French & Michigan Gallery Leaves Beacon Hill, Retreats to Southtown

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French & Michigan building. Photo by Page Graham.

French & Michigan building. Photo by Page Graham.

French & Michigan owners announced Wednesday that they will move their art gallery from its namesake intersection in Beacon Hill to a warehouse in Southtown, consolidating their businesses under one roof to save money.

Many in the art and city development communities were surprised by the Wednesday announcement in light of the hard-fought zoning battle by proprietors Billy Lambert and Céleste Wackenhut went through in order to legalize the building’s commercial use in the first place.

“The emotional and financial strain it has taken to regroup from this particular period has been tough, and it has required us to make difficult decisions,” Lambert stated in a news release. “While heavy on the heart, these difficult decisions are important to the sustainability of our business.”

“This particular period” pitted neighbor against neighbor more than a year ago. Lambert and Wackenhut found themselves and their new gallery unwelcome in the immediate neighborhood block by several longtime Beacon Hill residents, including former District 1 Councilwoman María Berriozábal, poet Carmen Tafolla, and resident Jessica Fuentes. On the other hand, Beacon Hill Neighborhood Association saw the small business as a positive economic and cultural addition to the neighborhood.

From left: French & Michigan Designer Shane Tafares, Céleste Wackenhut, Billy Lambert, building owner Jeffery Dersh, and French & Michigan Designer Nate Manfred stand outside City Council chambers after Thursday's meeting. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

From left: French & Michigan Designer Shane Tafares, Céleste Wackenhut, Billy Lambert, building owner Jeffery Dersh, and French & Michigan Designer Nate Manfred stand outside Council chambers after City Council approved the zoning change in Oct. 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The building in question, located at the corner of French & Michigan, had long been the site of several different businesses, but was rezoned as residential in recent years despite its lack of on-site parking.

For Lambert, winning the zoning battle in late 2014 was a matter of principle. He contracted the services of well-known zoning attorney Rob Killen to take on the case, which cost the equivalent of a “small student loan,” Lambert said it at the time.

With today’s news, however, it turned out to be a pyrrhic victory.

City Council granted a special-use permit which allowed them to run their gallery at French & Michigan, but the permit would not allow for the additional design-build firm that Wakenhut and Lambert had planned to compliment the gallery with. They then secured a workshop space in Southtown to run the design-build firm while the art gallery remained in Beacon Hill. French & Michigan has hosted a number of notable art exhibits since then.

Ultimately, however, the owners choose to move everything under one roof in Southtown.

And so another building is vacant near the Fredericksburg Road corridor, and another blow to its rebirth as an art hub between the Five Points Neighborhood and Interstate 10.

Several artist-run spaces moved into the area over the past years found themselves harassed by certain members of the neighborhood who vehemently oppose their setting up shop in the area.

Months ago, Uptown Studio, located in the 700 block of Fredericksburg Road, was the subject of a police raid during a burlesque show. It’s doubtful the police were staking out the place, some speculate that it was a citizen complaint led to the raid. The tenant, noted dance choreographer Stephan Gaeth, is now looking for another studio space.

These kinds of situations, along with parking concerns, has made the revitalization of this commercial corridor a risky proposition for developers who would otherwise seek to renovate existing buildings. So far, the only business that has publicly shown interest in moving into the immediate area is a Stripes convenience store on Fredericksburg Rd at I-10. They’ll be building it on an empty lot.


*Top image: French & Michigan in Beacon Hill. Photo by Page Graham.

Related Stories:

Council Says Yes to French and Michigan Gallery

French & Michigan: Still No Decision

UPDATED: French & Michigan Zoning Case: The Battle Rages On

Gentrification: “Angriest Issue in Urban America”

French & Michigan Zoning Case: A War With No Winners

9 thoughts on “French & Michigan Gallery Leaves Beacon Hill, Retreats to Southtown

  1. A very good lesson for neighborhoods to learn. Welcome and grow with change, or be left abandoned.

    Welcome to Southtown, new friends!!

    • You are missing the point that the people opposed to the zoning change want to be abandoned… they fear any improvement will cause their property tax to increase. They don’t want it to change and be “better”. They like it the way it is. That is an interesting issue with neighborhood gentrification and/or mixed-income livability that will would be good to figure out how to deal with. I think that’s part of the reason so much of the older parts look the way they do. That will always be an issue when you have non-descript old houses/buildings in areas that are “gentrifying”.. that no one wants to spend money to renovate but would rather tear down… but then that destroys some of the existing character and /or historic fabric.

  2. Second the motion – welcome to Southtown! We’ll take all the art galleries & cultural enterprises we can get – with pleasure!

  3. Just goes to show how toxic some of our neighbors can truly be. The fact that hard-working folks had to spend money fighting this battle disgusts me. And to what end? Yet another vacant building asking to be vandalized? I hope Maria and Carmen are happy with themselves.

    • I’ve read a lot about this as reported by different sources over years and too bad it couldn’t happen… but there really are 2 sides to this that started out as real issues with neighborhood development, and it became more personal unfortunately. But as the great Rivard Report about the East Side brought up… neighborhoods go through life cycles, and the long-term people there now should get some credit for staying and/or moving in when the city suburbanized in the 50s. There definitely wasn’t enough foresight and planning prior to the occupany decision on the part of the gallery.. so they should probably bear more of the blame,, as they weren’t required to sign a lease or start doing anything without proper permits. That’s just common sense and does give the impression of entitlement… so I can see where it quickly goes personal when other people have chips on their shoulders… literally or figuratively.. Cacti provide a great crown of thorns.

  4. The vacant lot now at the corner of Woodlawn Ave. & Fredericksburg Rd. (close to Martinez Creek and an active rail line as well as neighborhood schools but somehow now considered for a Stripes mega gas station ) was, in part, the historic Small World Hobbies building.

    Google still shows the foot print and orientation (as well as street view images) of two historic buildings that had until recently stood on the vacant lot – and which had helped form the walkable neighborhood commercial / mixed use character of that part of Beacon Hill up until 2011 and 13. The Small World Hobbies building in particular was a neighborhood and city icon and likely should have been identified as such (or even as public art) in any neighborhood planning:,-98.5146697,3a,75y,156.56h,73.57t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sgtuTme969uw-Q2xutCFhDQ!2e0!5s20110601T000000!7i13312!8i6656

    How that building was approved for demolition and without a meaningful time frame for new construction (the huge lot left vacant for over two years) – and then anything new approved not following the historic building setback and orientation or weighing the environmental or quality-of-life concerns of a mega gas station near a creek, active rail line, schools, homes, a key bike and bus route (Woodlawn Ave) and an already congested intersection – is another lesson in San Antonio planning double standards and mistakes.

    • Agreed.

      There also is a vacant lot catty-corner to this location (across the highway) that had a bar a few years ago. When the owners wanted to demolish it, various neighborhoods (including mine) fought to have it declared historic. While we completely recognized that historic designation wouldn’t prevent its demolition, it would at least give design influence over what was built afterward. It will soon (so I’ve heard) become just another boring parking lot.

      Why is it that San Antonio is too afraid to demand better?

  5. Can’t wait to see what fellow Sweet Briar alum, Celeste Wackenhut has in store for Southtown and San Antonio. Hats off to both you and Billy for your tenacity.

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