It is the small simple things of life that bring us peace.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Enchilada Red

In San Antonio when you hear the expression "Enchilada Red" you know that the speaker is not referring to a delicious plate of enchiladas. 

This is what enchilada red refers to - this is our main library.  Yes, it is a library.  The main one that is known as Central Library.  This six-story building holds almost 600,000 volumes and is 240,000 square feet in size and it is known by its nickname "Enchilada Red".

Prior to the construction of this very unusual structure there was a two-story building on this site that was home to Sears.  I remember it being a simple building with nice lines that resembled buildings constructed in the early 1940's.  It was a classic Sears store and during the years that I worked downtown I went there for the things that one usually goes to Sears for; it also had a full service cafeteria that offered a nice, reasonably priced lunch and I would shop and then stop for lunch. 

Sad to say, they tore down the lovely old building and started building Enchilada Red in July 1993; I left downtown in late 1994 and had been unable to go anywhere near the construction site as I was genuinely peeved that they had opted to tear down the old store.  I wasn't the only one in the city; there was quite an outcry, but it was mostly heard with deaf ears.  Citizens were more or less told that they didn't know what was what when it came to making decisions and to let the all-knowing powers that be decide what this city needed. 

The San Antonio Public Library site states that this building "is a bold departure from traditional library design, and has changed the face of downtown San Antonio".  Yes, I have to agree with that statement - it is indeed bold and if you get turned around, just look for the big red building and you'll get your bearings.

I had never been inside this building until the day after Labor Day; the branch libraries had always served my needs, but I wanted to do some research in the newspaper archives. I probably didn't really give my first visit to this library a fair chance as I had almost overdone myself in the heat before I got there.   If you read Out and About then you know how I spent my morning of that day.  I took Bentley home and then headed out to eat lunch at the Southwest School of Art.  I had a great lunch, visited the new exhibit they have set up on the history of the Ursuline Convent that was the original occupant of the property, walked down to the river for a few minutes, walked over and across a bridge I wanted to photograph, and then came back and made pictures of the chapel at SSA.  It was very hot, probably already in the mid-90's.  By the time I walked across the street to the library I was very hot and not feeling too well (did I have water with me? No!).  Not the best way to enter the library on my first visit.

In addition to having a hard time finding the door into the building, I had a hard time inside the building finding the Texana collection where the archives are housed.  No maps, no sign, and the guy at the information desk was too busy checking out lap tops.  I saw a little sign by the elevator and determined that I needed the sixth floor.  Everything in this library was sleek and modern, from the furniture to the neon art on the walls it screamed MODERN.  The sixth floor had no directories either and I finally found someone to ask for directions to the Texana section.  A little more wandering and I was there, but couldn't find anyone to help direct me to the microfiche files.  Finally, a guy appeared and showed me where they were and got me started on a microfiche reader (he acted like I was a moron but at that point I didn't care).  The library was cool and I began to cool off, but it was also dark by the readers and I had a flash back to my early college days when I tried to use microfiche and usually had a headache and felt like I had been riding in the backseat of a car all day.  This time it was no different.  After 45 minutes I was feeling really bad and knew I had to leave.  Truthfully, I loved reading the old newspapers and had to force myself to keep moving through the articles to find what I hoped to find. I'm hoping on future visits to a) not walk around in the heat after eating a big meal before I go, b) not be irritated because I can't figure out where to go, and c) not be irritated at the décor of the library (the way it is is the way it is!).

This is turning out to be a long post, so back to the library itself.  In my search to find a picture of the old Sears building I did find an article in the San Antonio Express News that had a photograph of the store as well as information about the designer of the new library, Ricardo Legorreta.  If you click on the link above you will see the picture of the store and read the article.  It was written by someone that has to be very narrow minded and if I had read this when it was published I would definitely have been responding to his editor. I read it several times and decided that I was just taking it the wrong way because this building's design doesn't meet my idea of what the main library serving a large city should look like. Yes, it is designed to reflect the Hispanic heritage of our city (as the article states) and it does so very well.  Although truthfully, so does the tremendous quantity of Mission Revival and Spanish Colonial architecture throughout the city.  This article seemed to knock down the idea of the traditional architecture in our city and label it as wrong; it also seemed to be slamming the critics without considering their viewpoint.

I consider myself an open minded person and embrace the fact that we are all different - diversity is a good thing to me.  I may not agree with you and I do not have to accept the way you think, but I will try to understand your viewpoint and I accept the fact that it is different. In seeking to understand others we become diverse.  This library is different and I really don't care for it, but the way it is is the way it is and that has to be accepted.  I do have to wonder if in 50 or 100 years they will look at it and say, "OMG, that awful old red building has to go"  or will they say "OMG, we have to save this for future generations". Tear it down versus save it has been at the heart of our city's preservation fight for a long time, as it is elsewhere, too.  I don't think it will be any different for Enchilada Red.


  1. I love modernism, and brutalism, so I actually like this building a lot. I don't get the connection to "Hispanic heritage" from it, but that may reflect that I don't know much about Latino use of modernism. Surely that phrase has to mean something other than the color itself.

  2. I'm not much on modern architecture. I love classic lines and red brick but it seems that library designers have decided that an nontraditional approach to new library designs will someone get the masses to come inside and look around. The Mitchell Memorial Library at Mississippi State was designed with this in mind I think and the only nod to the very classic architecture surrounding it was they thankfully made the outside with red brick.