SPNM at Harvard Business School Day 2

July 18, 2018 Sustainability Comments (0) 55

The energy of these Harvard Business School professors is amazing.  They bound up and down the aisles in our classroom, scribble on about 9 blackboards, and exhibit a dynamic range in their speach and mannerisms, endlessly inquiring, responding, teasing, encouraging and laughing.  Every one of them has put on an incredible show.

And it isn’t just a performance, although that is what we have on our mind when the soundtrack to Hamilton seems to be in the background before each session.  More than performance it is engagement.  This is Executive Education, which means we are swimming in a sea of expertise and experience that only begins with the peripatetic professors and continues with a tsunami of colleagues running nonprofits of every size, description and locale.

That’s me, obviously.

We are 161, with 80 per class session, but we have a residential living team of 8 that meets at breakfast and lunch for group preparation.  Every one of these people is amazing.  Smart, talented, and full of insights and experiences.  My living group hails from four countries and we are already fast friends.  As I said long ago, education is more than a two-way street – it is like a highway interchange with multiple roads intermingling and soaring off in new directions.

Four classes every day – four case studies.  Here are some of my insights and nuggets from today.  The first was “purple windows.” from my classmate Dawn.  That is when a funder says they like purple windows and next thing you know all of your nonprofit programs are supporting purple windows.  The moral is that donor-driven efforts have the potential to push you off of your mission.

Coincidentally, Beacon Hill – the oldest historic district in Boston – is actually known for its purple-tinted windows.

Some nonprofits operate with a lot of donor direction, like our case study of one founded by venture capitalists, whose appetite for risk and experimentation is legendary.  But risk is hard to emulate in the social enterprise world.  My biggest takeaway from the VC nonprofit was their confidence in investing in human capital – they focus on leadership more that operations, and we all could learn from that.

Another lesson from the business world is the ability to “fail forward,” the subject of our second case. Failing is hard in nonprofits because our mission is basically to…not fail.  But failing, as we learned today, is a learning path in business.  As one professor said “I hate to fail, but I love to learn.”  How can the nonprofit learn to experiment without “failing” the mission to deliver vital services?

Lima

Our third lesson today was on “design thinking,” and coincidentally it was about a Bay Area (where I lived) company working in Lima, Peru, where I did a multidisciplinary design studio six years ago when I was faculty at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  So, I was familiar with design thinking and rapid prototyping, although the “discipline” has grown in the last six years.  It is an accordion-like process of expanding and contracting ideas and iterations as you move from an Exploratory to a Conceptual to a Prototyping phase.  The takeaway here, next to the importance of inductive thinking, was the importance of keeping ideas fluid and portable.  I will take this with me to our Staff Retreat next month.

Not big enough for the Staff.

The final lesson was about entrepreneurship, which was brilliantly defined as “the relentless pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources.”  Again, kind of tough in the nonprofit world, but also an essential quality to insure we don’t stay still or complacent.

One question we are asking ourselves two days in:  Is there a scenario where a nonprofit is just fine at its current size and operation?  So much of what Harvard has been teaching us is about growing the enterprise, going to scale, merging, expanding and exploring.  What if we are okay where we are?

I mean, this looks nice – would more be better?

Three and a half more days to go – stay tuned.

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SPNM at Harvard Day 1

July 16, 2018 Sustainability Comments (0) 76

I have just finished my first full day at Harvard Business School’s Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management, a weeklong course I am attending thanks to the largesse of the Harvard Business club of San Antonio.  The course takes advantage of the Harvard Business School Social Enterprise Initiative, which has helped conceptualize and provide frameworks for understanding the different “business” of the nonprofit organization.

As might be expected, this effort has produced some pretty amazing outcomes at Harvard and here is a taste of what we can expect this week:  FRAMEWORKS for Strategic Thinking; DESIGN thinking; Entrepreneurship; Leading Change; Scaling Impact, and working with Boards.  The best things I got out of the introductory sessions last night:

  1.  As we move from inputs to outcomes in our social mission, we move from auditable claims to aspirational claims.  We need the latter because they are motivational, but they are a bear to quantify for donors.
  2. Nonprofits are three circles in a Venn diagram of MISSION; CAPACITY: and SUPPORT.  The sweet spot where all three reside is generally small.

