ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
BEXAR COUNTY HISTORICAL COMMISSION
INTERVIEW WITH LOUIS LIPSCOMB
(On the Restor ation of La Villita)
October 11, 1976
Mr. Lipscomb's Home
(Lipscomb was the Commissione r of Fire and Police under Mayor Maury
Maverick when the r estora tion was done. The City Commissioners were
included among t he members of the Villita Committee in October 1939
because of their inte r est in the project . The interview took place
exactly thir ty-seven years after the signing of the Villita Ordinance .)
ALLISON: All right, Mr. Lipscomb, could you tell me about your posi-tion
at the time of La Villita .
ALLISON: And a little bit about yourself?
LIPSCOMB : At the time of the inception of La Villita, I was the Com-missioner
of Fire and Police in San Ant onio, which was an elective
position and part of the governing body of the city . There were four
commis sioners and the Mayor--Commissioner of Police and Fire, of Taxa-tion,
Parks and Recreation . . . and Streets.
The first idea I heard about La Villita came f r om Maury Maver -
ick. As far as I know, it was his ori ginal idea. He sought the help of
certain people here in San Antonio, particul arly Col onel W. B. Tuttl e,
who was head of the Public Service Company, which was then a pri vately
owned corporation, just a few months ahead of the , the requirement by
the government of t he breaking up of these uti lity companies.
The ar ea around La Villita was one of the worst slum dis tricts
in San Antonio. The only good part you can say about it is t hat i t
was not t oo obvious. It was not , it did not cover too great a
territory, but it was a hangout for winos, all sorts of, of vice, and
a terrible looking, dir ty neighborhood . This l and, of course, belonged
to the Public Service Company. It was arranged by Mr. Maverick that a
trade be made with the Public Service Company, trading them some other
chips and whets t ones for this property.
The matter of cleaning it up was no t a serious deal because the
area was not large and the c ity crews could do that without any additional
cost. The City Council appropriated the sum of $25,000 f or the
creation of La Villita, and to the best of my recollection that' s the
only money spent by the city. I, there were certain people, residents
here who were very helpful. Number one was Colonel Tuttle; another is
Dr. Frederic Oppenheimer, Dr., not, his , his brother Jesse Oppenheimer,
the banker; another one that must not be forgotten in the deal was
Hamilton Magruder, who gave up a good position with an oi l company to
take over the side (?) of foremanship of La Villita, and he s tayed
there for a great number of years and managed it at quite a financia l
sacrifice to himsel f . He stayed there, I guess twenty-five years,
maybe longer than that, somethi ng of that sort. Now to the choice of
the National Youth Administration r ather t han the WPA, I think , was
due to Mayor Maverick's personal friendship with Aubrey Williams, the
head of NYA, was Lyndon Johnson who had , was a graduate of NYA be fore
he went to Congress, and O'Neill Ford, and I think that Lyndon Johnson
directed O'Neill Ford in this direction. There were many others who
wer e, played minor parts in the creation , but it's been thirty-seven
odd years s i nce, and I've forgotten the names of a lot of them. Now,
l e t 's see.
ALLISON: In, it was exactly thirty-seven years ago tomorrow when the
La Villita Ordinance
LIPSCOMB: Thirty-seven, yes.
ALLISON: was, was written, and I understand that Maverick was very
much against bureaucratic language and that when he read the Villita
Ordinance it had a "whereas" in it and he erased. Do you (giggle)
LIPSCOMB: I don't remember that, but he had a very colorful way of
expressing him, himself and a lot of it you couldn't put over the air,
couldn't ... they just had radio at the time, or you couldn't put it
in the newspapers. (Laugh.) But he was very much against the government's
way of talking which used a lot of words and said nothing.
And that's one reason why he gave that sort of talk the name of
"gobbledegook." That came on later on when he was in Washington with
the Small War Plants Corporation during the war.
ALLISON: I understand that there were just numerous Progress Reports
put out from time to time on La Villita. It really was Maverick's pet.
LIPSCOMB: Oh yes, yes, I think that was his principal interest, was in
that and also prior to this, some work had been done on the river, the
beginning of the beauti fication of the river had started . That was
also principally arranged for by him while he was in Washington in
Congress and also in that way, the hotel man and afterwards Mayor,
Jack White, played a part in that.
ALLISON: Well, didn't Maverick get the WPA money like for the . . .
LIPSCOMB: Yes, yes.
ALLISON: the River Beautification?
LIPSCOMB: Yes, he got that, yes.
ALLISON: Well, I read where Maverick took a moonlight walk and saw
the La Villita area and said that something had to be done about it.
Do you think it was that romantic or that people approached him?
Apparently, the Conservation Society was interested.
LIPSCOMB: It's possible, I don't know about this. The first I heard
of this came through Maury Maverick and as far as I know, it was his
original idea . The Conservation Society might have had something to
do with it, but I am not familiar with that part of it .
ALLISON: The .
