La Villita, in the heart of San Antonio, was once the site of a Coahuiltecan Indian village. The first huts in the community were probably erected about 1722. Families of soldiers attached to San Antonio de Béxar Presidio lived on the east side of the San Antonio River, which separated them after 1731 from the more aristocratic Canary Islanders. In 1773 the La Villita area was opened to refugees who moved to San Antonio from East Texas. Events of the Casas Revolt occurred in the little village. By 1819 a fairly exclusive residential area had grown up beside the humble homes of the soldiers. On December 10, 1835, Martín Perfecto de Cos capitulated to Texas soldiers at Villita Street. Tradition holds that the surrender occurred in a house owned at that time by four-time alcalde José María Salinas. The house became known as the Cos House. John Coffee (Jack) Hays lived in the area in 1838. By the 1840s German immigrants had given a European flavor to the section; they were later joined by Swiss and French immigrants. The Indian, Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo colonial history of the section is preserved in the name of the streets and houses of La Villita: Guadalupe Street, Bolivar Hall, Juarez Plaza, Cos House, Canada House, and McAllister Corner.
La Villita was restored as a result of a city ordinance of October 12, 1939, and is owned by the city and operated as a craft and recreational center. The National Youth Administration assisted in the two-year restoration, during which 1,800 youths were trained in arts and crafts. San Antonio architect O'Neil Ford and others contributed to the project. During World War II La Villita was used as a Red Cross Center. At the end of the war it was returned to the purpose of preserving early Texas and Spanish culture, fostering arts and crafts, and providing a community center. In 1948 artists and master craftsmen taught apprentices in some fifteen shops in the village. In 1972 the twenty-seven buildings in the area were added to the National Register of Historic Places. The authenticity of even small details has made the restoration project a demonstration of the development of Southwestern architecture. La Villita is the site of the annual Night in Old San Antonio celebration, as well as numerous other festivals, meetings, and fairs.