Many of the case studies we are looking at – and today they varied between the space shuttle Columbia, a hospital in Massachusetts, a training school in Pittsburgh and a call center in Israel – could be better understood by following these two frameworks.

Frameworks are important.

My biggest takeaway today involved the greatest challenge a leader is faced with: going against human nature.  Our natural human impulse is to seek certainty, affirmation and conformity.  What a leader needs goes against our nature:  ambiguity, dissent and a process to make the right decisions.  It is a questioning, uncomfortable process of constant examination.

My second takeaway is that leadership is, in fact, a process, not a person.  It is the process of bringing a new unwelcome reality to an organization and helping them adapt to it.  This has brought me back to thinking about strategic planning and the many Board roles I have occupied in my life, and even this blog from three years ago, which references those earlier ones and focuses on the nature of my field – heritage conservation.

Interestingly, I am the only representative of my field – and one of only a couple from the South, out of 161 participants from five continents.  And I am very fortunate indeed to be here.  More soon.

 

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Last Stand at the Alamo

June 20, 2018 Blog, Interpretation, Technology Comments (0) 42

Are they making a state park in the middle of the city?  With a 130,000 square foot museum, a third larger that the Witte?  Fencing off the San Antonio’s most important public space?

This is the Piazza Navona, one of the world’s great urban spaces.  It sits on the site of the Roman Circus.  There is no need to recreate the circus, or wall it off.  The use of that space by the public connects it back 2000 thousand years and forward another 1000.  It is alive, not covered by glass or shrubs.  Alamo Plaza is our Piazza Navona.  They are almost the same size and scale.

Last year’s Master Plan envisioned glass walls around the Alamo Plaza.  This year’s Interpretive Plan reduces the walls to fences and shrouds them in shrubs, but the goal is the same.  Manage – and likely monetize – the space.  Since both plans have this attribute, the order is clearly coming from the client, not the designer.

No more sneaking in

Public meetings are going on now to take stock of this interpretive plan.  Bottom line?  Every San Antonian has the right to take a selfie in front of the Alamo at 1 A.M.

Or 7 A.M.

We at the San Antonio Conservation Society are circulating a petition focusing on access to the plaza and the buildings that face the Alamo. We have been fighting for these buildings since 2015 when the state bought them, and a year ago, we thought we had won!  Last year’s Master Plan had the Crockett, Palace and Woolworth’s Buildings saved as part of the new museum.  We supported that, along with the restoration of the chapel and Long Barracks, and the regrading of the plaza to create a more uniform space in the courtyard/battlefield.  The City Council approved it.  This one’s different, and not in a good way.

Crockett Building on left, built the year before the Alamo was purchased by the state.

This is still the location of the big ‘ol museum.  For our presentation, they showed keeping the front half of the Crockett Building, which would create an appropriately reverent transition from the courtyard/battlefield to the high-tech wizardry they are promising inside.

But the plan we saw removed the other buildings, including the Woolworth’s on the corner, site of the first voluntary peaceful integration of a lunch counter in the South (March 1960).

You can interpret both the lunch counter and the long-lost west wall of the compound inside the building.  In the shade.  Why is it always either/or?  Designers know better.

The real irony here is that in the name of interpreting history, they suggest removing actual century-old historic buildings in order to replace them with modern versions of long-lost elements, like the wall.  Replacing real history with fake history?  Tossing actual historic fabric in the dumpster for a recreated fantasy?

The other big issue is access.  Last  year the plan closed Alamo Street in front of the Alamo.  Now they are closing part of Houston Street to the north, Crockett Street, and the bit of Alamo between Market and Commerce.  Access is limited to five gates.  The planners are adamant that the Battle of Flowers parade and Fiesta Flambeau can’t parade in front of the Alamo?  Why?  We have a fence around Wulff House and we still let the Granaderos y Damas de Galvez do their living history there once a year.  We take the fence down for a day and then put it back.  That’s not hard.  Why the bloodymindedness?