LIPSCOMB: The amusing thing to me is the small amount of money that
came out of the pocket of San Antonio. Of course, it was paid for by
the WP ("N' inaudible over his dog's shaking) to a great extent, but
the small amount of money that came out of the city purse was roughly
$50,000 for both the River Beautification and the, La Villita.
ALLISON: What about the youths employed at La Villita?
LIPSCOMB: The what?
ALLISON: The young boys emp loyed at La Villita.
LIPSCOMB: Oh yes, I am glad you brought that up. He started a school
there in teaching practical ways of making a living to a lot of boys
and was quite successful. Metal work, l eather work, brick laying, and
numerous kinds of trades were taught t here. And now every once in
awhile I run across some middle-age Mexican who asks me and says, "Oh
yes, I remember you, I was at school there. " And it did quite a lot
of good and at a v ery , very small expense. Of course, the National
Youth Administration paid for that. . . . Now, what else do you want
to know, know about that I happen to know about, that I didn't •.. ?
ALLISON: Some of the money came, I think $15,000 came from the Carnegie
Foundation. Do you know if that money?
LIPSCOMB: Yes, oh yes, the Carnegie Foundation. I had forgotten
about the Carnegie Foundation. The Carnegie Foundation put up money
and . Maury Maverick went to Mexico and got, what is, what is the
state of Monterrey ... , whatever state of Mexico i s that, is that
Coahuila? or, anyway
ALLISON: Saltillo is in Coahuila; I don't know if Monterrey is.
LIPSCOMB: Anyway, anyway, why they gave us a statue of Hidalgo, and
Maury brought that back and it was set up here t hrough him. A rather
amusing thing is was that we had trouble getting it loose because the
government wanted an, an import tax on it. It was a gift, though.
Well, we got that straightened out, and they put that down in La
Villita and some of the devout Catholics began to raise the dickens
because Hidalgo had, was in trouble with the Catholic Church. So, for
po litical reasons, Mayor Quinn moved it from La Villita and put it
out, ... down here where San Pedro and Main Avenue, Five Points or
whatever it is, Romana Plaza.
ALLISON: Oh, yeah, down by Sears.
LIPSCOMB: Yeah, they moved that down there because of the, that is
some of the Catholics considered it a disgrace to have Hidalgo's
statue there . . .
ALLISON: Now, most of the work was done during your period in office.
LIPSCOMB: Yes, oh yes, it was .
ALLISON: But the dedication was done when Quinn was Mayor . . . of La
LIPSCOMB: It's quite possible; I don't recall.
ALLISON: What was La Villita used for after it was finished?
LIPSCOMB: Oh, for small conventions, for parties, both large and
small, and in other words, if an individual wanted to have a party, he
could lease the Cox, the Cos House, or, for political gatherings, different
Mexican social clubs for any, any public purpose, political
meetings, dances .
ALLISON: What was it used for, the, in '41, immediately after the
LIPSCOMB: Oh, about the same things began to do, began to shape up
the people who had been running the government, the auditorium found
they could do just as well with La Villita at a proposition
. And they had a catering service down there. And you can think
of nearly any organization, these women's clubs, Zonta, or whatever it
is. There, these women's, Business Women's Associations, and Democratic
Conventions, if the Republicans were down there or not,but it
was very busy, nearly every night.
ALLISON: I understand the Red Cross went down there.
(Erasure of question asking Lipscomb about Maverick's political opposition's
opinion of the project.)
LIPSCOMB: Mayor Quinn, his political team, opposed La Villita, gave
it great criticism as a waste (dog howl) of public money and such that
it should not have been done, that the money should have been used for
other purposes, the $25,000 I'm talking about. But as soon as the election
was over, they took great pride in it and used it just as much as
it, they had been used before. And they kept Magruder as manager of
it, ... he had done such a good job. So that shows that they had,
except for pol itics, they were very much in favor of it.
ALLISON: What about Maverick as a person? Being interested in something
LIPSCOMB: Well, it's a peculiar thing. The, nearly all the Mavericks
are, have an artistic streak or talent. In reference of the point was,
he l iked paintings and good music and things of that sort. His
mother, who was one of the Maury's of Virginia, was raised during the
Civil War and had very little formal education. She took up painting
when she was about seventy-five years old and became a very talented
artist. And that goes on down through the family, all seem to have
artistic talents. They are all, all charac ters except the only, the
most normal one; I, I don't mean they were abnormal, but the most
ordinary one in common sense was Virginia Fitchner. You know Virginia,
ALLISON: No, no I don't think so. Did Maverick's experience in Washington
help him locate , like NYA money, or?
LIPSCOMB: Oh yes, he was on a first name basis with nearly everybody
in Washington, and if he wanted something done, why he got on the t elephone
and got r ight to the top and cut red tape and things of that
sort. He was very skillful, and I think he developed more of a reputation
up there in the four years he was there than any Congressman that
I know about . And such things as that, hurt him locally hereJwas his
sponsorship of the Cancer Bill. Nobody here was interested in that.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, which was the forerunner of all
authority and rural electrification. And, oh, diversified
interests in .. . As a member of Congress, he was one of the first
that insisted on the motorization of the army, putting trucks instead
of horses in the fie ld artillery, and things of that sort.
