HDRC Vote Impedes SAISD’s Efforts to Demolish 1915 Beacon Hill Building

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Beacon Hill Academy students hold up signs urging Historic and Design Review Commission members (right) to ease the way toward demolition for a 1915 campus building.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Beacon Hill Academy students hold up signs urging Historic and Design Review Commission members (right) to ease the way toward demolition of a 1915 campus building.

In an abnormally rowdy night at the Historic and Design Review Commission, parents, former students, and faculty of Beacon Hill Academy tearfully implored commissioners to ease the way toward demolition for an unused 1915 campus building on the school's grounds. Parents say the building has created safety concerns and limited the space that the growing student body needs for physical activity.

The question at stake Wednesday night, however, was whether or not the building was of historical significance to the neighborhood and City. Commissioners ultimately voted 5-3 to find the structure historically significant, and advance the process to create a new local landmark, making it harder to eventually demolish.

San Antonio Independent School District and families of schoolchildren sought a denial of the historic status in hopes of forcing some action toward addressing the building's condition. The building has sat vacant for more than two decades and has become dilapidated over time, with cracks in the brick exterior and significant water damage inside.

"Those bricks mean more to us than any of you [commissioners] sitting here today and we are ready to see that go so that our children don’t have to look at this building and think that all their worth is that dilapidation," Beacon Hill alumna Devyn Gonzales said.

The matter will go next to City Council, which will decide whether to designate the building as having historical significance.

City staff estimated the Beacon Hill decision could go to Council sometime in late December or early January. Council's first decision would be whether to initiate the rezoning process. The matter would go to the zoning commission, and then it would return to Council likely in February or March, Office of Historic Preservation Director Shanon Shea Miller said.

Even if Council approves the historic designation, there would still be an opportunity for SAISD to argue for demolition based on economic hardship or loss of historic value, but district officials said that would be a challenge.

Following the commissioners' vote, parents rallied outside the boardroom with young students in tow, vowing to contact City Council members and encourage them to vote against granting the building historical status.

"Do not give up, do not be discouraged," Beacon Hill Principal Laryn Nelson said. " se puede!"

A student runs past the 1915 Beacon Hill Elementary School building, which sits vacant on the grounds of Beacon Hill Academy.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

A student runs past the 1915 Beacon Hill Elementary School building, which sits vacant on the grounds of Beacon Hill Academy.

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) has repeatedly advocated for the building's renovation, but parents say the estimated cost of more than $4 million has no dedicated funding. Treviño's office and the Office of Historic Preservation have both said applying for historic status would make it easier to secure tax credits that could likely defray some of the cost of restoration.

With no money pledged toward updates, SAISD has committed to finding money to demolish the building. This cost is significantly less than the cost to update the building. As a result, the Beacon Hill community is pushing for demolition, saying that 20 years is too long for a building to sit vacant with no use.

In 1997, SAISD first explored demolition but had its permit denied by the City. Meeting minutes show that after the demolition was denied, the district committed to preserving the building.

Several commissioners questioned SAISD officials on this Wednesday, asking why more had not been done to preserve the building, and why the district could not now put aside money to make changes.

With significant needs elsewhere in the district, SAISD Board President Patti Radle said using precious funds to restore a building that is not currently in use would be irresponsible.

City officials argued that in the end, the building is of historical significance. Policy states that to be deemed significant, a building must meet three of 16 qualifiers in the Unified Development Code. The 1915 building met eight, including being the work of a master architect, embodying an architectural style, and having a unique location, city staff said.

Patti Zaiontz, the first vice president of the San Antonio Conservation Society, summed up the argument for historic status by saying that despite two decades of neglect, the building retains "significant architectural features" on both the exterior and interior.

6 thoughts on “HDRC Vote Impedes SAISD’s Efforts to Demolish 1915 Beacon Hill Building

  1. Thank you for you coverage of tonight. It is disappointing to see that the men on the HDRC do what Ms. Miller and her staff tell them to do, rather than evaluating the evidence for themselves. OHP could not give one clear example of what historical event or people are linked to this building. Everything they said was generalizations and even outright lies. That building does not meet 3 or more UDC criteria! We will keep fighting.