We okayed closing Alamo Street in front of the chapel a year ago, but now the closures have grown like kudzu and it seems there will be little northerly traffic through the downtown.

Unless they re-open Main Plaza.  Just sayin’.

I still don’t get why no one has proposed restoring the chapel to the way it was during the battle.

In addition to the irony of demolishing actual historical things for reproductions, there is the irony of wanting to get rid of the “tacky” theme park-styled attractions that occupy the Woolworth’s and Palace Buildings, as well as more to the south.  Yet walling off the plaza for heritage reenactment risks turning the whole thing into a kind of theme park like Colonial Williamsburg.

The amount of physical intervention proposed by this interpretive plan is really staggering.  This is the 21st century – you don’t need the sort of physical interventions people were doing in the 1930s (like Colonial Williamsburg).  Or 1960s.  This is NOW.  Augmented reality, programmable to the latest discoveries.  Clean up, regrade and reprogram.  No heavy machinery needed.

Looking at the key point where the March 6, 1836 battle turned – underneath the Post Office. 

Check out my previous blogs on how actual tourists will be experiencing historic sites tomorrow.  Don’t spend millions crafting something that will be silly in five years.  Y’all can’t outdo Piazza Navona.  That takes actual, continuous history, not a recreated circus.

Not the Alamo.  Also not Piazza Navona, but it is a Roman ruin.

 

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Infill in the Fastest Growing City in the U.S.

June 13, 2018 Economics, Historic Districts Comments (0) 888

66 people a day are moving to San Antonio.  That is a higher number than any other city in the U.S.  There are less than a dozen cranes downtown, but that is more than San Antonians are used to, and there have been various flare-ups over developments in neighborhoods.

So an opinion piece dived in on the side of top-down planning in the Rivard Report, claiming that San Antonio has a movement against New Urbanism and is in danger of sprawling even further by restricting density.

Check out this sentence: “Zoning decisions shouldn’t be based upon answering the singular question of whether an infill project fits in with the neighborhood.”

Cellars at the Pearl

Zoning decisions are never based on answering singular questions.  The whole point of zoning is that it is a site of negotiation of complicated, multiple questions.  The author references the debate over the Dean Steel site along San Pedro Creek west of the King William area.  Perfect example of the multiple questions being answered by zoning, like, should it be residential (yes), how should it address the street, the creek and the nearby neighborhood, and how dense should it be?

Big Tex on Mission Reach near Blue Star

The Oden Hughes project he cited was a perfect example:  Developer asks for 400+ units, neighbors push back, he settles for 340.  That is how zoning works as a site of negotiation.  Developer probably anticipated the negotiation.  I expect to see something similar at Dean Steel.

Dean Steel

The disturbing thing about the article is it seems to want to give more power to the planners and blame the neighbors for causing sprawl.  There are always those people who will oppose any change.  There are always those who will oppose more density.  And there are always those who will ask for more than they need.  But NONE of them get to decide,  And neither does Baron Hausmann or Le Corbusier or their 21st century wannabes.

Corbu to you, too

San Antonio is not a commodity, it is a place.  Of course the downtown will grow more dense and newbie urbanistique.  You can start by building on the 40% of downtown that is surface parking.  Then you have your industrial sites like Dean Steel and Oden Hughes and Lone Star that can add thousands of new residents without displacing any old ones since they were industrial sites.  You have office buildings that can be converted to dense residential, like these are right now:

You also have Hemisfair, soon to be a new residential neighborhood downtown.  Greenwich Village hasn’t stifled the density of Manhattan, and King William and Dignowity Hill won’t stifle the new residential downtown.  On the contrary, they will complement and economically enhance the new residential downtown just as the Museum Reach and Mission Reach have done for their geographies.  Historic districts preserve and enhance a character that attracts human and financial investment.

San Antonio is not a commodity, it is a place with character.  Planning is not a math problem and people aren’t simply decanted into towers and corridors.  There are multiple reasons 464 people arrive each week and there are multiple components to San Antonio’s character.

