San Antonio’s Casa Blanca restaurant had proud political history

Date:

What ever happened to Casa Blanca restaurant? It used to be catty-corner to Santa Rosa Hospital. We’d go there for a midnight snack after big social events in the 1950s, but I’m sure it was there before I started going to local dances. Social clubs were all the rage, sponsoring elegant dances. I belonged to the Marizel Club for Hispanic young ladies. My oldest brother, Oscar Elizondo, was co-founder of Club Maya, made up of Hispanic young leaders, attorneys, doctors and businessmen. They sponsored one or two elaborately decorated dances a year, held at La Villita, the Menger Hotel or the St. Anthony, where one dressed to the nines, and guys and girls met socially. The most notable and prominent was Club Selene, which sponsored the Black and White Ball — very posh. At the end of an evening, we would either end up at La Casa Blanca or Earl Abel’s, eventually Mi Tierra.

 — Dora Elizondo Guerra

This spot at West Houston and Santa Rosa streets was once a locus of Hispanic success in San Antonio. From 1919 through 1968, with changes in name, ownership and address, this was a successful and significant Mexican restaurant (minus a year as a soft-drinks shop owned by Italian-born Louis Paletta, who would later found Paletta’s Imported Foods).

The restaurant — first La Tapatia, then El Poblano, later Carta Blanca and finally from 1948, Casa Blanca — was in the center of a complex of medical offices occupied by a prominent surgeon, Dr. Aureliano Urrutia (discussed here Nov. 6, 2009), a Mexican emigré who practiced with some of his children.

Dr. Aureliano Urrutia, a prominent local surgeon shown here in 1939 in front of his Miraflores estate, founded not only a clinic but a medical dynasty with his children, many of whom became doctors and pharmacists.
Dr. Aureliano Urrutia, a prominent local surgeon shown here in 1939 in front of his Miraflores estate, founded not only a clinic but a medical dynasty with his children, many of whom became doctors and pharmacists.UTSA Special Collections

“According to the 1951 city directory, the restaurant was surrounded by Urrutias,” said Beth Standifird of the San Antonio Conservation Society library, who researched the location in city directories and Sanborn Insurance Co. maps.

MORE ON URRUTIA: Larger-than-life doc’s compound didn’t include hospital

The Urrutia Clinic, founded by Mexican-born surgeon Aureliano Urrutia, was at 205 N. Laredo St. from 1926 until it fell to urban renewal in 1970.
The Urrutia Clinic, founded by Mexican-born surgeon Aureliano Urrutia, was at 205 N. Laredo St. from 1926 until it fell to urban renewal in 1970.UTSA Special Collections

The Urrutia Clinic and Pharmacy, built in 1926 for the elder Urrutia, who emigrated from Mexico as a result of the revolution there, was at 205 N. Laredo St., at the northeast corner of West Houston and Laredo, where daughter Refugio was the head pharmacist. Doctors Adolfo and Carlos Urrutia, who practiced with their father, had offices at 208-10 and 212 N. Santa Rosa, respectively. Their brother Hector, a dentist, had a clinic next door to the restaurant on Houston Street. 

Around the corner from the Urrutia Clinic, the Urrutia Pharmacy was run by the founding doctor’s daughter, pharmacist Refugio Urrutia.
Around the corner from the Urrutia Clinic, the Urrutia Pharmacy was run by the founding doctor’s daughter, pharmacist Refugio Urrutia.UTSA Special Collections

As the Carta Blanca (1931-1948), it was for a time the only place in town that carried the Mexican lager by that name. The 150-seat restaurant also was known for offering “original dishes such as chicken tacos with aguacate (avocado), young goat (cabrito) in tomato sauce, chicken with rice and chicken Spanish style.” All were prepared in-house by “native women trained in the art of this particular cookery,” says the San Antonio Light, Nov. 25, 1933.

S.A. RESTAURANT HISTORY: El Matador was a power-lunch hangout

In an advertorial (Light, Nov. 25, 1957), longtime owner José Nunez said Casa Blanca was popular with “visiting firemen (dignitaries) from Mexico” as well as “the place to which San Antonians take their Anglo visitors when they want to offer them Mexican food as it is known beyond the border,” citing chile rellenos and a “different and delightful” breakfast — huevos rancheros, with or without chorizo.

