San Antonio Update September 2023

September 22, 2023 Blog, Global Heritage, Intangible Heritage, Texas Comments (0) 187

Here is the Sommers saloon as it looked 2 months ago, then a month ago, and now.

Which is sad, and saving the stones is not true preservation. But it is puro San Antonio, because this is a place where preservation of something is the first thought, even if that is preservation by relocation or reconstitution. You can argue that those are not true preservation solutions, and you would be right. But in this city, landfill is never the first option. The plan is to have some of the best architects in town re-use the old limestone and caliche for a new development.

I continue to worry about the Hughes House, 312 W Courtland. We worked to save it and found two willing buyers a year ago. They did landmark it and get a zoning change for a wine bar, but vandals/obdachlos broke in last winter and now it is for sale again. In addition to its architectural beauty, it was the home of Russell Hughes, known as La Meri, whose dance was internationally known.

This is when 503 Urban Loop burned in February 2022 on the coldest night of the year. The building was a very famous brothel and then spent a century as Catholic institutions helping women and children in the impoverished Laredito district of San Antonio. We worked with Esperanza Peace and Justice Center and Westside Preservation Alliance to landmark it and were delayed again and again until it burned. Now, the purported developer of an 8-story building there is selling the site. The landmarking process is supposed to insure three things:

  1. Archaeological investigation of whole site
  2. Preservation of any items recovered at a local museum
  3. Permanent interpretation visible from the public ROW.

Will they do it? And who is they? The new owners or the ones when it was burning? Stay tuned!

To address the surfeit of accidentally burned buildings, the City Council yesterday expanded the Vacant Building program beyond historic districts and upped the fines to $500 a day. Now maybe those Austin developers will modify their tactics. But there is still a lot of charcoal in the landscape.

Much of the carnage happens in the area just north of downtown and west of the Pearl, including the Tobin Hill Historic District. Basically everything not in that district is a candidate for demolition. The latest attempt is an interesting ensemble of five Victorian buildings that feels like a little historic district. The trick is that only two are landmarked. Can you guess which?

If you guessed Numbers 1 and 3 you are right! But they really do look like a district. Let me show you the rear building that they also want to demolish.

So this is another interesting development strategy. Pick off the buildings one by one, so that the context is diminished and you can start arguing that there is no “there” there.

I think the Folk Victorians at Number 1 (210 Lewis – not landmarked and slated for demolition!) and Number 2 (215 Poplar, landmarked) are pretty cool, and 225 Poplar (not landmarked) has that impressive double porch with Classical details. Again – stay tuned!

It will be a busy fall – November 1-3 we are having a World Heritage Symposium which will not only recall our status as one of only 25 World Heritage sites in the US, but also recall the UNESCO San Antonio Declaration of 1996, which was the Americas’ response to the Nara document on Authenticity in 1994. Together these statements led to the community- and culture-focused approach to heritage conservation that has characterized all the advances in our field in the 21st century. It is called Affirming Cultural Identity: World Heritage in the 21st century (nice title if I do say so myself).

Read about it here!

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Heritage in the Age of Virtual Reconstruction

October 27, 2015 Global Heritage, Technology Comments (1) 2019

Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria.  BEFORE.

I was going to write this blog on Saturday when I heard the legendary Harold Kalman speak at the National Trust for Canada conference in Calgary.  I had the honor of being the opening keynote speaker on Thursday night, and Harold won at least two awards on Friday night, including one for lifetime achievement.  Notwithstanding his elder statesman role, he had some keen insights into where heritage is in 2015, and the keenest came when he answered the inevitable question. Continue Reading

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World Heritage in Texas!

July 5, 2015 Blog, Global Heritage, History, Texas Comments (0) 1754

This is the time of year new World Heritage sites are inscribed by UNESCO.  The total number passed 1000 last year, after over 40 years of the program.  As I have noted before, the United States has not taken advantage of World Heritage status in many years, partly due to a political funding dispute.  Absurdly, the U.S. has refused to pay its UNESCO dues for many years, so even though we can arguably afford to take care of our sites, at World Heritage level, we are deadbeats. Continue Reading

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GHF 2.0

August 29, 2013 Global Heritage, Sustainability Comments (1) 1412

and the chance to see incredible sites like this Tayrona city dating back 1300 years in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia.

The Global Heritage Fund was founded a decade ago to “help preserve and sustain the most significant and endangered heritage sites in the developing world.” Part of the reason I came to California to join, and now run, this organization was because of this mission and the methodology – Preservation By Design® – that Founder Jeff Morgan established to realize the mission.

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Conserving Culture and Conserving Nature: Assets and Liabilities

October 27, 2012 Economics, Global Heritage, History Comments (20) 2640

The World Heritage Convention is nearing the end of its 40th anniversary, and since what we do here at Global Heritage Fund is help preserve World Heritage Sites in developing countries, I have been fielding a lot of inquiries on the status of the World Heritage Convention. As in so many aspects of heritage conservation/historic preservation, I have seen evolution in the field. In terms of sites inscribed on the World Heritage list, I would venture that we have seen some of the same shifts we have seen in “historic preservation” as a whole. Continue Reading

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The Global Heritage Value

October 10, 2012 Global Heritage, Sustainability, Technology Comments (0) 1331

I have often blogged before about the value a heritage conservation organization brings to a heritage site and its local community. And about the seeming conundrum of having state, national and international organizations working on this when “All Preservation is Local.”

In my international work over the last several years, and especially since coming to the Global Heritage Fund full-time, the value of being an “outsider” has become more apparent. It is more than the items I listed a year and a half ago:

  • Resources
  • Capacity Building
  • Partnerships
  • Credibility and Context

These are all true. We focus on sites of outstanding universal value, lending credibility to local preservation efforts. We partner with UNESCO and the World Bank and USAID and national and local cultural, archaeological and historical agencies, and many universities. We train locals in conservation and crafts and business development, and of course we bring financial and technical resources not available locally. Continue Reading

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Lima Day 1

June 9, 2011 Historic Districts, Technology Comments (0) 1526

Our first day in Lima, Peru was a full one – 9 to 5, most of that in the offices of the Municipality, looking at their new city planning efforts, largely in the realm of greening the city and providing more opportunities for urban agriculture, under the leadership of our colleagues Gunther Merzthal and Anna Zuchetti. The project began with my SAIC colleague Frances Whitehead, who came here last January to work on urban agriculture projects. When she discovered that the center of Lima – an area known as the “Cercado” for the now-vanished city wall – is a World Heritage Site, she brought me into the project along with Douglas Pancoast of our Architecture Interior Architecture and Designed Objects program. Part of the Cercado is of course the Plaza de Armas, which is spectacular in that distinctively Colonial Baroque style found throughout the Spanish Americas. Continue Reading

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Pingyao

July 18, 2008 China Preservation, Historic Districts Comments (0) 1491

The Global Heritage Fund invited me to Pingyao as a new member of their Senior Advisory Board, so I was able to tag the trip on the back end of my work with the US China Arts Exchange Yunnan Sustainability Conference in Dali. All it required was a long layover in Beijing (not that bad, found a cool spot with an outlet and edited my book) and then a flight to Taiyuan, and then an hour ride with Han and Han to the loveliest hotel – a traditional Chinese courtyard house outfitted with all of the latest luxuries. I experienced what I like to call “The Dingle Effect” which is the arrival at a lovely, welcoming hotel after a long and arduous journey – it happened to Felicity and I in 1997 when we arrived in Dingle and it happened again in Pingyao. Continue Reading

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