Planning and zoning are negotiations between multiple stakeholders that – at the end of the process – answer the manifold question of whether a project fits into a place.

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The Fallacy of the Blank Slate

May 25, 2018 Blog, Vision and Style Comments (2) 213

I am on the Dean’s Advisory Council for the College of Architecture, Planning and Construction at the University of Texas at San Antonio and we had a retreat yesterday.  Heavy in the discussion was the fact that many architecture students do not get “real world” training or experience.  They emerge especially underschooled in zoning and codes and the permitting process.

Let’s not forget plumbing.

I kinda don’t get it because I used to cover these issues extensively in my Master of Science in Historic Preservation classes.  I guess there is an historical tendency for architecture curriculum to focus on designing new buildings.

I want my name in lights!  And my tower the tallest!

My friend Stuart Cohen used to introduce my presentation to his class at UIC by saying “75% of all the architectural work you will ever do is on existing buildings.”  Add to this the tendency of architectural accreditation to load on course requirements and you have little leeway to help students navigate the actual path of constructing or reconstructing buildings.

Hence the proliferation of “C” level work.

The discussion turned on how both architecture professors and students use “creativity” as the reason they do not study rehabilitation and process.  This is a hoary word and a hoarier concept.  The implication is that creativity is GREATER or MORE when there are no constraints.

See how much MORE you can do with a blank slate?  Like, it must be at least 68% MORE!

The idea is that a blank slate allows more creativity.  But it is wrong.  Demonstrably wrong.  The “Green Eggs and Ham hypothesis” was proved years ago.  Look here.

This was designed in an extremely constrained environment.  By Frank Lloyd Wright, but still.

In fact, it is LAZIER to start from scratch.  Nothing to figure out, just let your mind wander, let your creative juices flow, and you will get…..something like the Libeskind building above where the creative juices just really, really flowed, like flowed.  And the mind wandered. And we who confront the building wander as well.

Unless it looks like it is going to crush us, then we walk purposefully away.

In any kind of education there is always a tension between information and practices that must be learned and the mechanism of learning.  One does not simply decant information into a vessel.  The best kinds of education create a permanent pathway for learning, so that new challenges that were never considered before can be met, not by specific example, but by processes developed and exercised.  Not so much gray matter memory as muscle memory.

Baby I’ve been there before, I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor.

My friend Bruce Sheridan has written extensively on how science and art are both underpinned by the same human capacities, and that education must reintegrate art and science.   How our brains and even our emotions work reinforces this concept.  Creativity does not arise magically from an absence, but robustly from a muscled presence.

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School Houses Rock

April 13, 2018 Economics, Sustainability Comments (0) 243

Not long ago I did a blog about the myriad examples of preserved, adapted historic gas stations.  Today let’s look at schools.  I remember schools rehabbed into homes from the beginning of my career over 34 years ago.

The Lemont School – front half 1896, rear piece 1869 – converted into residences c. 1980.

The Lemont School above shows how even two generations of school design are easily adapted, since they needed large windows to allow enough light in for instruction – a feature suited well to conversion into apartments or condos.  Offices are another easy rehabilitation goal, as seen in this 1874 school in Georgetown, Colorado.  (This is from a decade ago – it is rehabbed now)

Schools are a more straightforward rehab prospect than other community-defining buildings like churches and theaters, which tend to have a massive open space inside, although of course more modern schools will themselves include assembly halls and theaters, along with gymnasia.  Still, most classrooms are easily made into offices, condos or even retail spaces.

This one is for the birds.  I mean The Birds (Bodega Bay, California).

Which brings us to this lovely 1916 school by local architect Leo Dielmann, which was “saved,” or rather “not demolished” 20 years ago when they tore off various additions and built a new school.  And then let this one rot.  Despite a sturdy concrete frame, the roof was the only wood portion and it turned into a sponge in the last decade.  But the walls are there and it is beautiful.

Still the owners – the School District – have pulled a fast one, or more accurately, a really SLOW one.  Demolition by neglect.  Over more than two decades.  Makes it look almost…natural.

Councilman Treviño has been fighting for the school, and our friends over at Ford Powell Carson architects even did some renderings to show how it could be rehabbed.

