The Youth Center was first proposed to city council on May 8, 1941, and was originally in a home that was run by the Travis County Humane Society.
Through adopting this resolution, the city believed that it would eventually be able to purchase the property. Property owners, however, had differing ideas about the worth of their property, especially since one of the property owners was a business. Under the helm of City Manager Walter E. Seaholm, the city moved to acquire the land through eminent domain as of May 29, 1952. The funds used to “buy” the land were also used to expand Zilker Park.
Segregation allowed for inequitable funding of different divisions of the Parks and Recreation Department. The director of the Pan American Center was paid more than the director of all park facilities used for “Colored Activities,” even though the neighborhoods were adjacent. However, “Colored Activities” were more expansive and received more funding than the Pan American Center. Both Pan American Recreation Center and Doris Miller Auditorium were used as election sites by city ordinance as of May 8, 1958.
Beginning in 1958, Mrs. Nolan Miller stood as the Presiding Judge of the Pan American Recreation Center election site, with George Studer as an Assistant Judge. There were varying clerks and alternate clerks, but no Chicano last names appeared, even as alternate judges, until July 30, 1964. The first Chicano Presiding Judge of the Pan American Recreation Center election site was actually Mrs. Charles Villaseñor, as of March 23, 1967.
Immediately after Mrs. Villaseñor, Paul Gil took over the site as Presiding Judge with Mrs. Edna Earl Bush as Alternate Presiding Judge on September 13, 1967.
With an increase in capital improvement programs, Pan American was denied funding as of June 9, 1970 because of the belief that the land between Fiesta Gardens and the recreation center would not increase as rapidly as land in West Austin. In fact, air conditioning was not added to the center until February 22, 1973, and the facility was not made accessible until December 30, 1976. No Chicano names appeared again as Presiding Judges until August 24, 1972.
The first time Oswaldo Cantu appears in city records in relation to the center was as a Presiding Judge. This is another example of why historic erasure matters because Oswaldo Cantu was much more than that. When working for the city, he served as a boxing instructor, having founded the Pan American Boxing Club beginning in 1956, when boxing matches were held at the city coliseum. Referred to as “Oswaldo Cantu” in some of the records and “A. B. Cantu” in others, onlookers would not be able to piece together that he ran the boxing program with the city at the Pan American Recreation Center until he was moved to South Austin as of September 10, 1980, due to budget cuts. He returned as a Presiding Judge of the election site in 1981. Running a prolific boxing program and advocating for the youth is why the community chose Oswaldo A. B. Cantu as an icon, and that is why the center was renamed to honor him on his 66th birthday.