San Antonio’s Surprising History Behind Roosevelt Avenue

San Antonio’s Roosevelt Avenue may have different meanings to residents depending on which part of town the road passes through, but the road is still quite important to the town of Alamo. Roosevelt is home to a number of local gems and institutions, but also has a good story for history buffs.

In a fascinating conversation with former Trinity University professor Char Miller, he said there’s more to Roosevelt Avenue than meets the eye. For local residents, it is undoubtedly a reflection of the spirit and bustle of the city, home to beloved local gems. At the same time, Miller pointed out that Roosevelt is, in some ways, not at all representative of San Antonio in his creation.

A trio of pork tacos at Carnitas Lonja is a staple for meals on Roosevelt Ave.

Bob Owen/Staff File Photo

To begin with, it was first created with visitors in mind. Miller essentially calls it a “tourist center,” a center built with services for travelers in mind. You’ll find a number of motels, auto shops (so many tire shops!), and restaurants on Roosevelt, spaces that are undoubtedly full of out-of-towners. It may not be obvious, but Roosevelt was designed to work the way he does. Look at a map and you’ll realize (or maybe remember) that the route is US Highway 281 outside of the 410 loop.

This is another thing. It’s not named after a key figure in San Antonio, but rather after someone who briefly spent time in the city: Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States. During the Spanish-American War in Cuba, Miller says the jolly-looking politician trained his troops in the south of the city, though he also recruited his Rough Riders from the Menger Hotel bar.

Stopping at Roosevelt Park means easy access to fun activities on the San Antonio River.

Stopping at Roosevelt Park means easy access to fun activities on the San Antonio River.

B. Kay Richter for mySA

Roosevelt would visit the Menger Hotel again during his presidency, even giving a speech at Alamo Plaza, but his history with San Antonio doesn’t go much further than that. Still, San Antonio politicians and leaders felt that Roosevelt’s brief contacts with San Antonio were significant enough to name an entire—and major—road after him. Miller suggests this name choice was intentional, saying it was meant to influence how residents and visitors interact with Roosevelt Avenue.

Despite the road roots, it turns out the residents put Roosevelt to good use.

It's a rite of passage in San Antonio to celebrate Easter or go to a birthday party in Roosevelt Park.

It’s a rite of passage in San Antonio to celebrate Easter or go to a birthday party in Roosevelt Park.

B. Kay Richter for mySA

Starting at Saint Mary’s Street in Roosevelt Park, which is located across from the Roosevelt Library, Roosevelt Avenue begins not far from downtown, runs through Southtown, and heads deep into the Southside. Head down the road and you’ll see a number of longtime gems like Judy’s Food To-Go and Mission Marquee Plaza (former home of the Mission Drive-In) as well as new standouts like Carnitas Lonja and Lala’s Gorditas. Throughout, there are a number of neighborhood favorites. It crosses the San Antonio River and runs along Mission San Jose, parts of the city that changed but were respected as Roosevelt developed.

Huevos rancheros plate with two eggs, ranchera sauce, papas rancheras, refried beans and flour tortillas from Judy's Food To Go.

Huevos rancheros plate with two eggs, ranchera sauce, papas rancheras, refried beans and flour tortillas from Judy’s Food To Go.

Mike Sutter /San Antonio Express-News

Roosevelt Avenue is teeming with culture, relevant to San Antonio today and to generations past. Although his name does not reflect this, there is no doubt that Roosevelt is an example of all that the city of Alamo has to offer.