La Casa de la Raza — a longtime cultural and political hub for the city’s Latino community — is poised to be designated as a community landmark. La Casa’s building at the corner of East Montecito Street and Calle César Chávez was initially a building supply warehouse built in 1917. It’s architecturally distinguished by the three-story octagonal tower with a belvedere and a weathervane on the top. But it’s its 50-year cultural history as a Latino cultural center that marks its importance to the city.
Started in 1970 as the Chicano Positive Movement, it morphed into La Casa de la Raza three years later. Though in recent years, La Casa fell on protracted economic troubles that recently led to the building’s foreclosure, in the 1970s, it was the place where César Chávez of the United Farm Workers would stop, where El Teatro Campesino and later Teatro de Esperanza would perform. Inside, muralist Manuel Unzueta used the walls of La Casa as his urban canvas.
By the 1980s, La Casa offered space for classes, after-school programs, work training, counseling, dances, concerts, weddings, quinceañeras, and other community events at extremely affordable prices. Since mid-March, La Casa has opened its doors, providing food clothing and supplies to families in need, and space for organizations focused on racial and social justice.
Tomas Castelo, one of the original founders of La Casa and the man who assumed ownership of it after the foreclosure, said he enthusiastically supports the historical landmark designation. The landmark question goes before the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission this week. Such a designation would not preclude Castelo from changing the interior of the property but would prevent him from altering the exterior in any way. Whatever decision Historic Landmarks makes, it will be up to the City Council to make the final call.
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