Mid Century Modern Demolition Derby

July 3, 2024 Blog, Sustainability, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (0) 24

The latest raft of demolition plans in San Antonio is rendering an already hot summer unbearable. And for some reason, it is the Mid Century Modern gems that are bearing the brunt of it. San Antonio College’s Early Childhood Development building, designed by local architect William Dukes as an Osteopathic Hospital in 1958. The long, elegant building has a cellular quality softened by edges that bow in plan, and nice big windows that would be ideal for an architecture school.

Oh, and it is in great shape.

Now, you add the ongoing one-sided discussion about the Summer 2025 demolition of the Texas Pavilion/Institute of Texan Cultures, and…

The just-approved (conceptually) demolition of the Badge and ID Building at San Antonio airport with its wave-like folded plates and poured-in-place Y-shaped columns, and you would think everything built from Eisenhower to Nixon was under attack.

It was designed by Clarence W. W. Mayhew in 1968 according to Roadside Architecture’s article on Texas Mid-Century Modern roofs. Mayhew is well known for residential designs in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is a super cool building, and immeasurably tiny for the size of the project. Still, you know how highway and airport engineers are!*

We also have ongoing concerns about this building on Main Street, a little too far south for San Antonio College to go after, but still surrounded by parking lots. (Developed by Kallison, architect Henry L. Fox, 1962.)

Now, in San Antonio, the Mid-Century Modern master was O’Neil Ford, who came here to restore La Villita in 1939 and ended up creating some of our greatest landmarks, like Trinity University ans the Tower of the Americas. He also did the Villita Assembly Building in 1959, which serves as Sauerkraut Bend and storage during A Night In Old San Antonio(R). The building is not threatened but will be extensively renovated, with more riverside access, a big glass wall and a new clerestory for the essentially windowless circular building.

Also it has a flower on top.

It is not all death and dismantlement for Mid-Century Mods in SA – we did save this 1950s house by Harvey Smith, who restored the Spanish Governor’s Palace and Mission San Jose in the 1930s. He built it for himself and even though it is in Alamo Heights, the Architectural Review Board’s unanimous denial of a permit somehow got the owner to reconsider, which is a win!

Nice to end on a positive note

*Old joke:

Q: What is the difference between a terrorist and a highway/airport engineer?

A: You can negotiate with a terrorist!

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Only downtown landmark by a Mexican-American architect to be demolished

April 19, 2024 Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Justice, History, Sustainability, Texas Comments (1) 133

San Antonio, Texas has always been a majority Hispanic city, but for most of that history, Mexican-Americans faced legal and cultural discrimination and exclusion. Now, sadly, the only major downtown building designed by a Mexican-American architect is going to be demolished. The University of Texas at San Antonio recently announced its plans to demolish the Texas Pavilion/Institute of Texan Cultures building designed for Hemisfair ’68 by William Peña of Caudill, Rowlett and Scott.

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but as smart people know, that is not enough to save it, despite the enticing prospect of 45% investment tax credits (see my recent blog here). The media speculation for the last decade has been that the site is ideal for a new Spurs stadium (Spurs IV – A New Hope) even though it is smaller than their current stadium site by a lot.

See below – that is the Texas Pavilion/ITC on the left and the current Frost Bank Center on right. Which has more parking???

The Spurs were asked to meet with the City a year ago, which has fed a bevy of speculative articles over the last year (Pro Tip: Read them carefully and see who is quoted.)

ITC in foreground, Spurs II (Alamodome) in background left.

Who was Willie Peña and why is he the only Mexican-American architect who designed a major building in downtown San Antonio?

Born in Laredo, Peña was a student at Texas A & M when World War II broke out. Commissioned as a second lieutenant, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge and lost a leg, earning both a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star medal. The French gave him the Croix de Guerre. Finishing his architecture degree in 1948, he became the first employee of the influential Houston architectural firm Caudill, Rowlett and Scott and became a partner the next year. He became a national pioneer in architectural programming, literally writing the book (Problem Seeking – now in its fifth edition) on it.

William Peña, Courtesy CRS Center, Texas A & M University

Many of our downtown landmarks were designed by Anglo architects like Alfred Giles, James Riely Gordon, Atlee Ayres, Ralph Cameron and O’Neil Ford. The Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta designed the Central Library, and the Conservation Society has honored Humberto Saldaña for his downtown restorations, but there are no downtown buildings designed by a Mexican-American architect except the Texas Pavilion/Institute of Texan Cultures.

So why does UTSA want to tear it down? Probably because it is easier for them. As a unit of the State, they don’t even need to ask for a demolition permit. The demolition is currently scheduled for Summer 2025.

They will need to get the demolition money, which could easily approach the $7 million they have deferred in maintenance on the structure. They plan to move some portion of the collections to the Frost Tower and hope to build a new museum behind the Alamo for $100 million.

That means they need to net over $107 million on the sale of the land, which I suppose is doable for a $1.2 billion stadium.

Casa Navarro

Sadly, the city has erased much of the history of its most numerous population. The famed Laredito neighborhood was destroyed in the 1950s and 60s, and only a last-minute effort by the Conservation Society saved Casa Navarro in 1959. It became a National Historic Landmark in 2017, yet even today Hispanic history and design is referenced in less than 4% of National Register of Historic Places listings, even with the recent inclusion of the Texas Pavilion. In 2014, the first Spanish language TV station – Univision – was demolished downtown.

It is time for this erasure of Latino history to end.

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HemisFair at 50

July 12, 2017 Blog, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (0) 3365

San Antonio is gearing up for its Tricentennial next year, but there is another important milestone as well.  Continue Reading

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Palm Springs Modernism Week

February 27, 2011 History, Vision and Style Comments (1) 1895

Palm Springs tramway gas station, Frey and Chambers, 1962

I have seen the future of historic preservation, and it is Mid-century Modernism. It isn’t just the influence of Mad Men or Dwell, which recently celebrated its first decade. The writing was on the wall in the 1990s when Anne Sullivan, who replaced me as Director of the Historic Preservation Program at SAIC, started her class “From Lustron to Neon: Preserving the Recent Past” and within two years it was the most popular elective EVER. I managed to get my work on architect Barry Byrne into a Mid-Century panel in 2002 at the Society of Architectural Historians Conference, thanks to Victoria Young and Christine Madrid French, and Chris is now the Director of Trust Modern, a supporter of Palm Springs Modernism Week, which draws quadruple digits to the desert oasis to feast on the glories of steel cantilevers, ribbed concrete and floor-to-ceiling glass. Continue Reading

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Modern Mischief

June 24, 2007 Chicago Buildings, Sustainability, Technology, Vision and Style Comments Off on Modern Mischief 1371

Jack Hartray was one of five “Mid-Century Modern” architects who spoke at the opening event of the Illinois Preservation Conference last week. Always an enjoyable speaker, Hartray mentioned that Gropius and the modernist masters of the Mid-20th-Century created a lot of “mischief” with a seemingly mischief-free command: make the building do what the client wants.

In a sense, this is the restatement of Louis Sullivan’s “Form Follows Function” and a central tenet of all modernist architectural thinking from the 1890s to the 1960s. But the “mischief” identified by Hartray was a classic failing in the hyper-aware three-dimensional art of modern architecture: the failure to appreciate the fourth dimension: Time. Even in the Time-Life Building. Continue Reading

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