    • The person linked to this building is the architect Leo MJ Dielmann. He designed many other significant buildings in San Antonio. I encourage you to google him! I was not there but I imagine a lot of generalizations were made in the meeting because the board was already familiar with the specifics of the building.

  2. According to the article and city staff, the building meets 8 of the 16 criteria. That being said something needs to be done with the building. Either the City needs to invest in it’s restoration or the City needs to allow demolition.

  3. Just because C.O.P.S. shows up and screams louder than anyone, with their signs and passion, does NOT make their point right or the best path. This is NOT about injustice done to children. My God, the school was expanded recently and is MASSIVE! This elementary school! This school has a gymnasium, it has a nice covered playground, baseball field and parking lot for the kids to play in.

    This is about preserving history. This is not an ordinary building thrown up by just anyone. In 1915, when this building was built, this was a rural setting. This school was built before there were many automobiles in San Antonio. It was built between the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad and dirt road called Fredericksburg Rd. (what would become U.S. Highway 87). At the time it was built, there were no building east of Fredericksburg Rd. until you hit Blanco Rd. In fact, there were no city streets on the east of Fredericksburg Rd., north of French Place. This architect is one of the truly great architects in the history of Texas. He was the son of German immigrants and a San Antonio native. His father was a stone mason. He graduated from St. Mary’s College but went to Paris to learn his trade. He was a city councilman, the two years before this school was built. Dielmann did not produce many homes, he produced big buildings like churches, school s and public venues. He produced over 100 buildings across Texas, but most of them in South Texas. Most of his works a long gone. The list of his remaining work is truly impressive.
    He designed the 12 story Frost Bank Building, which now houses the City Council Chambers. He also designed Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on the westside. Also:
    The Fairmount Hotel, 401 S. Alamo San Antonio, Texas, NRHP-listed THe Conventual Chapel at Our Lady of the Lake University
    LaBorde House Hotel, 601 E. Main St., Rio Grande City NRHP-listed
    Monastery of Our Lady of Charity, San Antonio, NRHP-listed
    Nativity of Mary, Blessed Virgin (Painted) Church, High Hill, Tx, NRHP-listed
    Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Victoria, Tx, NRHP-listed
    Plaza Hotel, 217 S. River St., Seguin, Texas, NRHP-listed
    Post Chapel (Fort Sam Houston), San Antonio, Texas, NRHP-listed
    Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Abilene, Texas, NRHP-listed
    St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Fredericksburg, Texas, NRHP-listed
    St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Brenham, Texas, built 1935, NRHP-listed
    St. James Catholic Church, 507 S. Camp St., Seguin, Texas, 1914
    Hermann Sons Grand Lodge, San Antonio, Art Deco style, built in 1938
    The Barr Building, 213–19 Broadway, San Antonio, Texas, built in 1912.

    It is insanity that we would submit to the political will of these hate-filled screamers – and of course the Rivard Report supports them and their demonization of the “eyesore”. The reason San Antonio is great is because we have had the wisdom to preserve our history and work around it and in it. Please fight to preserve to valuable piece of our history.

    • I’d suggest actually going to the school and checking it out yourself. Yes, the school has a gymnasium, that (and the cafeteria) is the main place kids can get any sort of physical activity. Yes, it has a covered playground but is currently gated off for safety reasons and falling bricks. Children have not been able to play there since April. We do NOT have a baseball field, there’s a deteriorating building in the way of making that happen. The parking lot is a place for cars, not kids, and half is closed off, again, due to falling bricks.
      I agree Dielmann was an amazing architect that definitely is a gem to San Antonio, however, this building is definitely not one of his better pieces, not the first, not the last, not the only school he built. His legacy is not in jeopardy if it is demolished.
      If this school becomes a historical landmark, then what? It’s a costly renovation that no one has offered to help fund. I know this because I have been here since the beginning of this (current) attempt to figure out what to do with building more than a year ago. We looked into options to save it, but funding is the issue that made us realize we have no other choice but to demolish it. People we’ve consulted only have ideas to thrown around, nothing concrete, commitments made by certain officials to help have been disregarded. This building is going to sit there another 20 years because no one is stepping up to help, there is no funding. There’s only people that talk big about preservation that don’t have to live with the consequences if the building is deemed historic.

  4. Thank you Michael King for your googles history lesson. Put your money where your googling is, put up money and then you can talk about preservation!

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