Birthplace Of Spanish Language TV Threatened

At least 50-60 percent of the building was torn apart before a court order was secured.
Joey Palacios
By Joey Palacios
November 06, 2013

A half-century old TV station building in San Antonio is under threat of demolition,  despite efforts by preservationists and Latino activists to stop the tear down. It was the birthplace of Spanish language television in the United States.  

Joey Palacios
At least 50-60 percent of the building was torn apart before a court order was secured.

It was a scene of destruction earlier this week with onlookers shouting at relentless bulldozers busy knocking down the old San Antonio TV station KWEX. Cranes dug away at the two-story brick and plaster building, pulling apart editing bays, studios, and offices as old desks and chairs fall from where floors used to hold them.

“It’s a murder of transparency and of citizen participation and about respect for a process. It’s abuse and disrespect of the voices of people not even to be heard,” says Maria Berriozabal, former city councilwoman and activist.

Just the day before activists fighting to preserve the TV station at an appeals meeting were rejected by the city of San Antonio.  And, even when a temporary injunction was issued by a county judge to stop the demolition, the sledge hammers continued to swing.

Joey Palacios
Maria Berriozabal ties ribbons and flowers to the fence along the demolition site property.

The annihilation was happening at such a frantic pace on Tuesday that air conditioner units exploded as a crane jerked them from the roof. When police arrived the site manager eventually looked at the court order and finally stopped the crews from working.

Susana Segura, one of the people trying to save the building, claims the city continues to give developers the economic incentives to erase the city’s Hispanic culture.

"If this couldn’t be saved, what can be saved? We’re not talking about the Alamo here but this was the first fulltime Spanish language television station in the United States of America,” she says.

When KWEX originally signed on in 1955 as KCOR-TV, broadcasting in Spanish was uncharted territory.   There was little interest in the Latino consumer at that time.  But this single station eventually grew into the Univision Network, a network that has played a large role in developing a national Latino sensibility. And today Latinos are considered a top advertising target for both Spanish and English broadcasters. Andres Ricardo Morin was one of the first Anchors for the station and worked there for 42 years.

 “It’s a very sad situation. It’s like they’re tearing down my home, my house. I’m sorry it’s really hurting,” he says, “I didn’t want to come, really I didn’t want to see it destroyed, but I had to.”

In September, the city’s Historic and Design Review Commission voted 5 to 3 to reject protection for the building. The building sits on prime downtown real estate and a South Carolina-based development company, Greystar, bought it with plans to build 350 high end apartments.

The Westside Preservation Alliance in San Antonio went to the city’s Board of Adjustment to appeal the planned demolition, but were shot down. Bill Kaufman represents the developer. He said the company’s demolition permit was held up for weeks and was issued after there were no more pending appeals.

“The truth of the matter is, they filed an appeal that was illegal and they’re complaining that the Board of Adjustment rejected it. I think the board acted appropriately and they were successful in holding us up for two or three weeks,” he adds.

Activists say the destruction of the KWEX building is an example of a lack of regard for Latino historical sites. In fact, former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar was quoted in 2011 saying nationwide less than 3 percent of all national landmarks recognize contributions from minorities.    

“We have a letter from the National Trust for Historic Preservation that says the building meets all of the Secretary of the Interior’s standards and qualifications to be a historical structure,” Segura said.

It’s unknown how long the injunction will keep the rest of the building from being destroyed but both sides are expected to appear in court in mid-November.

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