San Antonio Roundup September 2021

September 28, 2021 Blog, Historic Districts, House Museums, Texas Comments (0) 56

Over a month since the last blog post, but I have been busy with my new UTSA class on World Heritage Management, as well as lots of regular work. The Conservation Society of San Antonio partnered with Esperanza Peace and Justice Center and the Westside Preservation Alliance to promote 503 Urban Loop as a local landmark. Built as a brothel in 1883, it was home to the famous madam Fannie Porter, who hosted Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid there in 1901 (Remember the song “Raindrops Are Falling on my Head”? – based on a San Antonio bicycle as far as we know.)

We have been promoting it as a rare remnant of Laredito, the near West Side Mexican-American neighborhood nearly obliterated by highway construction and urban renewal. Despite the media appeal of the building’s Red Light history, it was owned by the Archdiocese from 1913 to 2017 and served as an orphanage, day care center and community resource under the Carmelite Sisters and later Father Flanagan’s Boys Town. One generation of sinners and five of saints. The Historic and Design Review Commission voted unanimously in favor. The owner wants to develop a high rise there, which is easy enough given the size of the lot and the size of the historic building.

Our Coalition for the Woolworth Building met again this month and recently the Alamo chose architects (Gensler – the biggest) for the new museum in the Woolworth and Crockett Buildings. I will be telling the story of the Coalition for the Woolworth Building next week for the Texas Society of Architects, and the National Trust recently published my story/blog about the nearly 3-year long effort.

Oh let me treble the size of my landmark house and then ask permission to reduce my required 5 foot side setback by 4 feet, 11 inches!

We have also started working on a White Paper that will tackle the issue of rampant violations of building permits or work done without permits (or beyond the scope of the permit), which I dealt with in my blog last December “Mejor pedir perdon que permiso”. I recently read about a business owner back in Oak Park, Illinois, who totally built a fence around his business without a permit because he didn’t want to wait a couple months for a permit. This kind of knuckle-dragging personality is appearing everywhere and is seemingly emboldened by the dumbing down of the Zeitgeist. On the plus side, it looks like two of the cases that were in my blog last December, at Labor Street and at Florida Street, both in Lavaca, appear to be following the law now! Wow!

And then we have another building that we would just as soon remove, because it should never have been built in the middle of a park back in 1989. This is in Hemisfair, at the crucial juncture between the sparkling new Yanaguana Garden and Tower Park around Tower of the Americas. It is also adjacent to the Confluence Theater/Wood Courthouse, a superior 1968 structure long on our Most Endangered List.

Bookmarked travertine to die for.

So, the Park Police were supposed to build a new headquarters just north of downtown, but some public official flubbed the land purchase, so the Park Police did what all good government people do, they started looking around for free land in a public park. This is a tactic almost as old as parks, and I can give you two dozen examples of it in Chicago, with the school in the middle of Washington Park being the most egregious.

Until the Obama Center gets finished in Jackson Park: Then we have a new winner!

Turns out it isn’t just the biggest built intrusion into Hemisfair Park that the police want – they also need 300 parking spaces because because. Oh and bulletproof glass because nothing supports the child-friendly Yanaguana garden development like a fortress! We offered a statement opposing the intrusion. It is not far from the Kusch House, recent beneficiary of a high six-figure grant from Bank of America for restoration.

pre-restoration

Meanwhile, the Conservation Society nervously awaits the news about the ongoing construction at Alamo, Nueva, and King Philip Streets around Maverick Plaza. We had been planning A Night In Old San Antonio(R) last year without Maverick Plaza, but the construction on the adjacent streets has a much bigger impact on our event, scheduled for April 5-8, 2022.

Now some good news! The City Manager has reorganized and put a new “Transformation Project Division” under Office of Historic Preservation exec Shanon Miller! This includes Hemisfair, La Villita and many other downtown cultural projects. Shanon is an old friend and super competent, so this bodes well! More culture coming soon!

Oh, TPR did this great recording of us sharing the 97 1/2 year history of the Conservation Society!

HEMISFAIR UPDATE:

Well, the parking spaces and bulletproof glass are gone, but it looks like the Park Police will be in that building in Hemisfair. Darn!

Continue Reading

It’s a process.

February 12, 2021 History, Intangible Heritage, Interpretation, Sustainability, Vision and Style Comments (0) 275

“Conservation means all of the processes of looking after a place so as to retain its cultural significance.”

Heshui village, Guizhou

“Cultural significance is embodied in the place itself, its fabric, its setting, use, associations, meanings, records, related places and related objects. Places may have a range of values for different individuals or groups.”

Dali Dong village, Guizhou

This is from the document I consider the northstar of my field, the Burra Charter. While we call it historic preservation in the U.S., I have argued for a dozen years that it is in fact heritage conservation. It is not a set of rules or standards. It is a process.

The process whereby a community determines what elements of its past it wants to bring into its future. The community must determine what is significant, how significant it is, and how it should be conserved and treated in the future. Professionals can help the community do this, but they have to do it or it is worthless.

