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As visitors approach Mission San José, they may choose between two entrances: the southern entrance near the visitor center or the gate near the church off East Pyron Avenue.
The latter is the one King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain used during their visit last month to the Spanish colonial mission on San Antonio’s South Side. Their tour of the city and its five missions were part of the celebration of San Antonio’s 300th anniversary. While at Mission San José, Archdiocese of San Antonio officials showed the royals plans for a new parish hall that would replace an aging, non-historic structure there and allow the church to host more events and ceremonies on site.
Those plans will be presented with much less fanfare on Wednesday afternoon when architects show conceptual building renderings to the City’s Historic and Design Review Commission. But the commission’s approval of the parish hall’s design is a critical step in making the 6,500-square-foot hall, welcome center, and coffee shop a reality.
A representative from the Archdiocese declined to comment on Tuesday as the church’s official approval of the project is still pending.
“This is a living World Heritage site,” said Xavier Gonzalez, principal at GRG Architecture, which was hired to design the building, emphasizing the word “living.”
The National Park Service owns the grounds and visitor centers of each mission along the San Antonio River and manages them as national parks. The Archdiocese owns the churches, and each have active parishes that host weekly church services and other special ceremonies. The Catholic church also typically owns property surrounding the missions, such as several acres at San José and a large swath of land that is becoming a large multi-family project at Mission Concepción.
When weddings take place at San José, Gonzalez said, “there’s really nowhere to have a reception or celebrate on the grounds” after the ceremony.
The new hall would change that and also provide a coffee shop, public restroom, and sitting area for mission visitors and parishioners. The building will be well below the height restrictions for new structures around the mission, Gonzalez said, and it also will not be visible from anywhere inside the mission’s plaza – save for the East Pyron Street entrance gate when it’s open.
According to the renderings and site plan, the parish hall may block some minor views of the top of the church from what is now the parking lot.
Parking for the mission will remain near each entrance and visitor center. The empty lot across from the mission on San José Drive will continue to serve as overflow parking during large events, Gonzalez said.
Other features include a courtyard full of of rare cactus species, a modern acequia, and low-impact development methods such as water-catchment and rain gardens.
The material and architectural style planned for the building aim to supplement those of the mission and its plaza walls, not mimic or distract from them, Gonzalez said.
After discussions with HDRC’s Design Review Committee, the preliminary design was updated to replace parking spaces in front of the building with landscaping to reduce the building’s prominence from the street view. Designers also moved the building eastward away from the plaza wall. If the preliminary design is approved on Wednesday, designers will have to come back to the commission for final approval.
The San José Neighborhood Association supports the project, Association President Terry Ybanez said.
Some neighbors at first were concerned that the building would be too tall, Ybanez said, but the drawings and schematics show a structure that will not intrude on views from the church or plaza.
“They currently have a building there that’s falling apart,” she said of the temporary trailer-like structure that has been there for years to offer water and other refreshments to visitors.
“It’s a dynamic parish community” that could use more event space, said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), who often attends Mass at Mission San José and who watched as the king and queen of Spain inspected the plan last month.
She said she likes the initial plans and hopes the final design continues to “complement the area and complement the mission.”