Many neighbors want to save it, but others have been convinced by the long con that the eyesore is too far gone and must be removed.  The real crime here is that no one gets dunned for demolition by neglect – the most common way to deliberately destroy a perfectly usable building.  There is also lack of vision – seeing older buildings as obstacles rather than opportunities.

See?

Treviño is fighting a Principal and Superintendent who want to see the building go away, which was perhaps the plan 20-odd years ago.  That would be a shame.  For the neighborhood, the city, and future resources subjected to the mistreatment of the long con.

MAY UPDATE

Now all the parents are upset because the School District added another fence around the landmark, closing off all open space on the block.  This was not due to an incident but the occasion of a structural report that doubted the building’s ability to withstand a tornado.

Yes, really.  Can’t make this stuff up!  To the long con of demolition by neglect they have added structural scare-everybody-ism.  As the first con was strategic, so is the second, because now we have upset children and parents demanding that something be done.  Those allies are key, because the structural report itself was a bit of a laugher – it is not clear he even accessed the building!  He claimed his report was based on his experience over 40 years. I have to remember that one.

Another structural engineer is taking a look at it through actual inspection and soon we will know what it costs and whether we can find all of the money.  Stay tuned.

 

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My favorite BugaBoo

April 1, 2018 Economics, Historic Districts, Texas Comments (0) 344

My favorite bugaboo about heritage conservation rose its head this Easter/April Fool’s morning in the form of an editorial in the Rivard Report.  The bugaboo goes like this, and has for over a century:  If we focus too much on saving the past we won’t have a future or any new development.

Like Paris…

Ed Glaeser made this argument regarding Manhattan in his book Triumph of the City earlier in the decade.  I loved the book, which had a myriad of brilliant insights and then this bugaboo which was so simplistic it required no response.  Manhattan has been saving TONS of its building inventory for three generations with no ill effect to its vibrancy or economy.  Just visit Times Square.

Prisoner of the past abandoned by development

No United States city has designated as landmarks more than about 3 or 4 percent of its buildings.  So the argument basically is that development is such a precarious and precious business that it can’t survive on a free-fire zone that covers 96 percent of the landscape.  Really?

San Antonio from the Tower of the Americas, 2014.

The really fascinating thing about this statistic is that it hasn’t changed in 30 years.  Yes, more sites and districts get designated as historic (and keep developing, BTW) but plenty more new stuff gets added.  The whole reason Glaeser went after Manhattan is that the statistic there is much higher, although when you include all five boroughs it is back to normal.

That’s the Triborough Bridge

So here is the bugaboo in its unadulterated form from today’s :  “it could reach a tipping point where just about anything and everything is accorded historic status. In a world where everything is historic, nothing is historic.”

So where is that?  Where did that happen?  And if it didn’t happen anywhere, why is it a valid argument?  Where is it ABOUT to happen?

Chicago designated ONE MILE of downtown building frontage 15 years ago.  Contrary to our favorite bugaboo, this has actually inspired development (including a supertall on a vacant lot) and investment.  Once San Antonio covers the 40% of its downtown that is currently surface parking, we might begin to worry about a slippery slope.

View from King William (designated 1967) to Tower of the Americas.

Now, to be fair to my friend Bob Rivard, the impetus for the piece was the proposed viewshed ordinance, inspired by the development near the Hays Street Bridge, to protect iconic views.  This would seem to potentially thwart projects that aren’t designated.  Interestingly, Austin – not a town known for preservation – has one of the most complicated viewshed protections in place for the Capitol.

The reality is that any protection system functions not as a prohibition but as a site of negotiation.  This already happens with the Historic and Design Review Commission, which considered viewsheds of the Tower Life Building in reviewing a new development at St. Mary’s and Cesar Chavez.  Good planning is buttressed by landmark laws and viewshed laws, not because they prohibit, but because they provide a review platform that integrates development into the urban fabric.

 

Disclosure:  I serve on the Viewshed Technical Advisory Panel, so I am well acquainted with the specifics of how viewshed ordinances work.  This information, like all knowledge, dispels fear, especially of this bugaboo.

