernathy, was a family member of Ralph David Abernathy, who was a close friend of King.

“For the longest time, when my neighbor would cut the grass, I don’t know who that gentleman was. He would pass by and tell my husband, my grandma has a picture of Martin Luther King on your porch,” Chavarria said.

Chavarria would love to find that photo, but for now the rumors remain unconfirmed. But she does have a concrete curb step in front of the house with F.M.A. engraved on it, Chavarria said the initials are for Frank Abernathy. The concrete curb step once served as a carriage step, the only one seen on the street.

When the home received a historical designation in 2018, Chavarria was humbled to preserve history because she feels like her Denver Heights neighbors are losing their lifelong homes to investors flipping homes.

“We’re losing history because the site was predominately black and we’re losing it a lot. Our history and it needs to be preserved. And I believe we can start from this little house and there’s more out there that we most likely will find out, Hey, it is historical,” Chavarria said.

To invite more people into her home’s history, Chavarria wants to turn her home into a small dance studio.

So far, the rezoning committee unanimously voted to rezone her house from residential to commercial property.

Chavarria doesn’t want East Side families to travel far to learn the art of dance, like her daughters did.

“You might have a Tina Turner or a Michael Jackson coming out of this little thing. But we’re starting off with little kids for the community because they’re the ones that are more vulnerable,” Chavarria said.

The rezoning proposal has been sent to the San Antonio City Council, which is set to vote on the idea on Feb. 2. If it is approved, Chavarria said she will look for funding and investors to help renovate and preserve the house.

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About the Authors:

Camelia Juarez is a news reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2022. Camelia comes from a station in Lubbock, Texas. Now, she is back in her hometown. She received her degree from Texas State University. In her free time, Camelia enjoys thrifting, roller-skating and spending time with family and friends.