The Good, the Bad and the Interesting

June 9, 2022 Blog, Economics, Sustainability, Texas Comments (0) 57

A child characterizes the world in broad strokes to make it understandable. There are good guys and bad guys. If we mature, we see more nuance. We see the good and bad in many people, and while some remain largely good or bad actors, most are more interesting than the simple dichotomy because we are able to see them as a bundle of interests. That is more interesting.

The Hughes House, 1912

Here is the Hughes House on Courtland Avenue, an absolutely beautiful 1912 Prairie Style home here in San Antonio (by a St. Louis architect) that was threatened by demolition last fall. A demolition permit had been applied for by the Archdiocese of San Antonio, which had owned the property for 50 years. The obvious purchaser was San Antonio College, which owned the adjacent parking lots.

They have a cool MCM building – and lots of parking lots.

A lot of neighborhood activists and the Conservation Society of San Antonio opposed the demolition and asked that it be considered as a landmark. Ricki Kushner of the Tobin Hill Neighborhood Association and Michael Carroll put together a detailed history of the house. In addition to its lovely architecture, it was where Russell Hughes grew up, a famous international dancer who was celebrated for her skills.

A papel picado portrait by the incomparable San Antonio artist Kathleen Trenchard of Russell Hughes- known as “La Meri” – dressed in Chinese costume.

So, depending on your point of view, you could say there were good guys (preservationists, or the two institutions) and bad guys (the two institutions, or the preservationists). But that view requires some kind of obliteration of one side or the other. That’s not how you save a building.

Don’t shoot the messenger.

You save a building by finding where the various actors’ interests lie, and seeing if there isn’t a way to ally those interests into a solution. So, in this case, the preservation folks asked San Antonio College to NOT purchase the property for demolition since the site was valued by the community. We distributed yard signs saying “SAVE THE HUGHES HOUSE”. San Antonio College agreed not to pursue acquisition of the site because good community relations is in their financial and public relations interest. Then we asked the Archdiocese to consider selling the property on the market, since their interest was to make money off the deal.

They did that and found a buyer who is interested in preservation. Now, everyone gets to be the good guy, because all interests have all been considered and the landmark lives on.

Many thanks the May Chu and Andrew Weissman for teaming up to save this landmark! Look for a new venue that will allow you to see the fabulous interiors – like these fireplaces! The Conservation Society introduced May to our local legendary chef Andrew and the whole community is excited about the possibility!

Thank you Andrew and May!

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Things are happening

March 3, 2022 Blog Comments (0) 106

March 2022 and all of a sudden I am doing tours again – Alamo, Missions, the Conservation Society’s historic house museums (Steves Homestead in King William and the Yturri-Edmunds House and Mill) and sites in between. I did a talk and walk with a Houston arts group, and all-day tour with a Houston boys school and a tour with Preservation Action auction winners this week.

Alamo chapel with new palisade and cannon. There are now five cannon on site, five more than a few years ago.

The 186th anniversary of the Alamo battle is in a few days, just as the world watches another hopelessly overmatched people try to repel an invading army, a parallel not lost on the speakers who celebrated the Texas Revolution at the Alamo yesterday.

They all got killed but then the war was won six weeks later. This cannon went in 3 years ago.

On March 16 at lunchtime we will be screening our videos on San Antonio’s historic 1960 lunch counter integration at the Instituto Cultural de Mexico in Hemisfair, followed by a panel discussion led by Sarah Zenaida Gould, PhD, of the Mexican American Civil Rights Initiative. Please join us for this free event!

Outline of the lunch counter still visible inside the San Antonio Woolworth’s, which will be part of new Alamo visitors center

This will be followed the very next night by our biannual Historic Preservation Awards honoring projects and people in and around San Antonio. This paid event has several highlights, including the restoration of City Hall and the incredible dome at Temple Beth-El. Also Texas Preservation Heroes!

Atop the hill!

This is followed by a blizzard of galas the final week of the month, including our own Capital Club event on the 22nd, the Brackenridge Park Conservancy Gala on the 23rd, and the Make It Your Mission gala on the 24th. And then it is less than a week to Fiesta!