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94 Years and Going Strong!

March 23, 2018 Blog, History, Intangible Heritage, Texas Comments (1) 237

On March 22, 2018 the San Antonio Conservation Society turned 94!   That’s right, we have been around a quarter century longer than the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Rena Maverick Green and Emily Edwards founded the group with 11 other women in 1924.  They supposedly notched their first “save” that year, a tree along the river the city planned to remove.  Within a decade they had purchased and saved much of Mission San Jose, especially the Granary.

Hard to believe, but the Missions were in bad shape 94 years ago – the tower here at San Jose would collapse in 1928 and was only restored thanks to the intervention of the San Antonio Conservation Society.  The upper third of the Mission San Jose Granary was bought and paid for by the Society in 1930, thank you very much.

We originally formed to save not just architectural treasures like the Missions but also areas of natural beauty and most importantly customs – what we now call intangible heritage.  That is one of the things I love about working here – we knew what 21st century heritage conservation was like way back in the early 20th century.  We revived Los Pastores and our amazing Night In Old San Antonio ® event is now in its 70th year.  It is a cultural performance and homage.  Also a fundraiser.  Biggest in the United States.  By miles and miles.  

It is the Missions that really course through the history of the San Antonio Conservation Society.  That was the first place that the women of the Society went out on a limb, buying land, securing craftspersons, and actually owning and restoring historic buildings.

And then giving them away.  By 1941, the Society had not only restored much of Mission San Jose, it had secured National Historic Landmark status (a 5-year old program at the time) and coordinated the efforts of the State, County, City and Catholic Archdiocese to create a state park encompassing the San Antonio Missions.  All before Pearl Harbor.

Mission San Juan Capistrano.

By 1978 through delicate lobbying from the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago (coincidentally the birthplace of the “smoke-filled room”), they made the Missions a National Park, maneuvering the deal past the opposition of President Carter.  Money.  Smarts.  Savvy.

At Mission San Francisco de Espada.

When I visited San Antonio in 2010, I made a point of seeing all of the Missions, even the Espada Aqueduct that the San Antonio Conservation Society bought in the 1950s to insure its preservation.

I blogged about the Missions during my 2010 visit (SEE BLOG HERE).

Espada Aqueduct.

See, the amazing thing about the Missions is not their architecture – although much of that is quite excellent.  Nor is it simply the fact that these were the first European structures built here.  It is the fact that the entire landscape of an encounter – between the Spanish and the Native Americans – is not simply legible in the landscape: It is alive.

Matachines at Mission Concepcion, 2017.

I blogged again 5 years later when the San Antonio Conservation Society, together with city and county partners, achieved something amazing in only 9 years: Inscription as a World Heritage Site (SEE BLOG HERE).  For the same reason.  Here was a place that contained history not only in buildings, and waterways, but in people and traditions.  Customs.

10th and 11th generation Canary Islanders at San Fernando Cathedral two weeks ago.

It is fun to look at my old blogs – when I had literally no idea I would be working here – and see how much respect and admiration I had for the Society, one of the oldest in the nation.  When I applied for the job in early 2016, I was equally impressed by how the Society kept with the times, embracing modern landmarks less than 50 years old…

To be fair, it will turn 50 in two weeks…(Confluence Theater/U.S. Pavilion HemisFair ’68 – now Wood Courthouse)

And sites that represent the diversity of the American experience, a diversity that the historic preservation movement overlooked in its early days.

1921 Woolworth Building on Alamo Plaza, site of first successful (and peaceful) integration of a lunch counter in the South in February, 1960.

I suppose being founded in 1924 gave the San Antonio Conservation Society a certain modernity.  This was a time of a booming, building downtown, and indeed the first effort was to save the Market House from street widening, which failed.

Widening of Commerce Street in 1913 – the Alamo National Bank Building of 1902 (center) was moved back 16 feet rather than shave off its facade like the others.  Then three stories were added.

If you are in downtown San Antonio, the odds are a building the Conservation Society bought and saved is within a block of wherever you are standing.  Here are a few from our 94 years, none of which we still own…..

