Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Carol Burnett's childhood home in San Antonio repurposed as school

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Although it’s been, well, a while since a 7-year-old Carol Burnett and her grandmother left their home, a one-story Victorian in a working-class neighborhood on San Antonio’s West Side, and took a train to Los Angeles to set up residence with Carol’s mother in a Hollywood boarding house, Burnett still identifies with the state of her birth.

“Once you’re a Texan, it doesn’t matter if you left when you were five minutes old, you’re a Texan,” Burnett says. “It was a hundred years ago, but what’s really exciting for me is the old house that I remember living in, they were going to tear it down and now it’s going to be a school. They’re going to take me over to see the house.”

The tale begins in 2006, when the Bill Miller Bar-B-Q chain purchased Burnett’s old family home at the corner of Commerce and Rosillo streets in San Antonio’s Prospect Hill neighborhood, along with other homes on the block, and slated it for demolition to put in a parking lot. At that point, San Antonio’s Office of Historic Preservation stepped in and protested. Bill Miller’s then donated the home to American Sunrise, a nonprofit organization founded by former San Antonio mayor and Housing and Urban Development secretary Henry Cisneros.

Cisneros said recently that Balous Miller, one of the restaurant chain’s partners, had called him and said, “We’ve got a dilemma. We’re looking for a nonprofit to do this quickly!” Eventually — through corporate donations, including a large grant from H-E-B — the home was cut into sections, moved eight blocks away, reassembled and extensively rebuilt. Now managed by the nonprofit organization Teaching and Mentoring Communities, the building, along with one next door, will be used to house a Head Start program for disadvantaged pre-K children and toddlers, a large percentage of them children of Hispanic immigrants.

There’s poetic justice and a sense of things coming full circle in this little-known connection between Carol Burnett and Henry Cisneros, which is all about — what else? — home and family. Cisneros also grew up in the Prospect Hill neighborhood and still lives there, in a home that once belonged to his grandparents. He recalled meeting Burnett when he was mayor and she visited the city, adding that they hit it off immediately and he was “impressed by her energy and attitude.”

Cisneros said that renovations are complete and the interior will be furnished in time for Burnett’s visit on Sunday (she’s performing in San Antonio two days before her Austin show).

Then as now, Burnett’s old neighborhood, and Cisneros’s lifelong base, is economically challenged.

“We wanted to be anything other than a fortress in the midst of decline all around us,” Cisneros said. “We wanted to improve the lives of people who didn’t have a prayer of succeeding in life.”

Cisneros won’t say for certain whether this particular house was spared only because of the Burnett connection. “It certainly adds to the historical quality that Carol Burnett lived there, but it’s an immaculate example of Victorian architecture, with a wraparound porch.

“This is one of the poorest census tracts in the city. We’re fortunate in that the people who lived in the house always took care of it, it had a good foundation and it looked good after all these years.

“Carol Burnett’s home will be put to good use. It looks gorgeous, it’s a wonderful addition to the neighborhood. It will be used for parental involvement. We start from a premise that we can’t really reach the children until we’re helping the parents.”

It’s something that Burnett, who is known for a TV show that families watched together, can readily get behind. No word on whether the floor still retains the grooves she made in it by roller-skating up and down the hallways as a girl. But now it’s time for other children to be playing, and learning, in her old house.