In less than a year, the home of Miguel and Guadalupe Calzada in Beacon Hill has gone from the threat of receiving City-mandated demolition to City-designated historic landmark status. This turnaround is the result of concerted efforts of neighbors’ intent on saving the home and seeking change in the way the City handles demolitions of residences deemed dangerous. Spearheading the effort to “Save Miguel’s Home” are retired union organizer Bob Comeaux, architect David Bogle, and retired pastor Tom Heger.
Much progress has been made in rehabilitating the home at 1123 West French Place, but there is still a long way to go. Although it is a major undertaking, the #SaveMiguelsHome team is relentless in pursuit of their goal.
This Saturday, August 22, Comeaux will be hosting a fundraising party at his home from 4-6 p.m. The featured guest will be former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who recently lost her bid for mayor. Van de Putte joined #SaveMiguelsHome supporters during her campaign last year.
“She is completing 25 years of dedicated public service, and she has allowed us to mark the occasion with a celebration of her service while raising funds for Miguel’s home,” Comeaux said.
The honorary co-chairs for the event are former Councilmember Maria Berriozábal and 101-year-old MaryLou Miller, who got the ball rolling by alerting Comeaux of the situation. Both Berriozábal and Miller live close to Miguel’s home in Beacon Hill.
Donations for the fundraiser start at $25 per person and 100% of the proceeds will benefit Miguel’s home. For more information, you can visit the saneighborshelpingneighbors.org website. You can also contact Comeaux at 210-326-2655 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. An Indiegogo account has also been set up for people who would like to make financial donations.
The neighborhood’s effort to save the Calzada’s home has been no small feat. The historic structure has been unchanged since the ’50s, and is currently in dilapidated condition. Practically everything needs to be addressed in one form or another: electricity, plumbing, foundation, paint – the works. The home was classified as a “dangerous building” last year by the City and scheduled for demolition soon after. The City of San Antonio has since agreed to extend the deadline for required repairs on the house until this Christmas.
Miguel is not a perfect person. He is somewhat of a hoarder. There are still piles of trash strewn throughout the yard. There are even a few remaining piles inside the house itself. However, even that turned out to be a blessing.
“When Guadalupe fell ill, Miguel started to sell the metal scrap he had collected to pay for her prescriptions,” Comeaux said. He even knew which metals would fetch the highest prices when he needed to sell them. Both Miguel and Guadalupe are retired senior citizens.
Like any construction project, the first items in need of repair are the least visible. In this case, the foundation was repaired with the installation of 29 concrete piers. The remaining cedar posts were shored up and shimmed. The total cost was $8,500, at a significant discount. Organizer Bob Comeaux indicated that many contractors are offering their services at reduced rates.
Next on the agenda is removing the chimneys, which are in a state of collapse. After that, there are carpentry removals and repairs, as well as replacing the metal roof. When this is accomplished, according to Bogle, “This should remove the code violations cited by the Building Standards Board.”
Bogle led the effort for historic designation Calzada’s home, which first received approval from the Historic and Design Review Commission and then official designation on Thursday from City Council.
Changing City Policy
The #SaveMiguelsHome movement has set the ball rolling in terms of how the City of San Antonio will handle demolitions in the future. Councilmember Roberto Treviño (D1) found himself dealing with this issue during his second day on the job last year and has since developed a Council Consideration Request (CCR) that aims to transform the City’s process.
Many of Miguel’s neighbors are under the impression that the City has more incentives and waivers for developers than individual homeowners. Treviño hopes a change in policy will help to alter this perception.
He proposes to extend the period of time before a demolition permit can be issued for veterans, those who have lived in their homes for 20 years or more, people suffering from chronic health issues, and/or over 65. Under these criteria, the Calzadas would qualify by the last three counts. Click here to download the CCR.
The CCR would also establish criteria for those who serve on the Building Structures Board (BSB) in order to better balance it out, adding an architect, a civil engineer, a general contractor, a social worker, a health care professional, a retired person (over 65), and a military veteran. Currently, the BSB has two panels of seven members, including a Mayor’s appointee, three rental property managers, and one historic preservation professional.
The CCR was filed in April, but the issue has yet to be considered by the full City Council.
After critical structural repair is complete, it will be time for volunteers to come into the house and get to work. Using his union organization skills and connections, Comeaux has recruited people to help out. He has a church group waiting and ready to get inside and strip what’s left on the interior walls. In addition, he has several professional organizations ready to participate:
- UAPP Local 142: Plumbers and pipefitters have agreed to re-plumb the house as a community project.
- IBEW Local 500: Members of the electricians union for CPS Energy and San Antonio Water System workers have agreed to re-wire the house. The owner of the now-defunct Corbo Electric has offered to donate any materials leftover from his business that can be used in this project, before he auctions off the rest of the supplies in September.
- CWA Local 6143: Communications workers will wire the home for phone, cable and internet.
- State Sen. Jose Menéndez: Secured the use of a dumpster from Texas Disposal Systems for two months.
- Haven for Hope: Ambassadors have volunteered to assist with taping and floating drywall, painting, and landscaping.
- Several church groups, including Mission Church and The Well, have helped out at work parties. Beacon Hill and Alta Vista neighborhood residents, as well as other community-minded individuals, have also lent a hand.
This is a huge undertaking, requiring a lot of time, money, and effort – all for a single charitable project. There are countless people in the city that are in similar situations, why has the Calzada’s story resonated so strongly with the community, media, and elected officials? What makes them special? To seek answers, I reached out to retired Beacon Hill Presbyterian Church Pastor Tom Heger, who has been heavily involved with the Calzadas and the Beacon Hill community.
“Miguel and Guadalupe are worth it,” Heger said, outlining the reasons why people have been so loyal to their cause. “They’re good folk who have fallen on very hard times. Miguel has been the ‘go to’ good Samaritan, dependable guy for years and years.”
He went on to explain that it’s time to return some of this care back to him.
“The old house is also worth it. Good bones. It can be fixed,” he said. As an architect, Bogle is similarly passionate in this regard. The house is a Victorian structure that has much of its original carpentry in place.
Heger continued, “It’s about more than one house, it’s both a ‘moment of compassion’ for Miguel and his home that has sparked a movement for justice for similar families and home throughout the city.” Miguel and Guadalupe are not alone in their plight.
“Yes, it’s expensive. Not caring for Miguel and not saving his home would be more expensive,” Heger said. He went on to point out the costs of demolition and land clearing, the mandated five-year vacancy of the lot, the loss of tax revenue, and the eventual cost of new construction of an infill home.
*Featured/top image: The #SaveMiguelsHome team is seeking a San Antonio Conservation Society grant to restore the front porch. Photo by Page Graham.