San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

COVER: A painting by Petra Nichola, who taught at the “Latin American School” building in 1949, depicts schoolchildren at play in the school’s early days. It is on display at the Centro Cultural de Hispano, which is housed in the building. COURTESY PHOTO


The former Southside School that served Latino children in San Marcos before integration will be designated a state historical landmark.

A ceremony unveiling the physical marker will be 10 a.m. Saturday, April 20 at the school, 211 Lee Street. The building is now home to the Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos.

“It is important for the community to preserve this building, so it can continue to be a beacon and a gathering place in the Hispanic community,” said Ofelia Vasquez-Philo, who founded the center dedicated to preservation of the city’s Latino roots.

When constructed in 1949 to replace a wooden classroom building, the “Southside School” served Hispanic students and was sometimes referred to as the “Latin American School.” One of the original teachers at the school was Petra Nicola, a rare Hispanic teacher in the district at the time.

In 1965, the school was renamed for James Bonham, a hero of the Alamo, in order to be like the other elementary schools in the district that had already been named for Texas heroes. A bilingual education program, one of only two in the state of Texas at that time, was initiated at Bonham in 1966. An adult education program for migrant parents of students was also held on the campus, and a Title I pre-school program was offered in the summer. In 1970, a full day kindergarten program began at Bonham.

For the next three decades, the school would be used at different times to house district administrative offices, Early Childhood programs, and the Head Start program.

In 2009, the building became the home of the Centro Cultural Hispano. Although the interior of the building has undergone changes, the exterior remains essentially the same as when it was constructed in 1949.

In addition to the usual array of local elected officials, Vasquez-Philo will be on-hand for Saturday’s ceremony along with Frank Contreras, a student at the original wood-frame Southside School. The ceremony is sponsored by the Hays County Historical Commission, chaired by Kyle area resident Kate Johnson.

Texas has the largest marker program in the United States with approximately 15,000 markers.

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