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The Power of Preservation (PoP) Foundation will honor the work of forward-thinking citizens and businesses at its Fifth Annual Power of Preservation PROMenade. This year’s event will be held on Oct. 27 in the Kress Building, located at 311 E. Houston St.
The award winners, selected by the PROM committee, are:
- Sally Buchanan – Vision Award for Lifetime Achievement
- Irby Hightower – Preservation Champion
- Pearl Brewhouse – Best Preservation Project
“This year’s honorees continue the Power of Preservation’s tradition of honoring our local heroes – some popular and some unsung – who passionately advocate to preserve the city’s heritage,” said PoP Board Member Robert Salluce.
“I’m proud that Sally Buchanan will be honored with this year’s Vision Award,” he added. “Her absolute conviction and famous tenacity helped preserve our natural and cultural heritage and, indeed, shaped our identity as a place. For years, Irby Hightower, this year’s Preservation Champion, has been at the center of projects that have truly transformed the city.”
Salluce said that while the Pearl, in general, has had a significant impact on San Antonio and its growth, the Brewhouse “particularly embodies a new energy for San Antonio and is an obvious choice to highlight at PROM.”
The event theme – “Historic Houston Street” – will allow attendees to “celebrate the golden era of this glamorous boulevard,” which was once a thriving center for commerce and recreation in the early 20th century. To purchase individual tickets, which cost $150, click here.
Read about this year’s honorees below.
Vision Award for Lifetime Achievement
The consummate leader, volunteer, and activist, Sara “Sally” Matthews Buchanan knew what community involvement meant from a young age. She was well known for her steadfast commitment to several preservation and conservation causes in San Antonio.
Buchanan died July 30 at age 73 after a five-year battle with melanoma. Her husband of nearly 45 years, Robert T. Buchanan, said his wife’s life was all about “doing for others.
“In anything she did, personal gain did not come into the picture,” Robert said. “Sally always made certain that everybody involved got their due and got their recognition. It was not about her.
“In her young schooling at St. Mary’s Hall, I think service was one of those things that came to the forefront,” he added. “She went to Mills College out on the West Coast and that influenced her a great deal in being independent.”
Robert said his wife’s love of travel figured greatly into her persona.
“Her quest of seeing places and knowing different cultures certainly was a big part of who she was. She was able to really experience the classical civilizations.”
During Buchanan’s early travels, “The Shah was still in Iran. Afghanistan had a king. Nepal had a king. She got to see the Buddhas of Bamiyan that the Taliban eventually destroyed. It just stuck with her,” Robert said. “She became more interested in conservation and preservation from seeing so much on her trips.”
Buchanan was known as an advocate for many organizations, including the San Antonio Conservation Society, The Witte Museum, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, the San Antonio Symphony, and more, but perhaps her most notable achievements came while serving as a director of the San Antonio River Authority board from 1996-2016, and as its president in 2013. Buchanan also co-founded the San Antonio River Foundation in 2003, and served as its chair from 2003-2006.
“Sally Buchanan loved San Antonio – its past, present, and future,” said River Authority General Manager Suzanne Scott. “She could always share interesting, behind-the-scenes stories of how big decisions in the city really happened – the interesting people, relationships and, yes, sometimes the gossip, that drove some of San Antonio’s past movers and shakers.
“Preservation was more than bricks and mortar to Sally. It was the people and the stories that provide the emotion and passion that built this city,” Scott continued. “I saw that firsthand in her love for the San Antonio River and the role this treasured resource plays in the rich cultural history of our community. She would tell everyone who would listen that it was the river, its fresh water and abundant flora and fauna, that supported life of the earliest indigenous people, fed the acequias that advanced the successful agricultural operations of the Spanish-colonial missions, and, in more recent history, is the reason San Antonio is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the nation.”
Scott said one of Buchanan’s proudest moments came when UNESCO bestowed the World Heritage designation upon San Antonio’s Spanish-colonial missions and the Alamo. The organization specifically noted the significance of the San Antonio River and the acequia system as key elements in the establishment and sustained operation of the missions.
“She was so very pleased that this foundational part of our history was highlighted on the world stage,” Scott said.
There was never a question in Hightower’s mind that he would be anything but an architect, even as a child in Port Arthur, Texas.
“My parents knew that the easiest way to keep me happy on a family trip was to drive around neighborhoods where I could look at houses and buildings,” Hightower said. “My favorite places were where I could walk around and look so I’ve always liked urban areas the best. I was a weird kid.”
That “weird kid” – founding principal at Alamo Architects, Inc. – initially worked and lived on the East Coast after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin.
“I’m not a preservation architect,” Hightower said. “They are highly trained experts. But when my partners and I were young architects, the federal government enacted income tax credits for converting historic buildings into mixed-use buildings. We were living in New York and Philadelphia so it created a lot of work for architects. I was hired by a firm that specialized in this new field of adaptive re-use of historic buildings.”
When he moved back to his home state, San Antonio “was the only city in Texas already actively adapting older buildings for multi-family, office, and hotel (use) so it was natural for us to start working on projects like the Fairmount Hotel,” he said. The 3.2-million-pound hotel was moved a half-mile from Bowie and Commerce streets to La Villita over a span of six days in 1985.
“In the first two years of the firm, we looked at converting many of the two- to eight-story historic buildings downtown into apartments with ground floor retail,” Hightower said. “Sadly, the 1980s oil crash and savings and loan crisis killed all of these projects. We are just now seeing some of these projects starting up again.”
