Shopping center

A look at how Jefferson Village, San Antonio’s first mall, has changed over the past 70 years

Mary Morales first traveled to Jefferson Village in 1979 to apply for a stylist position at Vee’s Hair and Spa. Four decades later, she owns the salon and preserves what remains of the mall’s historic past.

When Jefferson Village opened in 1948, the mall at the top of the block from Jefferson High School was the first of its kind in San Antonio and possibly the country, an L-shaped marvel with large signs Art decor and fresh cut Austin stone and enamelled green. tile.

Today, Vee’s is all that remains of the center’s original 10 stores. The imposing Jefferson Village sign is just a memory. The flagship spaces that once housed Sommers Drugs and the Piggly Wiggly grocery store are now repurposed event centers. And middle-of-the-road stores that once sold baked goods, dresses and hardware now offer makeshift dance and fitness studios, Dollar General and FOR-RENT signs.

Which may explain why longtime Jefferson Villager Morales doesn’t miss a beat when asked what keeps this old mall alive.

Jefferson Village seen on September 24, 2021. One of the mall’s tenants, Vee’s Hair and Spa, can trace its history back to the center’s inauguration in 1948.

Jerry Lara / Team Photographer

“Me,” she said with a laugh, then added, “It’s the neighborhood that makes it special. (And) I guess the history of the neighborhood. Because you have generation after generation coming back.

Jefferson Village as seen in a 1954 Thomas Jefferson High School yearbook Monticello.  Jefferson Village opened in 1948.

Jefferson Village as seen in a 1954 Thomas Jefferson High School yearbook Monticello. Jefferson Village opened in 1948.

Thomas Jefferson High School

What really continues Jefferson Village after 70 years? The answer may lie in its namesake, the historic district where locals, young and old, supply the old shopping center with their souvenirs as well as their pocket money.

“(It’s) knowing the history of what was happening in the neighborhood then and what is happening now. It’s keeping it alive, that’s what we’re trying to do,” said Ted Guerra, past president and current board member of the Jefferson Neighborhood Association.

Guerra moved to the Jefferson area about 20 years ago. He said the mall at Donaldson Avenue and Manor Drive is still standing thanks to shoppers and store owners who refuse to let Jefferson Village disappear or become another home for a Starbucks or other major retailer.

“It’s not that we’re against revitalization,” Guerra said. “It’s (just) almost like, what do we want in our neighborhood? Because we’re driving these streets on the way home from work, driving our kids to school, whatever it is.

Jefferson Village has been a part of the neighborhood since November 15, 1948, when Red River Dave McEnery and his show Western kicked off a grand opening night with literal dancing in the streets.

Jefferson Village seen on September 24, 2021.

Jefferson Village seen on September 24, 2021.

Jerry Lara / Team Photographer

Built by Woodlawn Park developer LE Fite, the $3 million mall debuted with 10 stores: Hom-Ond Supermarket, Village Sporting Goods, Winn’s Variety Store, Naomi’s Gifts, Bowman’s Beauty Salon (later Vee’s ), Village Bakers, Wilson’s Jewelry, Shepperd-Fraser Company Department Store, Blue Bonnet Shoe Shop and Sommers Drugs.

Like the nearby school that inspired its name, Jefferson Village made national news in its early days.

In 1949, the mall won first place in a national development competition sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders. Jefferson Village would also have been the nation’s first commercial “strip,” according to a 2002 Northwest Community Plan and a 2009 Jefferson Neighborhood Conservation District document, both filed with the City of San Antonio.

Bob Cantu has called the Jefferson area home since the mid-1950s. Like most older residents who first frequented Jefferson Village back then, Cantu best remembers the Sommers Drugs soda fountain . Although in his youth he mostly hung out at Sommers reading comic books while the Jefferson students had a cherry coke or other soft drink.

“I have a lot of fond memories of coming here as a kid,” Cantu said while visiting Vee for a haircut. “It was diverse. There were many people from the neighborhood who had their businesses here. So people felt comfortable coming here and doing business.

The Bowman Beauty Salon was renamed Vee’s in honor of original manager Vee McMasters, who was introduced as “Miss Vee, Nationally Renowned Hairdresser” for the salon’s opening in 1948.

McMasters took over Bowman’s in the early 1960s and likely changed the name of the salon to reflect who was in charge, Morales said. who became full owner of the salon in 2015.

Morales remembers how Jefferson Village changed, and not always for the better. At one point in the 1980s, Vee’s was the sole tenant besides a Tupperware warehouse.

But Morales also has fond memories of Jefferson Village. After all, she met her future husband at Vee’s in 1991 when he showed up for a haircut instead of her mom’s date.

As for the future of Jefferson Village, Morales said she sees more young adults returning to the neighborhood. And they support their neighborhood businesses in the process.

It takes a village, indeed.

Express-News researcher Misty Harris contributed to this report.

[email protected] | Twitter: @reneguz