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Eliseo G. Alvarado, Cement Zoo

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About the Artist/Site

The eldest son of Rafael and María Expectation, Alvarado was born in La Vernia, Texas. He moved to San Antonio in 1925 with the hopes of securing work, and ultimately held a variety of positions, including one in which he helped to build the airstrip at Kelly Air Force Base. He married Macaria López in 1945 and they had six children; the job he held before his retirement was serving as groundskeeper for many of the golf courses owned by the City of San Antonio.

Following his retirement, Alvarado began looking for something to occupy his free time, so in the late 1970s and early 1980s he began constructing a series of sculptures in the yard around his home, thinking that his grandchildren would enjoy playing with (and on) them. He had enjoyed making animals out of mud as a child, but this time, in order to make them more permanent, he utilized a base of chicken wire that he then sheathed in concrete. Most of the sculptures were animals, including a rare white rhino, a horse, a giraffe whose neck almost reached the height of the house’s roof, a donkey with one ear, a two-ton elephant, a Brahma bull, a calf, a two-humped camel, and a goat; there were also wagon wheels and wishing wells and windmills and whirligigs, several planters made in the shape of hats or baskets, and the occasional reformed and repainted garden figurine. The animals were generally stocky, revealing limbs without joints and barely differentiated hooves or facial features, but they seemed to have smiling faces, compelling and attractive to the children, and they were painted in realistic colors. These, along with a small shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe, soon crowded the yard of his modest one-story west side home.

Alvarado sold most of the works to a collector from New Braunfels, Texas, in 1999 (who needed a crane to haul them out of the front yard), although two of the animals (the bull and the horse) had been donated to the permanent collection of the San Antonio Museum of Art in the mid-1980s. He was apparently never convinced that his work was art; “If they say it is, I guess it is,” he said in an interview with the San Antonio Express News in 1999; he had earlier declined to sell any works because he was worried that the neighborhood children would lose their playthings. Asked to value the works for his gift to the museum, Alvarado counted up the cost of cement and paint and valued the two animals at around $117.

Alvarado continued living in his home until he died at the age of 90; the family, relieved of the responsibility of having to continuously care for and maintain the sculptures, express satisfaction that they can visit some of the works at the local museum.

The site is no longer extant.

~Jo Farb Hernández



Map and site information

1022 Cecelia Street
San Antonio, Texas, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 29.433232 / -98.533463

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