The 64-year-old building that once provided classrooms for Mexican American children in San Marcos has been awarded an official Texas Historical Marker.
A dedication ceremony to commemorate the historical landmark designation will be held at 10 a.m. April 20 at 211 Lee Street, now home of the Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos.
City, county, school district and Texas Historical Commission officials will be on hand for the event, along with Ofelia Vasquez-Philo, Centro founder, and Kate Johnson, chairman of the Hays County Historical Commission.
Frank Contreras, who attended the first wood-frame Southside School at the location of the current building, will also share about the history of the school.
The public is invited to the marker dedication ceremony, sponsored by the Hays County Historical Commission in conjunction with the Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos and the San Marcos CSID.
When constructed in 1949 to replace a wooden classroom building, the Southside School served Hispanic students and was sometimes referred to as the “Latin American School.” One of the original teachers at the school was Petra Nicola, who was one of very few Hispanic teachers in the district at the time.
In 1965, the school was renamed for James Bonham, a hero of the Alamo, in order to be like the other elementary schools in the district that had already been named for Texas heroes.
A bilingual education program, one of only two in the state of Texas at that time, was initiated at Bonham in 1966. An adult education program for migrant parents of students was also held on the campus, and a Title I pre-school program was offered in the summer. In 1970, a full day kindergarten program began at Bonham.
For the next three decades, the school would be used at different times to house district administrative offices, Early Childhood programs, and the Head Start program. In 2009, the building became the home of the Centro Cultural Hispano, which serves as a community beacon for the preservation, development, promotion and celebration of the Hispanic arts, culture, heritage and values.
The Southside School building is significant in the history of San Marcos public education for many reasons. Although it was built to provide classrooms for Mexican American children in an essentially segregated setting, it eventually housed programs that were innovative and inclusive, designed to provide all children with opportunities for success regardless of their heritage, economic status, home language, or disability. Although the interior of the building has undergone changes, the exterior remains essentially the same as when it was constructed in 1949.
“It is important for the community to preserve this building, so it can continue to be a beacon and a gathering place in the Hispanic community,” Mrs. Vasquez-Philo said.
Mark Wolfe, executive director of the Texas Historical Commission, added, “The Official Texas Historical Marker program helps bring attention to community treasures and the importance of their preservation. Awareness and education are among the best ways to guarantee the preservation of our state's history. This designation is a tool that will increase public awareness of important cultural resources.”
Texas has the largest marker program in the United States with approximately 15,000 markers.