Like Buchanan, Hightower’s interests led him to the San Antonio River. When the San Antonio River Oversight Committee was formed in 1998, Hightower and former Mayor Lila Cockrell were appointed as co-chairs. The committee was formed to advise the City, County, and River Authority on the comprehensive oversight of flood control and amenity improvements on the San Antonio River portion from Josephine Street south to Espada Dam, which was later extended to south of Loop 410.
Hightower said he’s proud that the project is well designed and reflects the aspirations of the community.
“The river and creeks are the connective tissue of San Antonio’s built history. It is hard to perceive how Brackenridge Park, the Pearl, the San Antonio Museum of Art, Main Plaza, and the Missions relate to each other if you drive from one to the next,” he said. “But if go along the river, all of these great spots reconnect as they were first perceived as part of a larger community. They are no longer individual places but become part of what makes our city unique.”
Hightower admits that “preservation” can be difficult to define.
“It’s a bit of an odd word. You’re preserving the building or the landscape for the future but rarely are you preserving how it currently appears or is being used,” he said. “It usually requires a great deal of work, updating, ongoing care, creativity, and thoughtful editing.
“Building on a place’s history, culture, and how it has changed over time are all part of making great and unique places to live,” he continued. “I’m less interested in preserving a particular building or group of buildings than how we can constantly improve our city. For me, preservation is about the future, not the past.”
Best Preservation Project
When the Pearl Brewhouse was built in 1894, its skyline must have been a sight to behold. The brewery was the largest employer in the city, and considering its location on the outskirts of town, “it must have been crazy impressive,” conjectured Bill Shown, managing director of real estate for Silver Ventures, the Pearl’s development company.
Now, 122 years later, with the San Antonio skyline more fleshed out and its outskirts expanded for miles in all directions, the Pearl Brewhouse is once again “crazy impressive” as the home of Hotel Emma and Southerleigh Fine Food and Brewery.
When the Pearl began its resurgence journey 14 years ago, the team at Silver Ventures spent a lot of time dreaming about what the location might become.
“We went through a really cool exercise trying to project ourselves forward into the future and try to imagine what a day at the Pearl might look like,” Shown said. “As the stories began to unfold from each of our respective visions, it was so often about community and connectedness, and so that became a common theme around what we wanted to do at the Pearl. As we looked at the Brewhouse, we looked at all the different ideas and one thing became (really) clear to us, consistent with the idea of connectedness. If we make it residences, nobody will be able to go inside those spaces. As appealing as it might be to make it condos or apartments, that was out, because we felt it was important to invite people in.”
Shown added that once the team landed on the idea of a hotel, they wanted the space to feel like “San Antonio’s living room, where people can go because they feel really comfortable there.” The challenge of the design was to mix the Old World San Antonio heritage with the industrial character of the building. They found that right mix with the firm Roman and Williams.
“We just love their design aesthetic, because they are so attuned to the idea of making something beautiful inside a rough space and enhancing the rough space by kind of riffing off of it,” Shown said.
While Pearl itself has been 14 years in the making, the design of the Brewhouse began in 2007, but was put on hold the following year when the recession hit.
“Then in 2009 or ’10, once the smoke cleared from the recession, we restarted the idea of a hotel in the space,” Shown said. “We started looking at a 225-room hotel originally, and then we started looking at an 85-room hotel. We got way down the road on that and said, ‘This needs to be bigger,’ and so we landed on the idea of Hotel Emma, which is 146 keys. It took five years to build.”
(Read More: Hotel Emma: San Antonio Gets a Showcase Hotel)
Shown credited the success of the project to the team that worked on Hotel Emma around the clock: Development Manager Lisa Rosenzweig, Design and Construction Manager Allen Sikes, and Jeffrey Fetzer, a man with an unusual job title – Protector of the Historic Fabric.
“His job was to make sure that everything we did was supportive of the history of the place and that nothing was done that would damage the history, “Shown said. “Things like electrical conduits, junction boxes, and air conditioning ducts … were thoughtfully placed.”
Shown said the true visionary of Pearl is Christopher “Kit” Goldsbury, chairman of Silver Brands, Inc.
“He’s committed to the vision. He absolutely stays the course and every decision that we make is consistent with the vision,” Shown said. “One of the best compliments we receive is when people say, ‘We just love the attention to detail.’ I think what they’re really saying is that they love that we pay attention to the way everything interacts and the way everything is done. We work hard to make sure that every single nut and bolt and screw and board and piece of furniture and piece of art is consistent with the vision. Hopefully, when they’re in the spaces, they feel a sense of history.”
“I think the cool thing about PROM, is that it has blossomed organically, thanks to so many special people who believe passionately in historic preservation and have nourished it with their energy and creativity,” said PoP Board Member Andi Rodriguez. “There’s really no other event like PROM in the city. Anytime a super fun celebration can provide a deeper understanding of a mission and activate people together for a common cause, it creates community.”
Rodriguez said while it’s easy to wax nostalgic about the importance of historic preservation, it’s really about the people.
“Power of Preservation exists to foster the idea that breathing new life into these spaces helps us understand the context of place, to reimagine ourselves, and to connect us to each other – (to) our past, present and future,” she said.
Tickets and table sponsorships are still available for PROM. For more information, click here.
Top image: The Kress Building at 311 East Houston Street. Photo by Scott Ball.