At Casa Blanca (1951-1968), atmosphere was as important as the food. Although the restaurant welcomed everyone, it afforded “a very elegant dining experience for the Hispanic community in San Antonio,” said Tony Cantu, longtime owner of Audry’s Mexican restaurant, formerly at 601 Camden St. near McCullough Avenue. From the early 1940s, the Carta Blanca/Casa Blanca “was the go-to place for meetings and downtown politics.” 

After consulting with his aunt Annie Zamarippa, age 97, they recalled that “the wait staff was always decked out in elegant suits, and service was impeccable.” Because Casa Blanca was open 24 hours, it was “available after events that ran into the early morning hours,” such as the annual International Black and White Ball.

S.A. RESTAURANT HISTORY: Aztec basement turned out to be best place for Old South Cafe in downtown San Antonio

The Casa Blanca’s clientele probably overlapped with the membership of the social clubs. Cantu also remembers hearing from his parents Audry and Bennie J. Cantu that “one evening, after a night of dancing, they were at the restaurant when Gus Garcia, the famed lawyer who had recently won a major case, walked in and was greeted with a standing ovation from the entire restaurant, including the staff and all the customers.”

We don’t know which case they were applauding, but Gustavo C. “Gus” Garcia (1915-1964) was an attorney on the plaintiff’s side of Hernandez v. State of Texas and as such was one of the first Hispanic attorneys to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Famed civil rights lawyer Gus Garcia spoke to a crowd on his 1953 Supreme Court anti-discrimination win from a second-floor balcony of the Casa Blanca restaurant.
Famed civil rights lawyer Gus Garcia spoke to a crowd on his 1953 Supreme Court anti-discrimination win from a second-floor balcony of the Casa Blanca restaurant.UTSA Special Collections

“On Jan. 19, 1953, he and attorney Carlos Cadena of San Antonio filed a writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court to seek review of the Hernandez case, since the trial was decided by an all-white jury in Edna,” says a history on the Gus Garcia University School website, gusgarcia.eisd.net. The Supreme Court voted unanimously in favor of Hernandez, and the decision extended the provisions of the 14th Amendment for “equal protection under the law” to any ethnic group experiencing discrimination.

Garcia used one of the balconies of the former Carta Blanca Hotel on the Casa Blanca’s second floor “to speak to a huge crowd … report (ing) his triumph in (the) discrimination case,” says the Light, April 25, 1970. The upstairs rooms also were “used many times for banquets honoring politicos after winning an election.”

S.A. RESTAURANT HISTORY: Second Mexican Manhattan had no relation to original restaurant

Former Mexican Presidents Miguel Aleman and Avila Camacho ate there “when they were on the campaign trail,” and so did Texas Govs. Miriam Ferguson, Price Daniel, Allan Shivers and James V. Allred.

Texas Gov. Price Daniel was one of several politicians who made it a point to stop at the Casa Blanca restaurant to see and be seen by its influential Hispanic clientele.
Texas Gov. Price Daniel was one of several politicians who made it a point to stop at the Casa Blanca restaurant to see and be seen by its influential Hispanic clientele.UTSA Special Collections

The Casa Blanca restaurant was last listed in the city directory in 1968; it was vacant by 1970. The 1971 Sanborn map shows a vacant lot. 

“As time passed, this area became very desirable for development,” said Cantu, “and the property was sold.”

Along with the Urrutia clinic and office buildings — a “nearly square-block complex,” as described on the Urrutia historical website, www.quintaurrutia.com — the restaurant’s former site was redeveloped into the Rosa Verde Towers medical office building.

Next week:  The colorful history of the Black and White Ball

[email protected] | Twitter: @sahistorycolumn | Facebook: SanAntoniohistorycolumn

Share post:

Subscribe

Popular

More like this
Related

Scottie Scheffler leading the Masters isn’t the most exciting thing in his life right now

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Collin Morikawa climbed the hill to...

New Masters Apple Vision Pro app gives golf fans whole new way to experience the tournament

The Masters Tournament is adding virtual reality and generative...

Six 6s in an over! Big-hitting Nepal finisher joins Yuvraj Singh, Kieron Pollard in elite list. Watch | Cricket News

NEW DELHI: Nepal's middle-order batter Dipendra Singh Airee on...

Coinspeaker: List of 23 Companies Registered with Cryptocurrency Exchange in Indonesia

According to Coinspeaker, the Minister of Trade of Indonesia, Zulkifli Hasan, officially...