I mean, really….like the title says, have we considered nightlife into historic preservation? Has there ever been much thought to preserve local joints that make a city jive at night?
Okay, your first impression might be, you done lost it now Jacob, but consider the idea that the concept of a club, joint, music hall, dance hall, bar, and or saloon all have one common interest: drunk people.
No, I’m kidding (well…), but in all seriousness, I would say that all of these entertainment sites are places of social gathering. And what are they known for? Well, social gathering sites are primarily known for their alcohol, music, and most probably dancing. Why? Well because for so long humans have enjoyed the concept of an entertainment hall for the opportunity to meet/hang out with people while enjoying a nice goblet/glass of wine, pint/bottle of beer, or shooter/shot of hard liquor.
This is the drunken history of the people, man! I mean, it’s so common that this is something that, even in the slightest way, is talked about in secondary school…
So, since entertainment halls seem to be such an integral component to the social human and causal lesson plan for education, then why can’t certain entertainment halls be deemed worthy of historic preservation?
WHAT TO PRESERVE?
You might think, well Jacob that argument doesn’t seem to match up well…and I’m saying part of explaining “the history of the people” is also explaining the tabooed components of history, like that of bars and clubs.
And as far as clubs go in San Antonio, TX, I think that the Office of Historic Preservation would do well to preserve The Bonham Exchange night club. (Warning, The Bonham Exchange website may have music playing the background with some profanity.)
PURPOSE OF PRESERVATION + HISTORY
What exactly screams preservation when you think about landmarks? It is the age of a building? Is it the historical significance? Or maybe there’s something unique about the particular group of people it attracts? With these questions in mind, we’re going to take a closer look at five categories that makes the Bonham Exchange a credible candidate for preservation.
For starters, the building was established in 1891. That’s 127 years, present year 2018. The age has significance in itself to be made worthy of preservation, already! Yet, that’s just the beginning. Honing in on its origins, the land the building sits on was originally owned by a German athletic association called Turn Verin.
“On April 18 of that year , architect James Wahrenberger and builder Adam Maurer, set out to erect Turner Hall for just under $35,000. The building would contain a bowling alley, a gymnasium, and a grand ballroom for formal events. The 20,000 square foot facility would be covered in pressed Chicago brick, lined with Kerrville limestone, and granite”(Bonham Exchange, The History).
In 1929, there were plans to add an additional 10-stoires to the building, including a swimming pool, basketball courts, office space, a club room, and a formal dining room. However, the Great Depression hit and the Turners were not able to keep up on their payments. That’s when the government stepped in to take over the building to use for an USO (United Service Organization) office. Now, if these architectural details don’t do the job of reeling you in about why the Bonham should be preserved, then no need to worry. Maybe, you’ll give it a second thought after diving deeper into the history that’s embedded within the walls.
WWII Contextual History:
Taking a closer look at the Bonham’s decor history it might come to a surprise to know that this building actually has significance to World War II. Another quote from The History states that,
“With all the anti-German sentiment flourishing during World War II, many of the historical and memorable German markings of the old Hall were removed from the decor. The stone marking Turner Hall was also taken down outside and many of the ornate stained glass windows, depicting Stars of David, inside the ballroom were boarded over (Bonham Exchange, The History).
(Refer back to The Bonham Exchange – Out In SA Credit visual to see the ornate stained glass windows that are present today.)
Not only does this bit of history make the Bonham feel like a discovery in the movie National Treasure, but the building is also a legit discovery for the history of the war and the contextual history of San Antonio in the late 1930s and early 1940s. If this isn’t intriguing you as much as it is for me, then let’s continue to the third characteristic that highlights the USO’s shift.
Entertainment for Local Community:
After using the Bonham building for 30 years, the USO relocated and turned the building into a storage for the downtown post office of that time. Yet, what came next became Bonham’s establishing moment. Take a look:
“However in 1980, downtown developer Arthur P Veltman (other[wise] known as “Hap” or Happy”), was scouting the area for a new location to replace his previous gay nightclub[,] The San Antonio Country, which had recently been purchased by the Valero Corporation in a much publicized event” (Bonham Exchange, The History).
Veltman then began a costly renovation and opened its doors in 1981. The club has been going ever since with two successors, Wade Strauch (now passed) and Kenneth Garrett, who still heads the club today. Present day, the Bonham is known as one of San Antonio’s premier clubs. Opened five nights a week (Wed-Sunday 8PM-3AM), the club has played host to some big names over the years. Names such as,
“Tina Turner, the Ramones, the Bangles, Iggy Pop, Bronski Beat, The Thompson Twins, Simple Minds, Georgia Ragsdale, Debra Harry, Black Box, Martha Wash, Taylor Dayne, RuPaul, Real Life, Pamela Stanley, Suzanne Westenhoefer, Lonnie Gordon, and Ministry” (Bonham Exchange, The History).
The Bonham has even hosted celebrity events and sightings with other big names such as:
Helen Reddy, Puff Daddy, Prince, Patrick Swayze, Dennis Rodman, Charles Barkley, Ashley Judd. Not to mention cast parties with touring Broadway Shows such as: Greater Tuna, Will Rogers Follies, Hello Dolly!, Buddy the Buddy Holly Story, Fiddler on the roof, The Phantom of the Opera National Tour I & II, Jesus Christ Superstar, South Pacific, Swing!, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, BLAST!, Mamma Mia!, Cats, Grease, Singin’ in the Rain, La Cage Aux Folles, Chicago, Cabaret, Les Miserables, The Producers, Aida, and 42nd street. Also the Moscow Ballet and The Nutcracker Russian Ballet” (Bonham Exchange, The History).
