Friday’s friendship walk will take you through La Villita (pronounced vee-YEE-ta), once the site of a Coahuiltecan Indian village.
The first huts (called jacales) in the community were probably erected about 1722. Families of soldiers attached to San Antonio de Béxar Presidio lived on the east side of the San Antonio River, which separated them after 1731 from the more aristocratic Canary Islanders. After a 1819 flood washed away most of the huts they were replaced by more substantial adobe structures. By the 1840s German immigrants had given a European flavor to the section; they were later joined by Swiss and French immigrants.
La Villita was restored as a result of a city ordinance in 1939, and is owned by the city and operated as a craft and recreational center. The National Youth Administration assisted in the two-year restoration, during which 1,800 youths were trained in arts and crafts. In 1972 the twenty-seven buildings in the area were added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The Arneson River Theater, on the river side of La Villita, is an outdoor performance theater erected 1939-1941 by the Works Progress Administration. The stage is on the north side of river; the audience sits on the grass-covered steps on the south side, which can hold over 800 people on 13 rows of seats. A nearby stone bridge is often made part of the performance space. It is now called Rosita’s Bridge in honor of Rosita Fernandez, a pioneer of Tejano music, who performed here as star of the summer-long Fiesta Noche del Rio for almost 25 years.