Heshui village, Guizhou

The quotations above from the Burra Charter illustrate that heritage conservation is a process, and that different types of resources follow different types of rules. The quotation also iterates a concept that we in the United States call integrity but elsewhere is authenticity.

Authenticity of use, San Antonio

That is because integrity tends to be a mechanistic and formalistic concept that reinforces the primacy of materiality. It doesn’t have to be so. Integrity’s seven aspects include feeling and association and I have been involved in the effort to redefine integrity in order to diversify heritage conservation and preserve the full range of our history.

Ralph Ellison wrote Invisible Man here. Are you going to make it invisible by arguing about architectural integrity?

I am currently Co-Chair of the Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Justice Working Group, part of a partnership between the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Preservation Partners Network. Our field is still clogged with the remnants of a history that empowered white males to the exclusion of others, and integrity aided and abetted that exclusion.

North Kenwood-Oakland, Chicago. I used this in our Deep Dive Into Integrity discussion last year at the PastForward Conference.

How do you define the integrity of a building that housed decades of history for a marginalized community? Shouldn’t it in fact illustrate the fact that it survived on the margins of the power structure and economic hegemony? Doesn’t the fact that it lost its cornice or replaced stone with brick in fact define its cultural significance?

East Garfield Park, Chicago, in 1994.

Following years of work on this issue, I wrote a paper that became a book chapter published in 2018 that dove fairly deeply into the specific mechanics of integrity and diversity – the bottom line is that the preservation world has much to repair in its relation to the whole of history and the whole of the country. Recognizing the bias in the rules – and those who interpret them – is the first step.

The mural was destroyed, so preservationists proposed a whole district for Pilsen, including the murals. Problem was, they did not engage and empower the community.

Continue Reading

My Favorite World Heritage Sites Vol. 3

June 24, 2017 Global Heritage Comments (0) 1772

I live in a World Heritage site in a city in the U.S.A.  Here are the only other two World Heritage sites in U.S. cities and I have visited both – as you probably have as well.

It’s a woman.  Gift from France.

Continue Reading

Continue Reading

Alamo Plaza: Design and Program

April 16, 2017 Interpretation, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (0) 1669

The Alamo Plaza Reimagined team released a video with images of the proposed redesign of Alamo Plaza this week.  The reaction has been a mix of concerns, but most seem focused on the large, vacant plaza surrounded by glass walls.

Continue Reading

Continue Reading

The Value of Heritage

February 4, 2017 Economics, Sustainability, Texas Comments (0) 2035

When a lover of history, architecture, or neighborhoods sees an historic building or district, they value it.  They want to save it, to preserve that value. Continue Reading

Continue Reading

Real Estate 2017

January 27, 2017 Blog, Economics, Historic Districts, Technology Comments (1) 1995

I attended a recent ULI event here in San Antonio that outlined emerging trends in  real estate.  I was struck by how much the factors they identified tracked with my own prognostications in November during my Partners speech in Houston at the National Trust conference.

Continue Reading

Continue Reading

Conservation Forensics

December 18, 2016 Blog, Chicago Buildings, Interpretation, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (3) 2758

Heritage conservation is forensic – that doesn’t just mean “crime scene,” it means an argument based on evidence. Continue Reading

Continue Reading

Latest news on Alamo Plaza

December 3, 2016 Blog, Interpretation, Technology, Texas Comments (0) 2040

The big news this week is the long-awaited release of the Alamo Master plan, following a process that took most of the year.  Actually, the real master plan won’t be done for another six months, but the summary that was released to City Council and civic groups finally takes some clear positions on what the Alamo area will look like in the future. Continue Reading

Continue Reading

The Future of Heritage Conservation

November 20, 2016 Blog, Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Justice, Intangible Heritage, Interpretation, Texas Comments (0) 1838

Project Row Houses by Rick Lowe – I finally saw it 20 years after I met the man.

Well, it finally started to happen, and in Houston of all places.  PastForward, the National Preservation Conference of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, witnessed the emergence of the next generation of “preservation” practitioners and highlighted the future of the movement.  Featuring inner-city artists who save places like Houston native Rick Lowe and Chicagoan Theaster Gates, it felt to many of us like the movement had finally turned the corner and embraced the future. Continue Reading

Continue Reading

Authenticity, Technology and more places in the heart

September 1, 2016 History, Interpretation, Technology Comments (0) 1558

Old school.  Not enough room on the sign for the whole story, so you have to turn it over…

Last month I wrote about Colin Ellard’s work, the neuroscience of why historic buildings and good design are better for your physical and mental health than the frequent monolithic stretches of our contemporary streetscape.  You can read it here.

At that time, I promised a follow-up blog about how technology – including the kind that allowed Ellard to do his studies – also offers new possibilities for interpretation.  I taught historic interpretation classes for more than a decade, and I have always been fascinated by every kind of historic interpretation, from big bronze signs and statues, to performances and interactive displays. Continue Reading

Continue Reading