Ursuline College/Southwest School of Art

Aztec Theater

Rand Building – the tech center of downtown SA

O Henry House

Casa Navarro, home of Jose Antonio Navarro, only Tejano signer of both Texas Declaration of Independence and Texas Constitution.  We ran it for 15 years before turning it over to the state.

Emily Morgan Hotel.  A block from the Alamo.

Maverick Building.  Also a block from the Alamo.

Reuter Building.  Half a block from the Alamo.

Staacke and Stevens Buildings

We aren’t the oldest preservation organization in the country – heck, we aren’t even the first one in San Antonio, where efforts to save the Alamo began back in 1883.  But we are 94.  And going strong!

 

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Gas Station – Why Demolish an Opportunity?

February 7, 2018 Economics Comments (1) 3338

This is Bliss, a restaurant in San Antonio.  The upscale American cuisine focuses on fresh ingredients, has superior service and is consistently ranked one of the best restaurants in the nation’s seventh largest city.  It is housed in a historic Humble Oil gas station.

This is the Station Cafe, across from our office, a more modest sandwich shop that is filled to the brink every lunchtime and offers evening beers from its historic Texaco gas station.

At Austin Highway and Broadway this former Mobil gas station is an upscale women’s boutique described as a “must-visit for anyone who is in the mood to indulge in some retail therapy.”  sloan/hall is high-end adaptive re-use.

This is another historic gas station on St. Mary’s Street just north of downtown that is about to be converted into a restaurant.

I could go on with many more examples, but the bottom line is that historic gas stations are adaptive re-use GOLD.  Like everything in the entirely externalized world of real estate value, location is key, which brings us to the city’s newest trail, along San Pedro and Apache Creeks.  I have ridden it a half-dozen times already.

The trail was just completed in the last year and connects to the famous Mission Reach trail that runs 12 miles through the World Heritage area.

Pictured above is a trailhead near Nogalitos Street.  Which brings us to this 1936 Pure Oil gas station at this very trailhead.

2017 photo.

Pure Oil was a San Antonio company that adopted the half-timbered Tudor Revival for their stations, which can be found in a dozen states.  This is the only one left in San Antonio.  It features steeply pitched roofs on both the “house” and “canopy”.

The same station in 2012, detail of the half-timbering on the canopy.

And here it is in 1983 when the San Antonio Conservation Society surveyed it.  We surveyed more than 1,500 gas stations over the years, and this was one of the 30 best, proposed as city landmarks last year.  Having looked at 1500 stations, we can tell you with confidence that the Tudor Style is quite unusual and the station is quite intact.

2012 polychrome view

But then the station was quietly pulled from the designation list at the behest of the out-of-town owner.  So the San Antonio Conservation Society filed a Request for Review of Significance, which the Historic and Design Review Commission agreed to.

We also learned at that time that the site was quite large and the little gem of a gas station only occupies about one-eighth of the land.  The Office of Historic Preservation ruled that ONLY the gas station had historic significance, so the other buildings on site do not need to be re-used.

An acre of land along the trail and a cell phone tower to boot!

A map showing construction of the site.  Only Area 1 is proposed landmark.

The owner hired the best real estate attorneys to prevent designation.  Why?  Because it would be worth more demolished?  That argument doesn’t hold up too well in this town – gas stations are constantly turned into successful businesses.  Here’s a few more:

The Conservation Society met with attorneys for the owners and Councilwoman Gonzales moments before the item came up at City Council.  All parties agreed to put designation on hold for 60 days.

Re-use the gas station on the right (corner of Nogalitos and Ralph).  SPLACH is optional, as are the other buildings.

A restored Pure Oil station in McMinnville, TN in case you wanted to see an example.  One also became a BANK in Geneva, Illinois.

We are trying to find the right buyer for all or part of the site before the DEADLINE of March 18.  For more information, contact me at vmichael@saconservation.org,

Now for a few more of the successfully rehabbed gas stations in San Antonio:

APRIL 2018 UPDATE

The gas station got another reprieve, this time for six months, although it is still not officially for sale.  If interested in this, please contact me!

