The protagonist of Sandra Cisneros’ famous novel The House on Mango Street grew up in a crumbling house in a disadvantaged neighborhood. But Cisneros’ iconic San Antonio home, which she sold this week to an undisclosed buyer, was a beautiful paean to Tejano pride.
Painted a distinctive shade of “periwinkle purple,” the home became famous in the late 90s, when Cisneros got ensnared in a legal battle with the San Antonio Historic and Design Review Commission over the color she had chosen (they claimed it was not historically appropriate). It became such a thing, that Cisneros even felt compelled to release a statement about it, which is worth revisiting more than 20 years later.
“One day I painted my house tejano colors; the next day, my house is in all the news, cars swarming by, families having their photos taken in front of my purple casita as if it were the Alamo. The neighbors put up an iced-tea stand and made 10 dollars!,” she said.
“All this happened because I chose to live where I do. I live in San Antonio because I’m not a minority here. I live in the King William neighborhood because I love old houses. Since my neighborhood is historic, certain code restrictions apply. Any house alteration plans must be approved by the Historic Design and Review Committee. This is to preserve the neighborhood’s historic character, and that’s fine by me.
Because I thought I had permission, I gave the go-ahead to have my house painted colors I considered regional – but as it turns out, they hadn’t been approved. However, I was given the chance to prove them historically appropriate. So I did my research, and what I found is this: We don’t exist.
My history is made up of a community whose homes were so poor and unimportant as to be considered unworthy of historic preservation. No famous architect designed the houses of the tejanos, and there are no books in the San Antonio Conservation Society library about houses of the working-class community, no photos romanticizing their poverty, no ladies’ auxiliary working toward preserving their presence. Their homes are gone; their history is invisible. The few historic homes that survived have access cut off by freeways because city planners did not judge them important.”
Eventually Cisneros and the San Antonio Historic and Design Review Commission reached an agreement, (and she later painted her house a pinkish color) but you should all read more about the purple passion over Cisneros’ home in this great 1997 article in Texas Monthly.
As of this week, the house is no longer hers, (it sold for a reported $995,000), but the photos of the incredibly colorful ode to tejano spirit are worth checking out and preserving.