Something old, something new: Tech innovation center is at home in Dignowity Hill as community aims to preserve past

A high-tech collaborative space and a historic theater steeped in preserving the neighborhood’s culture call each other partners

SAN ANTONIO – An interesting contrast exists in Dignowity Hill.

It’s a brick-and-mortar example of the name chosen for this edition of “Know My Neighborhood: Preservation vs. Progress.”

Except in this instance, it might be more appropriate to say preservation and progress.

The Carver

The Carver Community Cultural Center, or The Carver as it’s known more colloquially, was once the only library open to Black San Antonians during segregation.

Today, it is a multi-cultural performing and visual arts center with an emphasis on “celebrating the art forms and artistic expressions of the Black community,” according to Cassandra Parker-Nowicki, executive director of The Carver.

The building was dedicated as “the colored branch of the San Antonio Library and Auditorium” when it opened in 1929.

Those words are still etched above the exterior doors of The Carver today.

“It’s really important for us to be true to our history and the reason that we exist,” Parker-Nowicki said. ”We came into existence because the Black community needed a place where they could be because they weren’t allowed to be other places.”

What was once the library is now the lobby of the theater that also serves as a visual art space to showcase local, regional and national artists.

The theater itself boasts grand, deep purple walls that tower over its 650 seats.

The Carver has been a gathering place for generations to enjoy shows and dances, or even to find comfort in times of need.

“This was also a place where the community could come when there were times of flooding because this area was prone to flooding,” Parker-Nowicki said.

“The Carver isn’t just the place where you can enjoy a show. It really is part of people’s history,” she added.


You’ll find an interesting juxtaposition just five blocks away on Houston Street: a shiny new space, built on an old one, that’s now all about the future.

VelocityTX is a collaborative initiative under the umbrella of the nonprofit Texas Research & Technology Foundation. It is focused on promoting the growth and collaboration of start-up companies working in biotechnology and the life sciences.

Companies there are working on things like military medical research or stem cell manufacturing.

“It’s got labs and offices and conference rooms, and it’s dedicated to help startups be successful,” said Rene Dominguez, president of Texas Research & Technical Foundation.

TRTF used to have a research park on the West Side.

“It was really hard to attract anchor tenants and researchers out there. And so we decided we wanted to be closer to the urban core,” Dominguez said.

TRTF now owns 12 acres spanning parts of Dignowity Hill, half of which has so far been developed.

Dominguez said the benefit of relocating to the East Side was being near the city’s urban core to create a place where the TRTF workforce can “live, work and play in the same area.”

“The long-term goal, really, is to create momentum and for this investment to be a catalyst to create momentum and for that to cascade around us,” he said. “To create an innovation district, a live-workplace environment here on the East Side that has jobs and amenities. And it’s somewhere where young people or future workforce wants to live and work.”

VelocityTX moved into the century-old Merchant’s Ice Complex, parts of which TRTF preserved in its development.

The old Merchants Ice Storage Building is now the home of the Texas Research and Technology Foundation (TRTF).

Despite the future-forward focus of the collaborative effort, Dominguez says maintaining the history and cultural richness of Dignowity Hill is a priority.

“It’s not one of those communities that you can just jump into and think that you’re going to be accepted and, you know, get what you want and leave,” Dominguez said. “You have to prove to these residents that you’re here for the right reasons and here for the long stay.”

The contrast in the missions of The Carver and VelocityTX may seem sharp on the surface, but Parker-Nowicki argues there is more common ground than you might expect.

“The opportunities are really endless because, one, you have to think about the arts in and of themselves, right? The arts are our expression of our humanity,” she said. “And the innovation and the creativity that’s involved in what we do is exactly the same creativity and innovation you need for any type of industry.”

“Not only can you invest in the East Side in this area of town, but you can be successful,” Dominguez said. “You can attract companies. You can create jobs.”

“There’s so much growth happening here, so many people that are coming into the community as well as those people that have been here all along,” Parker-Nowicki said.

Read next:

About the Authors

Myra Arthur is passionate about San Antonio and sharing its stories. She graduated high school in the Alamo City and always wanted to anchor and report in her hometown. Myra anchors KSAT News at 6:00 p.m. and hosts and reports for the streaming show, KSAT Explains. She joined KSAT in 2012 after anchoring and reporting in Waco and Corpus Christi.

Recommended Videos