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Kids These Days: Real Estate 2018

January 26, 2018 Economics Comments (0) 246

I always enjoy the Urban Land Institute’s analysis of Emerging Real Estate Trends (by pwc) and this year was no exception.  What made it especially interesting was the demographic foundation of much of the analysis:  the Millennial/Generation Z groups that will define the future of space.  As usual, the punks have it all over the hippies.

1. SMALL

The next generation is not interested in your 6,000 square foot McMansion or even your 3,200 square foot suburban gem.  I recall Doug Farr about seven years ago describing a potential tenant for a retrofitted Lathrop Homes unit:  Has a $5,000 bicycle and an iPad.  Probably only wants 700 square feet.  Will not be collecting furniture.

Let them eat cupcakes.

They are here and they are happy with small space.  People collect information and experiences now, and while vinyl and books and even mid-century modern furniture are all hipster now, most of what we collect fits on a device smaller than your thumb.

There will be a lot of obsolete McMansions soon.

2. NO AUTO MOTIVE

All the talk of driverless cars plays right into the next generation.  They are getting their driving licenses later or not at all.  They Uber everywhere.  The autonomous vehicle already exists for them as a choice consumer product.  The countryside the hippies wanted to escape to in the 1970s became the suburbia these kids grew up in in the 1990s.  There is nowhere to drive to anymore.  The car no longer symbolizes freedom.

As it turns out there are more comfortable places to have sex.  Who knew?

For real estate, the more radical transformation is not the autonomous car but the autonomous truck.  Self-driving trucks will have a much bigger impact on the real estate landscape than cars.  This was also true with the advent of the truck and car a century ago.  That’s why we have zoning.

Soon all traffic will be stage managed.

The evolution of the internet of things has also meant that technology is now shifting away from the cloud and onto the edge – where cars and trucks and houses have enough computing power to learn and manage data.  I read in the Economist that one theory about why Amazon bought Whole Foods was to have enough physical footprint to implement edge computing nationwide.

And Canada, I assume

3. PRIVATE COLLABORATION

Back to those Millennials/Generation Z.  About five years ago I toured Bloomberg headquarters in New York City and it was the ultimate open office.  Fish tanks and food kiosks everywhere, ridiculously bright colors, and desks sprawled across an open floor plan.  The CEO occupied just another desk.   No corner offices.  Open space encourages collaboration, so offices followed the open plan.  Hippie Paradise.

Architects love this stuff..(Wikimedia Commons Miller Thomson Vancouver)

Millennials LOVE to collaborate.  They collaborate more than any other generation ever.

By smart phone.  Alone.  Behind a closed door.  ULI explained that the old office door is making a big comeback.  The Millennials and Generation Z demand amenities like rooftop gardens, food options and gyms, but they also really, really want to be able to close the door.

Turns out the physical and mental world aren’t perfect analogues.  Who knew?

According to ULI “Over half (of employees) reported that ambient noise reduces their satisfaction at work.”  The open space plan is still there, but the pushback is growing.  Coworking spaces, which are like multiplayer live-work lofts, are also a thing now – one such company in New York now leases more space than Goldman Sachs.

4. RETAIL IN THE AMAZON AGE

The death of retail is painfully obvious in America, because even though online retailing has ONLY taken 10% of the market, the U.S. retail market was grossly overbuilt, with 10 times the capacity per capita of Germany.  So it is REALLY visible and we will have plenty of malls to go with those McMansions in the 2030 fire sale.

Ahh…fulfillment

Perhaps some will be converted into fulfillment centers, where massive physical space is needed to keep the online retail world humming as they send and receive and repair in million-square-foot tilt-up panel behemoths.  Buildings are getting bigger and smaller at the same time.

5. OLD FOR NEW

What does all this mean for historic buildings?  My own Millennial offspring seem to love the Jane Jacobs idea that new ideas need old buildings.  They have doors.   They have character and patina and a story or two.  They are often smaller.  They are greener than new buildings because they are already there, and as the last 70 years have shown us, they are endlessly adaptable.

 

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