ALLISON: He was really very diversified, too.
LIPSCO}ffi: Oh , yes.
ALLISON: Interested even in historical type things like this. I understand
that some of the, the improvements in city government , while you
were City Commissioner was streamlining of the f ire and police department.
LIPSCOMB: We had a good fire department . The Police Department, we
got a man from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Rockefeller Stone Foundation,
named Wilson, W. 0. Wilson, who afterwards went to, to head of
Police in Chicago. Just a few years ago he d ied. And so we brought
the Police Department up from a pretty poor outfit to, I think, quite
an outstanding force .
ALLISON: And I understand you began a Police School or Cadet training
LIPSCOMB: Yes, yes.
ALLISON: for police officers that was brand new. What is "ticketfixing
LIPSCOMB: That, that's for speeding tickets and red light t ickets and
things of that sort. If, if you had a ticket, why you had t o work i t
out with the judge . Which, which was, . . . which caused us a good
many headaches, but we . .. OL' Killday , who had been Chief of Police
there for many year s , I expect he fixed $10,000 tickets while he was
Chief of Police, and if people have to pay a traffic fine, they don' t
ALLISON: No. What about your , your, you had your first full-time
LIPSCOMB : Yeh, uh huh .
ALLISON: Was this working with lights, or ... ?
LIPSCOMB: No, they put in the, the . Around Romana Plaza that was,
that was brought up to da t e and the lights were coordinated and , traffic
control down at City Hall. That was the firs t traffic engineer
that we had in San Antonio.
ALLISON: As Police Commissioner, I would think your primary int erest
in that La Villita ar ea originall y would have been as just a police
LIPSCOMB: Well, it was kind of a minor nuisance to the police. They
were glad to get rid of i t, bec ause it took,
trouble down there. With drunks and
. Oh, I a l ways had
ALLISON: Well, there were only about 7 or 8 houses and quite a number
of peopl e crowded in that area.
LIPSCOMB: Yes, yes, oh yes .•. . It was a t errible slum, terrible
ALLISON: Well, what were people living in besides the houses?
LIPSCOMB: Oh well, Mexicans, you know, they can live 8 or 10, or 9 of
them in sheet iron, things that are always just there, like bees in a
bee's nest or some thi ngs of that sort.
ALLISON: No, I've seen some pictures that had piano crates,
ALLISON: License plates, and just all kinds of patched up hovels.
LIPSCOMB: Oh, everything.
ALLISON: (Question erased, but it was something like, "What were the
Chili Queens that Maverick returned?")
LIPSCOMB: In Alamo Plaza and over around the, across from the Santa
Rosa Hospital, these service stands would have Mexican food, and they
got the name of Chili Queens. So Maury put that back into .. . As
far as, across from the, from the Santa Rosa, he reinstalled the Chili
Queens, put them back in business. They never got back to the Alamo
Plaza, too much traffic.
ALLISON: (Erased, "Where did the residents of La Villita go?")
LIPSCOMB: I just assume that they went into public housing.
ALLISON: Who was in charge of removing the people from the La Villita
LIPSCOMB: Oh, I don't recall. They were probably just notified that
they had to leave and, probably they gave them, seems like they found
some places for them to go. But that didn't create any problems.
ALLISON: The work at La Villita got national attention, like in, Dallas,
it was in the paper in big Rotogravure type magazine thing while
it was being done, and apparently lots of people visited it.
LIPSCOMB: Yes, urn hum.
ALLISON: Did they make a big play of it in San Antonio in the papers?
LIPSCOMB : Not a great deal, not a great deal.
(Recorder stopped, discussion, and question reasked.)
ALLISON: Did La Villita get local attention, it got a great deal of
national attention while it was being restored?
LIPSCOMB: Not, not too much local attention. The, it was referred to
by certain people as "Maverick's Folly" and things of that sort, and
the newspapers were against Maury personally.
ALLISON: Well, I've already read about Maury and Frank Huntress .
LIPSCOMB: Yes, Frank Huntress, of course, was a most ignorant newspaper
man, I guess in the United States, and he knew how to make
money, he knew the business end of the newspaper, and he made quite a
lot of money out of it, made quite a profitable deal, but he didn't
know an editorial from, a . He just was a, . . • Did you know him?
You didn't know him at all, did you?
ALLISON: I don't know that ... (Erased "I did.")
* ~'( *
. LIPSCOMB, LOUIS
La V1llita , 1-4, 9-11
Maveric k,Maury, 1,2,3(gobb1edegook)
Lipscomb was closely associ ated with La Villita restoration
as a city commissioner member of the Yilli ta Committee .
More Maverick material; a brief reference to Lyndon Johnson;
menti on of Yillita as a slum before restoration began ,
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