San Antonio Roundup May 2024

May 30, 2024 Blog, Technology, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (1) 50

Tomorrow is the last day of May and the last time the Institute of Texan Cultures will be open in their original 1968 home, a Brutalist landmark that is the only downtown building by a Mexican-American architect, as I detailed recently here.

What else is happening in San Antonio (not counting endless evidence-free speculation about a downtown Spurs stadium)?

This is a 1920s bungalow at 800 W Russell Place in Alta Vista, which is not a landmark district. As you can see, it is getting a new roof. Here is a view from North Flores:

Much of the original clapboard is being preserved. Here is what the house looked like three years ago after its second fire…

In most towns this building is demolished.

In San Antonio, where preservation is more ingrained into the local psyche than elsewhere, this building is coming back three years later in its original form, most of which will be new material. That is how we roll (with the exception of the Institute of Texan Cultures above). I have seen buildings with massive holes in the roof and collapsed porches and chimneys brought back from the dead here. It is not unusual. It is an ethic.

Three years ago Sue Ann Pemberton’s Main Street Architects brought this Monte Vista house back from the dead. Heck, over 30 years ago the Harnisch House in King William was completely gutted by a fire, nothing left but masonry walls. So here it is a few years ago:

But the threats that came up in May 2024 were of a different sort. First, there was a proposal for a 200-foot high Ferris Wheel three blocks behind the Alamo. The Conservation Society was the first to oppose it when it went for rezoning, but we were quickly joined by the Alamo Trust, Centro and others and the matter has been deferred, perhaps indefinitely. The proponents didn’t want to call it a Ferris Wheel but an “observation wheel”. I suppose it isn’t the 1893 wheel by Ferris (which was a riposte to Eiffel’s tower of four years earlier) and it was to be a bit smaller.

The bigger question was why downtown?

Six years ago, the Alamo Reimagined Plan was all about bringing a sense of reverence to Alamo Plaza, pushing out the populist entertainments for a more refined atmosphere. Now they are back? Tomb Raider replaced by Observation Wheel? Even the World Heritage folks got wind of it and were not pleased.

To top it off, a second tawdry proposal emerged. A group called Outfront Media proposed “Urban Entertainment Districts” a la Denver and Atlanta, with a host of digital billboards flying right in the face of the recently adopted Sign Code. Times Square, anyone? Reverence?

Now, Ferris Wheels and digital signs are all well and good. They make sense in Times Square and La Vegas and Pudong and Akhibara. Heck, they would make sense at Port San Antonio or out on 1604. Just not downtown.

And what makes sense for Pudong does not make sense for the Bund it faces.

The digital billboard trial balloon is getting a lot of flak (and for once that metaphor makes sense).

So what else is happening? A five-time building permit violator finally opened his restaurant, presumably treating the health code better than the building code. Here are some before and after photos of how this Lavaca gas station building had all of its proportions changed. How did he do it? He just got a permit for something and did something else. Five times! Mejor pedir perdón que permiso I guess.

Three years ago.

A few months ago. The parapet changed, the walls changed, thje proportions changed. Not only did he violate five permits, he used the nastiest low-quality finish there is (EIFS!!!) and just kept globbing stuff on top of stuff. Poor building’s life just got a lot shorter.

What else? Unlike San Antonio, which has a robust preservation ordinance and department, the city of Alamo Heights does not. They at least have an Architectural Review Board, which recently voted 6-0 to disallow the demolition of Harvey Smith’s own house. Smith was the architect who restored the Spanish Governor’s Palace and Mission San Jose in the 1930s.

Earlier this year they also managed to save a century-old house in Alamo Heights thanks to community uproar. So, kudos to Alamo Heights – at least you have your landmark-free neighbors Olmos Park and Terrell Hills beat! See below – it is still there!

On the other hand, we are probably going to lose the Sisson House, which has been deteriorating for over a decade next to the San Juan acequia, not far from the mission complex. Owned by the National Park Service, there will be Section 106 review. Unlike our burned friends above, this one may not make it, as the city has already proposed making it a training site for the Deconstruction ordinance, which requires older buildings to be pulled apart by hand and the irreplaceable materials re-used.

It has a really cool limestone basement also.

That’s all for now – see you in June!

One Response to :
San Antonio Roundup May 2024

  1. Betty Bueche says:

    Excellent report!

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