SAN ANTONIO – The city has officially rezoned and designated 26 East Side churches as historical landmarks. To one pastor, the dedication is an emotional honor, paying homage to congregations of the past.
"This is a sacred place. This is a holy place," Rev. Paul G. Wilkinson Sr. said as he looked around the church he's been going to since he was a child.
The space is not just sacred because it's a church, but because it's a place of history, rebirth and now of recognition. New Light Baptist Church was the first African-American Baptist church in San Antonio.
"Even when I think about it, I kind of get choked up, because we stand on their shoulders," Wilkinson said, staring up at a list of 13 names hanging above the pulpit. They are the names of the church founders who created the congregation almost 147 years ago, after being freed from slavery.
"I imagine that coming out of slavery, they named it New Light because they had a new hope of a better way to live," Wilkinson said.
A cornerstone on the church shows the congregation was set up in 1870, but the church wasn't built until 1941.
Around January, a group of New Light members asked the Office of Historic Preservation to designate their church as a historical landmark. Turns out, they were already being considered along with a group of other East Side churches.
"We did host meetings with the churches and invited the congregations to come and ask questions, and then moved forward to City Council to start the rezoning process," said Shanon Miller, Office of Historic Preservation director. "It’s always important to recognize things that the community values."
On May 4, the City Council voted unanimously to rezone all 26 churches as historical landmarks.
"The East Side has a lot of those institutions that have been around for a long time, and they really are kind of the center of the community," Miller said.
New Light Baptist Church is not only the center of Rev. Wilkinson's community, but also his family. His grandfather, also once a New Light pastor, did not live to see his grandson lead the congregation.
"The Book of Hebrews talks about, 'so great a witness,' and I think even right now, he's rejoicing that this is happening during the time that I'm pastoring New Life Baptist Church," Wilkinson said, with tears in his eyes.
As landmarks, the properties are now protected and require design review for any exterior changes.
"There’s always some risk for properties that are not protected, and so that is really one of the reasons why we go through the process. There wasn’t any particular threat we were aware of at this time, but you never know what might happen and what ideas might come about to change an area," Miller said.
The full list of East Side churches now designated as historical landmarks is as follows:
1639 DAWSON ST - Israelite Baptist Church
1802 HAYS ST - New Union Baptist Church
512 DREISS - Denver Heights Church of God in Christ
322 FERGUSON - Church of the Living Christ
401 PORTER ST - United Apostolic Church
551 CANTON - Tried Stone Baptist Church
742 DENVER - no current congregation (originally Pegues Baptist Memorial)
607 PIEDMONT AVE - New Light Baptist Church
1516 BURNET ST - Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist
211 LOCKHART ST - East St. Paul United Methodist Church
418 INDIANA ST - St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church
825 ARANSAS AVE - Iglesia Metodista Unida El Mesias
230 VARGAS - Holy Redeemer Catholic Church
107 S PINE - Redeemer’s Praise Church
118 HARDEMAN - Mount Zion First Baptist Church
1617-1619 IOWA ST - St. Gerard Catholic Church
508 S NEW BRAUNFELS AVE - Greater Corinth Baptist Church
616 S HACKBERRY ST - Christ Temple Apostolic Church
831 POINSETTIA - Mt. Calvary Baptist Church
506 MONTANA - St. Joseph AME
817 IOWA - Porter Memorial
1001 N WALTERS - Antioch Baptist Church
1502 E CROCKETT - The Revelation (originally Rose of Sharon Baptist Church)
139 DENVER- Genesis Church
210 VARGAS - King Solomon Baptist Church
1639 HAYS ST - New Mount Pleasant Baptist Church
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