The House of Guadalupe

When Danny López Lozano passed away in 1993, the city lost an original presence who inspired a group of then-unknown local artists, writers, poets, and musicians who have since come into their own. And while Lozano might claim little credit for their rise in the local and national cultural scenes, he must secretly be enjoying the moment. After all, he was their mother.

I met Danny in 1968, when HemisFair was in full swing and we were both in our early 20s. The World’s Fair had brought international culture to the city, if for only a few months, but its effect on young artists proved incalculable.

We spent an entire evening talking about Andy Warhol, John Rechy, and Truman Capote. I later invited him to the art cinema on Main Street (now the Saint) that featured underground and X-rated films. On Saturdays, through a cloud of heavy smoke, one could see short works by local budding filmmakers like myself. Anyone who even dreamt of being hip had to be there, and usually was.

Danny was like a sponge, remembering dates and names and events that he would later use to impress the young male friends that would frequent his mother’s rural Four Points Grocery. This was Danny’s first tiendita. Danny could hold court there and be the center of attention. His customers knew it was easy to get a six-pack on credit, and Danny always knew where one could score stronger stuff.

He often called me to report the latest gossip or introduce me to some of his friends. On one particular day, he asked me to come to the store ASAP.

 “I stacked all the cans of Campbell soup in a row,” he said, “and then added the Ro-Tel Tomatoes, the Fideo boxes, and the Masa Harina since we have a lot of those, and made my own Warhol Factory.” 

At the store, I saw he had covered a portion of the ceiling with aluminum foil exactly as I had described Warhol’s Factory interior some weeks previous.

His blending of Tex-Mex elements with New York Pop made for an uneasy yet organic extension of the Warhol style. Of course, he had a young cowboy stocking the installation. “He’s Gerard Malanga,” Danny giggled, referring to Warhol’s assistant while he took Polaroids to document the event.

Back home at the “rancho,” where Danny lived with his parents and younger brother, he had created his own private boudoir with a French candelabra and a room filled with bric-a-brac from Southside thrift shops. The casual observer might expect a swimming pool on the other side of the French drapery, but a stark backyard with abandoned machinery and a couple of chicken coops was the only view. 

I didn’t realize how much Danny actually knew about the outside media world until he showed me Polaroid photos of a 19-year old cowboy posing in his half-unzipped Wrangler Jeans. (“They love them more than Levi’s ’cause it really shows off their ass,” he laughed.) He often supplied the references that he was fishing for. “Very Midnight Cowboy, very Joe Dallesandro, qué no?”

In 1988, Lozano, with business partner Craig Pennel, opened his Tienda Guadalupe at the corner of South Alamo and Beauregard in King William, selling Mexican kitchenware. They initially had little luck with the pots and pans and turned to all things Guadalupe: T-shirts, posters, votives, and anything to do with the Day of the Dead.

“For a while, it was kind of dicey,” said Pennel. “Yankee tourists asked if we worshipped the devil. So we had a big education program to let people know that the skeleton didn’t necessary mean something evil.”

The parties and get-togethers that followed came from an old Texas tradition.

“Danny and I hung out on the patio,” Pennel recalls, “and had a rickety old table with cold beer and an ice chest to see whoever turned up. And if there is free beer, people turn up.

“We finally moved into a nice apartment on Madison Street. More of the things that happened were at parties there. And the group of people that gathered on a regular basis.”

For writer Sandra Cisneros, Tienda Guadalupe was instrumental in keeping her in San Antonio.

 “I didn’t like SA the first time I lived here, with all these macho men,” said Cisneros. “So to come back and be introduced to the gay community of San Antonio, the Latino gay community, was an ushering into a new layer of the city.

“So suddenly there was a community I was familiar with. I felt at home. Meeting Danny was like finding familia.”

Pennel and Cisneros were part of the House of Guadalupe. The moniker came about after the group had seen the documentary film Paris is Burning and instantly identified themselves with the streetwise “vogue” groups known as Houses. The parties on Madison Street soon turned into extravaganzas. “There were themes at certain parties,” Pennel said. “One night Franco Mondini might be La Contessa or the studly college-football hero. Sandra often dressed up Sandra-style and posed.

 “We lived like millionaires. It was the whole rasquache way of doing with what you have on hand. In other words, close to the edge. The Tienda was really popular by 1992 and there was good cash flow.”

The dinner parties were often as hysterically funny as they were daring.

“Danny was all about these hilarious juxtapositions, like Lalique china and crystal and Church’s fried chicken.” Cisneros said. “He was working-class, but a person who wanted to impress you with his good taste and good things. He liked mixing it up. He made you proud of your working-class background, so you weren’t ashamed you liked Church’s fried chicken, but he’d make it elegant. And he’d have all these beautiful flower arrangements. But the flowers came from an empty lot across the street and he’d gone and just cut them.

“It was very common that you would go to a dinner party in his house and you’d be sitting next to a stripper and a neo-Nazi punk Chicano. You wondered where he got these people. It was kind of Andy Warhol. I was always amazed and a bit frightened by the people he would assemble. He would bring them with buen corazón, trying to show them another way to be. But you don’t invite them to your table — but Danny did.”

Asked how he best remembers those halcyon days, Pennel said he preferred to keep those moments private. “His family took a lot of joy in what he was doing there,” said Pennel. “He was the first successful member of their family.”

For Cisneros, Lozano was a teacher.

“Tienda Guadalupe was not just a shop. It was a salon,” Cisneros said. “I saw Danny as the trendsetter that sparked a whole movimiento, including Franco and me, and Ito `Romo`, and so many visual artists, writers, and theater people. Everybody, whether they were wealthy people from King William Street or down-and-out artists, all classes and sexualities, colors of people, would gather there for events, just to stop in to get the latest gossip.

“He could put an altar up and do so beautifully and it was an altar as much influenced by Coco Chanel as Diego Rivera. And some things we might not have known here in Texas because we have lost it somehow in the cultural assimilation of North versus South. He was puro Southside. He was wonderful for waking up in me a sense of South Texas aesthetics.”

I belatedly learned of Danny’s death from throat cancer seven years earlier when I moved back to Texas in 2000. The Tienda continued to operate under Pennel’s management until last year when he closed the business. The Day of the Dead parade continues thanks to the indefatigable Terri Ybañez, a founding member of the House of Guadalupe. Many House of Guadalupe artists have gone on to create their own houses and on to success in the art and literary world.

Trying to sum up Danny’s unique sensibility, I settled in to watch a VHS copy of Paris is Burning. Toward the end of the film, Dorian Corey, who also died in 1993, seemed to be channeling Danny. Or vice versa.

“Everybody wants to leave something behind them, some impression, some mark upon the world,” Corey mused. “And then you think, you’ve left a mark on the world if you just get through it and a few people remember your name. Then you’ve left a mark.

“You don’t have to bend the world. I think it’s better just to enjoy it. Pay your dues and enjoy it. If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high, hooray for you.”

Ditto, Danny and the House of Guadalupe.

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