A San Antonio surprise

November 4, 2017 Historic Districts, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (1) 3362

So here is the photo I posted on my first day at work nearly a year and a half ago.

This is the main office of the San Antonio Conservation Society, and has been so since 1974, when the organization was already 50 years old.  It is the Anton Wulff House, built in 1870 and described as Italianate style.  This is reasonable since it has that Tuscan tower, those paired windows and doors and other hallmarks of the most popular style in America from 1850 to 1880.

After the tower and the main front-facing gabled mass, there is a half-gable mass that almost reads like an addition, but everyone assured me the building was built this way.

Maybe it is the nature of the slightly irregular limestone blocks, but that last mass (which contains my office) seemed less designed, reflective perhaps of the isolated and emergent city some seven years before the railroad arrived.

What did seem clear was a complete absence of any influence from Anton Wulff’s home country, Germany, and specifically the Alsace region adjacent to France.  Alsatians had clearly brought European architecture to nearby Castroville at the same time.

Huth House, Castroville, 1846.

But I was wrong because I did not have an encyclopedic knowledge of early 19th century high style European architecture.  If I had, I would have recognized a homage to the MOST famous German architect of the 19th century, Friedrich Schinkel, he of the Altes Museum.  In 1829, Schinkel designed the Römische Bäder, an expressionistic complex at Potsdam for the romantic Prussian Friedrich Wilhelm IV.  This is what it looked like:

Credit for this discovery goes to Michael Guarino, who left me a stack of images of the structure.  All of a sudden the Wulff House had a fairly grand legacy, and that half-gabled section made sense for the first time.

 

Save

Save

Save

Continue Reading

HemisFair at 50

July 12, 2017 Blog, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (0) 3117

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

Continue Reading

Viva FIESTA!

May 6, 2017 Blog, Intangible Heritage, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (0) 2320

This year marked both my first rodeo and my first Fiesta, which is San Antonio’s 126-year old celebration of the Battle of San Jacinto.  The greatest party during the 10-day Fiesta is the San Antonio Conservation Society’s A Night In Old San Antonio®, which runs four consecutive nights.

Continue Reading

Continue Reading

Alfred Giles, Architect

August 5, 2016 Blog, House Museums, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (1) 2397

Alfred Giles emigrated to America in the 1870s after studying architecture in his native England.  Moving to San Antonio from New York in 1875, he became one of the most prolific and important architects in San Antonio.  In 1875 he designed the stunning Second Empire Steves Homestead in the King William District, which is open daily for tours. Continue Reading

Continue Reading

San Antonio Conservation

June 26, 2016 Blog, History, Intangible Heritage, Interpretation, Texas Comments (0) 1962

“The entire mix of cultures was their birthright, the soul of their home city, and it was not to be taken away. Their goal became the saving not only of landmarks but of traditions and ambiance and natural features as well, the preservation of no less than San Antonio’s entire cultural and natural environment.”

Lewis F. Fisher, Saving San Antonio, p. 91-92 Continue Reading

Continue Reading

The How and Why of Preservation

November 11, 2014 Economics, History, Sustainability Comments (2) 1480

San Antonio is a beautiful town

This is the title of a presentation I did for the Office of Historic Preservation, Centro San Antonio and over a hundred luncheon attendees in San Antonio last week.  I went through four thematic reasons WHY we save things:  Identity – Community – Economy – Education.

I then detailed the HOW, which includes National Register designation and local landmark status and so forth.  I focused on my mantra, which readers of this blog are familiar with:  Preservation Is Not A Set of Rules But A Process. Continue Reading

Continue Reading

San Antonio and my Myth of Eternal Return

November 3, 2010 Blog, Historic Districts, History, Interpretation, Texas Comments (3) 1686

Now is always better than Then. That might seem like an odd statement coming from a historic preservationist/heritage conservationist, but it is especially true in our field. The decision to rehabilitate, restore or preserve a building, structure, site or community is a decision about the future, not the past.

Our reasons include the past: past history, past cultural achievements, even past architecture and design and art. But the decision is always about the future: we imagine the future will be better if we retain these elements of the past. And we are usually right. Now is better than Then because the best elements of the past are with us, enriching the Now, humanizing the Now, and making Now more beautiful. Continue Reading

Continue Reading