Lerma’s Live Conjunto Music Venue
1612 N. Zarzamora Street
San Antonio, TX 78201
Currently closed to the public
The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center is the guardian of Lerma’s Nite Club, a building on the national register of historic places. The Esperanza is currently in the process of a capital campaign to raise over 2 million dollars for renovation of the structure. With community support the Esperanza has collected 200,000 dollars worth of donations, in-kind services, and money. Community members and buena gente have conducted a local survey in the surrounding neighborhood to identify community needs which also includes identifying best uses for the building while still keeping Lerma’s culture and historical significance alive.
The building itself was built in approximately 1942 and consists of five separate sections. It is cinder block construction with Art Deco architectural features, including octogonal windows, rounded outer corners, and tile bottom front (currently painted over). The first buyer of the land to show a structure was the Wu family. Photographs of this apparently wealthy family are archived at the Institute of Texan Cultures. Bexar County Appraisal District records show the structure built in 1942, but that may have been the first time the property was listed in the books by The American Service Company. The property was then transferred to six other owners. Each of the five sections of the building have been home to different businesses: a donut shop, a tire shop, a laundry, a dry cleaners, a grocery store, a thrift store, a supply company, a meat market, and a restaurant.
The largest section was first home to El Sombrero, a norteño/mexican/conjunto live music venue. In 1951, Mr. Pablo H. Lerma took over the lease of the larger section (then El Sombrero) and turned it into an exclusively live conjunto music venue and called it Lerma’s Nite Club. Mr. Lerma previously owned a bar called Lerma’s Place on the 900 block of Zarzamora that was registered in the 1948 city directories. His son, Armando, took over the business when his father retired, but eventually he fell ill and decided not to continue with the family business.
Mary and Gilbert Garcia, and Gilbert’s father, were very good friends of the Lerma’s and took over the lease, agreeing to keep using the family name. The business was registered as Lerma’s Nite Club by Mary and Gilbert Garcia after they took over the lease in 1981. The building owner passed away, and the executors of his estate decided to put the building up for sale and offered it to Mary and Gilbert in 1988. Gilbert, a saxophonist and now bar owner, and his wife Mary decided to invest their retirement savings in purchasing the building. The Garcia’s are ardent lovers of conjunto music and provided a venue for local conjunto musicians to ply their trade, get paid, and show off their musical talent. Lerma’s has hosted such stars as Lydia Mendoza, Rita Vidaurri, Eva Ybarra, Flaco Jimenez, Henry Zimmerle, Bene Medina, Santiago Jimenez, and Valerio Longoria, and part of the 1997 movie “Selena” was filmed there.
Before the city of San Antonio closed the building in 2010 due to code violations, Lerma’s would have celebrated 60 years of live Conjunto music, making it the longest-running live conjunto music dance hall located on the Westside of San Antonio. The building is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places. If you would like to become a monthly donor and join our historic preservation effort please contact the Esperanza. To learn more, visit the Save Lerma’s blog.