Historic San Benito Dance Hall 'La Villita' Restored

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SAN BENITO – What was once the spot in San Benito, is now back to its former glory thanks to some new owners.

La Villita, located on Robertson Street, was built in the 1940s. It was the place to go on Saturday nights.

The historic dance hall had to close its doors a year ago for renovation to meet modern city codes. Many went to its ribbon-cutting ceremony because it’s a place full of special memories.

Some looked for familiar faces among the crowds in the old black and white photos. Delia Silva said she was 15 years old when she was captured in one of the pictures.

“And even when there were bailes de paga, you had to pay. But my father loved dancing so he would bring us,” she said.

Fernando Sanchez and his wife, Eva, built La Villita.

“He built this. When the strip malls were something new, he was ahead of the game. He bought all this,” said Rey Avila, president of the Texas Conjunto Hall of Fame and Museum.

He said Sanchez owned the whole block and rented spaces for nearby restaurants and beauty shops.  

“In the beginning, it didn’t have a roof. It had the walls, and later he put the roof and all that,” said Avila.

The group calls it the birthplace of conjunto music.

Joe and Cruz Rodriguez said there were also many memories made in La Villita.

“And I saw this guy that came through the door and I told my friend, ‘I like that guy,’” Cruz said. “And so he came over to ask me to dance and the rest is history. We’ve been married for 63 years.”

Mike Diaz and his wife, Luz, bought La Villita in 2005 and brought it back to its original prominence while under Sanchez.

“It’s nice to hear those stories, that this is where they took their vows, had their families and friends over. Certain conjunto played,” he said. “El Jardin, the project, La Gallina, all the barrios where he knew his customers lived.”

One little known secret about the former owner is that he had his own way of advertising events at La Villita.

“He would go around town with a bullhorn on top of his truck. So, everybody came. From all over the Valley really,” said Avila. “He came out with the saying, ‘El que no conoce La Villita, no conoce San Benito.’”

If you don’t know La Villita, you don’t know San Benito. Avila said the saying still lives today. 

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