New look, purpose for Burnett's San Antonio home

June 22, 2011 6:02:01 AM PDT
Growing up poor on the West Side during the Depression, legendary comedian Carol Burnett received some New Deal-enabled aid at her front door. "I remember people coming to the house with a paper bag that might have a chicken in it that we could cook," Burnett said, "and also a paper bag that might have hand-me-down dresses for me."

A few years after Burnett's childhood home was saved from demolition, it again will be a site of largesse, this time from a national provider of early-childhood education and family support services, Teaching and Mentoring Communities.

TMC is partnering with American Sunrise, a family service nonprofit founded by former Mayor and U.S. Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros, to offer a new Head Start program in the Victorian house in which Burnett roller-skated and was raised by her grandmother until striking out by train for California at age 7.

"I'm just so thrilled that the old house, as I call it, was preserved," said Burnett, 78. "I'm doubly elated that they're doing it for this purpose."

The Head Start early-childhood program will serve 51 disadvantaged toddlers and preschool children in the restored house and an adjacent two-story home, said Mary Capello, president of TMC. The federally funded program will emphasize health, school readiness, and social and emotional development.

The adjacent two-story building, in the 2000 block of West Commerce Street, will contain offices and a commercial kitchen and will remain open on the weekends to the community, Capello said. "If there's a need for it," she said, "it will be available."

Cisneros, who grew up four blocks from the Burnett house, sees another benefit to its ongoing restoration: furthering the development of the Commerce Street corridor.

"The corridor is slowly improving," he said. "My hope is that we can have a feng shui at the base of the overpass that says, `Welcome to the city of San Antonio's historic West Side."' Aaron Zaragosa hammered a new frame into Burnett's gutted home Monday.

Told of the program slated to begin in September, he said, "That's beautiful."

Of Burnett, the worker added, "She's from the 'hood, too." The house was nearly demolished in 2007 when Bill Miller Bar-B-Q sought to build a larger restaurant in the 2800 block of West Commerce, where the home had stood. Conservation forces fought back. The restaurant chain agreed to buy the home and donate it to American Sunrise, which paid to cut it into pieces and move it eight blocks to its current location.

H-E-B is now helping to restore it, Cisneros said. "It will add to the community," he said. "Every little bit helps."

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