Entertainment and attraction is where the money’s at and these big names continue to bring in consumers to the downtown area. With that, the Bonham isn’t only a place to gather for a night of stars and fun, but it’s also a place to attract people to local establishments. While entertainment can be found elsewhere like at the Alamodome or at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, the Bonham will indirectly keep it’s local surroundings alive, like that of the San Antonio Fire Museum, the San Antonio Scotties Rite Library and Museum, and the Oasis Mexican Cafe. As s result, the Bonham’s entertainment and attractions aid the downtown local economy…and we haven’t even talked about most important characteristics that deserve the preserve of the Bonham.
SA LGBTQ+ Identity:
Aside from a place of entertainment, the club also aids as a community for some of the marginalized members of San Antonio and the world for that matter. Furthermore, what many people fail to realize is that the Bonham Exchange is a safe place for LGBTQ+ individuals of all ages to hang out at and a place to feel comfortable in their own skin. Even in 2018, it should come to no surprise that homosexuality is still trying to reach full acceptance. While there has been a significant progression over the years, being gay, lesbian, bisexual, and or transgendered is still a challenge, even in a liberal city like SA.
The LGBTQ+ community continues to struggle with acceptance because one ideology in society claims that same-sex attraction is an abnormality and abomination, which can be especially challenging for some heterosexual individuals to digest. This usually never makes it easy for any LGBTQ+ person to come out, but when that person does choose to accept their identity, then (s)he should also deserve the support and respect to express themselves freely without hassle. However in a city like San Antonio, which prides itself in its Mexican roots, it can often be a challenge for LGBTQ+ individuals to express themselves because of the strict and religious regulations within the Mexican culture.
Digressing for a moment I want to share, as a Theology major at St. Mary’s University, a half Mexican, and a young gay man, how I personally understand the all too real hardships of “being gay” in this culture. I may not have the full blown experience of the Mexican culture, but I do understand how traditional Catholics can reject LGBTQ+ people because of their own strong Catholic/Christian roots in the Mexican culture.
I also don’t believe that one’s sexuality, or that of acting upon it, will condemn an individual. I say this because, as I’m trying to point to, some people in the Mexican culture have extreme difficultly accepting LGBTQ+ individuals. This difficulty comes because some think that it’s “not God’s way”, or because some males think it’s not “machismo (manly)”, or because it’s commonly seen as a divergence from the male-female relationship norm.
Nevertheless, I try to focus on a theologically pastoral perspective, which allows me to feel and know that what matter most, for any individual connecting with the Divine, are exclusively their heartfelt desires for God and community. This isn’t a minority ideology either, to say the least. Instead, I feel that this is commonly believed among many LGBTQ+ Catholics and Christians. Therefore, because of these struggles and exclusions felt by LGBTQ+ Mexicans and non-Mexicans alike, the Bonham is a place to block out both homophobia and sanctimony, which continues to give Bonham all the more meaning and criteria for preservation.
SA Latino Identity:
Lastly the final, yet often trivialized, point to make about preservation involves the safeguard of the Latino community in San Antonio. According to World Population Review, about 63.2% of San Antonio is Hispanic. That means that the Latino community makes up more than half of San Antonio, so with this in mind it is important to also encourage and recognize nightlife that gears towards the city’s majority demographic.
Since San Antonio has increased population and size over the years, the majority of the Latino community is basically concentrated inside the city’s 410 loop; the same area the Bonham is located in. Therefore, with San Antonio’s inner-city Hispanic density, it is also important to protect landmarks, like that of the Bonham Exchange, which acts as a demographic community for its surrounding population.
Taking a look at the map below to further understand the demographic layouts. The yellow areas represent the density of Hispanics in San Antonio. (If you’re interested in reading the rest of the mySA article, click here.)
All in all this is the final characteristic that gives reason to preserve the Bonham. At large though, whether architecture, history, entertainment, or acting as safeguard communities, the Bonham can cater to people’s support for preservation for several reason. None of these features should stand apart from the other, because each play a role in unifying the significance behind this building, but all should be remembered when learning more about this nightlife and historic attraction.
Now you may be asking, what’s the point in all this? Even if we want to preserve The Bonham Exchange, what good will it do? And see, that’s where The Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) comes in! The OHP would preserve Bonham’s historical significant architecture and community story, protect the space for LGBTQ+ and Latino identity, and promote entertainment and attraction for downtown business.
To reiterate the purpose here, an important part to the protection of Bonham is that of the LGBTQ+ and Latino community. For San Antonio, and now seeing that it’s a majority Latino based city, it’s important to have these spaces so that the common demographic can feel at home and safe from racial and or sexual orientation discrimination. Just as important, the LGBTQ+ community is one that is often attacked and needs security. Therefore, Bonham provides that safe space for LGBTQ+ friends and allies to come together and mingle without fear and criticism. (Even though some people think that Bonham is on the decline as a LGBTQ+ community.)
Secondly reiterated, the Bonham will not only benefit from the preservation of the building by protecting the identities associated with it, but it will also benefit by increasing its publicity to people who stumble upon OHP and its 2,000 other landmarks. Indirectly, this will also promote Bonham’s surrounding businesses’ publicity. The more people who know and visit Bonham will also spark an interest in visiting local surrounding businesses. Overall this will add to the revenue increase for the downtown area and support local businesses.
So, let’s make it happen! Let’s make the Bonham Exchange landmarked! It may be just another nightclub in the end, but it’s not every day that nightclubs have historical significance or even cater to two identity groups. These are the driving factors that make Bonham important to the community and something worthy to consider for San Antonio’s preservation. After all, as a young gay man I find that you can’t go wrong here, because it’s always more fun with the gays (wink).