Two major developments were presented for conceptual approval at the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) meeting on Wednesday.
The 210 Development Group showed a preliminary massing rendering that shows eight new multifamily buildings on the site of the former St. John’s Seminary, adjacent to Mission Concepción on the near-Southside. The four primary structures are 1 to 3 1/2 stories in height. Four other structures, smaller in size, will sit as stand-alone townhomes.
The development firm pressed for approval, citing security issues at the vacant site, including recent break-ins and destruction. The former seminary long has been the target of thieves and vandals, and is heavily tagged with graffiti.
“There have been fires, arson and vandalism. We secured the site a month and a half ago, but a tremendous amount of damage has been done,” said Michael Wibracht, the firm’s president and managing partner.
The complex is set back along Mission Road a short distance from the former Mission Trails Mobile Home Park and the future site of MELA, the Mission Escondida Luxury Apartments, a 600-unit development that will be built in two phases starting this year. (Read more about MELA here.)
Instead of walling off the complex from the single-family houses in the surrounding neighborhood, the complex will have a stair step-like structural design that varies from one story at street level to three and a half stories in the internal part of the project. The taller buildings were layered to create a rhythm of scales that don’t interfere with the fluidity of the neighborhood, the developers said.
A corridor will run through the middle of the four main structures, a linear space that celebrates Dreiser Hall, the original brick building of the St. John’s Seminary complex.
Vinayak Bharne of Moule and Polyzoides Architects and Urbanists, a firm based in Pasadena, CA, said Dreiser Hall should be celebrated as the centerpiece of the compound.
“It’s a building of enormous importance that needs to be showcased,” Bharne said.
Bharne said the construction of the apartment buildings will not interfere with the surrounding green space. All heritage trees will be retained, he said, and open spaces located throughout the grounds will complement the alternating scale of the project.
Bharne said the eight structures will be designed in Spanish Mission style to complement the nearby Mission Concepción.
“We believe the style is a wonderful style because it also echoes the historic agenda of the Mission,” he said. “It presents a beautiful contrast to the brick of Dreiser Hall and makes Dreiser Hall stand out as a jewel and creates a consistent fabric which celebrates the space in front of Dreiser Hall.”
HDRC commissioners expressed concern that the height of the proposed eight structures might detract from the prominence of Concepción. and also said they didn’t want the new complex to create a false historicism.
One unresolved issue is the status of some of the other buildings on the former seminary campus that occupy space where new construction is proposed, and whether they will be moved or demolished.
Grand Central Hotel
The site of the historic Grand Central Hotel at Cattleman Square just west of downtown San Antonio also was on the agenda Wednesday. Muñoz & Co. the architectural firm representing the Center for Healthcare Services, presented commissioners with a conceptual design and its request for partial demolition of existing structures on the site. The Center serves people with mental health disorders, substance abuse challenges and developmental disabilities, and will occupy a largely new structure that will incorporate the brick exterior of the former hotel.
Muñoz & Co. Principal Steven Tillotson, who made the presentation, proposed retaining the 1900-era shell of the hotel building while demolishing later additions.
An adjoining one-story building constructed out of the same brick as the main structure has been altered to such a degree that it is structurally deficient with only the north and west walls in their original state, Tillotson said, justifying demolition of the building and reuse of the brick in the new design. Incorporating it into the current project would be cost prohibitive and an unreasonable challenge for the general contractor.
“It’s really a great mixed-use building because they will have ground lease commercial – like retail and cafes – and upper floors are commercial office lease,” Tillotson said of the firm’s design. “To have an institution really ambitiously pursue a mixed-use building in downtown is pretty remarkable. It’s a terrific project.”
Commissioner Tim Cone said he wants to review the cost of preserving the building, saying the architects had not yet presented sufficient data to demonstrate economic hardship.
Janet Dietel, assistant to the president for the San Antonio Conservation Society, opposed the demolition of the one-story building and suggested that a structural engineer be hired to investigate retaining the historical structure. She read a letter written by the Society’s President Sue Ann Pemberton.
“The Cattleman Square Historic District was designated at the time that it contained many vacant and underutilized historic buildings. Since that time there has been additional unfortunate losses. Many of the demolitions involve vacant and underutilized structures,” Pemberton’s letter stated.
Featured Top Image: 222 East Mitchell Street former site of St. John’s Seminary. Photo by Scott Ball.