When you walk through Market Square on the Friday Friendship Walk you’ll find a colorful, fun and bustling commercial and civic space. You can buy an embroidered dress, pick out Talavera tiles for a kitchen back splash or buy a rough-woven Mexican blanket to use at the beach. There are 30 shops inside and 80 stalls outside, in the Farmer’s Market area. On weekends there is likely to be some sort of festival, with mariachi music, folklorico dance and art. Only 150 miles from the border, it’s the largest Mexican Market outside Mexico.
If you were to travel back a hundred year or more, this was a REAL farmer’s market, the place where all the truck farmers brought their produce to sell wholesale and to the public. Renowned San Antonio architect Alfred Giles designed the 1899 building when the Market was moved from Plaza de las Armas (Military Plaza) to make way for City Hall.His building was replaced in 1939 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA.) Nearby was the Hay Market, where feed for livestock was sold. The market was owned by the city, and stall were rented for $35 a month.
All this changed in 1951 when a consortium of 30 produce vendors built a private, modern facility, the Terminal Market on S. Zazamora. The market on S. Commerce languished. At the same time, grocery stores came to San Antonio, drawing away the consumers (who were moving to the suburbs.) By 1957, less than 1% of the produce in San Antonio was being traded here. In 1970 the City of San Antonio re-imagined the market and began creating “El Mercado” as you see it today.
Make sure you look across the street at the Lion mural. Located on the Goodwill building at West Commerce and Santa Rosa, the New Chapa Lion Mural was created by San Antonio artist Jesse Treviño (he also created the Spirit of Healing, which we wrote about previously.) A nearby drugstore, demolished in 1970, included a painted mural of a lone lion known as the Chapa Lion, because a man named F.A. Chapa started the store. He named the store ‘La Botica de Leon’ (Lion Drugstore) after his native state of Nuevo Leon, Mexico. The current tile mural was conceived in 2000 when Goodwill renovated a building that used to be next to the Lion Drugstore. The artist included a pride of lions in the new mural to signify the growing community. “The working figures surrounding the perimeter represent Goodwill’s mission, ‘To Help Change Lives Through the Power of Work.'”