Southside Reporter – Noi Mahoney
A former nightclub called Beer Bellys, on Mission Road has been reborn as Emanuel Community Church.
Members of the church bought the building at 2908 Mission Road around four months ago and have spent $40,000 turning the former night club where such bands as Los Banger Broz, performed into a place of worship.
“We used the wood and frames from the dance floor to create walls for the church sanctuary,” said Pastor Eddie Leija Jr. “The floor where people used to dance are now helping to hold up these walls so we can glorify God.”
Emanuel Community Church has grown significantly since Eddie Leija Sr. founded it out of his small home in 1998. Back then, the name of the church was Iglesia Emanuel Pentecostal and the congregation was around 30 people.
“At times, the old house could get pretty crowded,” said his son, Eddie Leija Jr. “We had to arrange the chairs a certain way as to make room for everyone.”
Eddie Leija Sr. said he founded the church because he wanted to give back to the community around his Harlandale area home.
“The more we give, the more the Lord blesses us,” Eddie Leija Sr. said.
Eddie Leija Sr. retired as pastor several years ago and today Eddie Leija Jr., now leads the church. Currently, the congregation numbers around 60 people and the new building has room for plenty more.
The church now meets in its new 8,500-square-foot facility that includes a sanctuary, daycare center, playground and more.
Eddie Leija Jr. credits the expansion of the church through hard work and everyone giving back to the local area.
“It has been a long road, but a good one,” Eddie Leija Jr. said.
The church has services at 1 p.m. Sundays and 7 p.m. Wednesdays.
Before the Leija’s bought the property, it was used by several businesses, including Evans Ice House, the El Ojo De Agua Mexican Restaurant, the Mission Ballroom and finally a bar and grill called Beer Bellys.
Evans Ice House opened in the 1960s. Eddie Leija Jr. remembers as a child he used to go to Evans and buy raspberry-flavored Hippo soda water. The older neighbors like the Leija’s remembered Evans Ice House as a corner grocery for decades.
By 2007, Evans Ice House concentrated on beer and pool. It lost its wine and beer license, after then Bexar County Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace William E. Donovan ruled that the way Evans ran the bar “may jeopardize the general welfare, health, peace, morals, safety and sense of decency of the people,” according to a 2007 article in the San Antonio Express-News.
The concern, the story explained, was based on increasing police calls, music thumping late into the night, illegal gambling and a brawl.
Armando Cortez, president of the Mission San Jose Neighborhood Association, said the residents work hard to improve the quality of life in the area, fighting to keep unsafe bars and strip clubs from disturbing the neighborhood.
“We definitely would rather have a church there, than a business that is not conducive to the neighborhood,” Cortez said.
Eddie Leija Jr. said it took a lot of hard work to improve the building that now houses Emanuel Community Church.
Soon, Emanuel Community Church will offer ESL and GED classes, entrepreneur classes, as well as a once-a-month food pantry for residents in need.
“We believe it is the church’s responsibility to help the community get better,” Eddie Leija Jr. said. “We are hoping to give people hope.”