NIOSA!!!!!!!!!

NIOSA is April 5-8 this year, so order your tickets now!

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Alternativeless demolition

October 26, 2021 Historic Districts, Texas Comments (5) 368

This is the 1911 Hughes house at 312 W Courtland Street in San Antonio. It sits on a corner next to a parking lot and across from the epic and massive Koehler House. And it is up for demolition. Which is understandable, unless you look at it.

Nothing about this says “Please tear me down.”

It’s pretty. It’s intact. It is a solidly built, eminently adaptable house. Indeed, it has been owned by the Archdiocese for over half a century. They used it for a Catholic student center for most of that time, but now apparently it needs work. LIKE EVERY OTHER HOUSE IN HISTORY.

Gee whiz they even made it match.

So, we have an owner who feel they can’t rehabilitate a house they themselves have let go. What is the alternative? Are they going to build a new student center? A parking lot? What is the alternative? Nothing. Just like 503 Urban Loop, our brothel-cum-child care center that is up for designation December 2. The owners originally said they were building a residential highrise, not they are on to the NO ALTERNATIVE PLANS plans.

This old wreck is in the way of…um, nothing. Nothing you need to know about.

Does anything say “I’M A FLIPPER” more loudly than a request for demolition with no plan for a replacement?

I remember City Council members back in the 1980s in Chicago saying that they might vote against landmarking something if they saw that what it was going to be replaced with was better. That actually makes sense, because a legislative representative has to look at all the factors, whereas a landmarks commissioner focuses on whether the building meets the criteria for designation.

Oh yes, that looks much better.

If you aren’t revealing your plan, you probably don’t have one. In fact, you might just be shilling for the eventual owner, who has convinced you to do the dirty work of getting a demolition permit before they will ink the deal. It happens. But the Tobin Hill neighbors who are upset about the Hughes house are right, and the Council Member needs to have an alternative or he will be approving an Alternativeless Demolition.

Despite four non-profit and neighborhood organizations supporting the designation of 503 Urban Loop, it has its detractors because it is not conventionally pretty from all angles. Some might argue that the homeless are getting in and demolition is necessary. Because demolition solves the homeless issue?

312 W. Courtland is a very nice house so it might have even more friends, and fewer social ills in its Tobin Hill/Monte Vista neighborhood.

That’s real brick, man. You ain’t gonna be able to push it over. That’s a five or six figure demo.

No, the real issue at 312 W. Courtland is likely that a potential buyer is asking the Archdiocese to demolish it because, under state law, they can do it UNLIKE EVERY OTHER BUILDING OWNER because they are a church.

The building isn’t a church, of course, which is what the first religious exclusion laws in the 80s focused on. It’s a perfectly good house.

I know y’all property rich and cash poor, so why take the first bid from someone making you do the work/

Want to know the funny part?

The Archdiocese is likely getting hosed by the buyer – who is obviously making their offer contingent on the Archdiocese getting the demolition.

How many ways are there to be hosed in this situation?

  1. The property was never listed for sale, so all of those out-of-state transplants buying big lovely houses three blocks away have not had a chance to bid on this. The Archdiocese is leaving money on the table.
  2. The demolition and disposal cost on this is going to be high. Tile roofs are lovely, but heavy. Brick is also lovely, and you can’t push it over for $20k. Not a cheap demolition by any stretch. If the Archdiocese pays this bill for the under-the-market buyer, they are again….leaving money on the table.

So, what is the alternative? We don’t know.

Tobin Hill neighbors are asking for a Review of Significance, which you can support by contacting the Office of Historic Preservation, City of San Antonio. Again, State law allows the Archdiocese to prevail over landmarks laws, but let’s at least shine a light on it.

WHAT CAN YOU DO!

Visit the Conservation Society page on the Hughes House TODAY!

See the Conservation Society page on 503 Urban Loop now!

JUNE 2022 UPDATE: The HUGHES HOUSE IS SAVED! The Archdiocese found a willing buyer who is interested in repurposing the house! Apparently the sale closed today!

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