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The demolition of two shotgun homes, narrow residences likely built before the 1920s but never deemed historic, was the main topic at the start of a Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) meeting Wednesday.
As the HDRC prepared to grant conceptual approval to plans for a 10-story commercial tower on Broadway that will become the new home of Jefferson Bank, they heard from one citizen who told commissioners he came not to oppose the project.
“I’m opposed to the loss of an opportunity,” Chris Alonzo said of his concern over several shotgun homes being razed to make way for the development. It’s a concern he shares with the Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) currently leading the charge to develop a deconstruction and salvage program for the city.
Alonzo, a property investor, environmental engineer, and preservationist, said he met with City staffers several times last summer and contacted the developer in January by phone and email, offering to relocate the homes facing Alamo Street to parcels he owns on the near West Side.
He felt the homes were in good condition, unlike a third shotgun home also nearby, and appeared to have intact windows and likely featured valuable material such as longleaf heart pine, typical of homes of that era. They would fit in well with other shotgun homes on North Colorado Street where his property is located, he said, and he was willing to purchase them if necessary.
“They told me the homes were promised to someone else,” Alonzo said. But on April 15, while riding his bike in the area, Alonzo noticed the shotgun homes were gone and likely demolished within the previous few days.
“I wanted to make the commissioners aware of the fact that I thought I had covered all my bases,” Alonzo said during the meeting. “I don’t know if there was a breakdown in the process … or if it was a failure to communicate. But I do think that for a city that touts itself as a green city that wishes to reduce carbon emissions, we lost a golden opportunity to save these structures and reduce debris in the landfill.”
The developer’s representative, attorney Patrick Christensen, responded to the concerns by saying he tried to save the homes and had arranged with another developer to relocate them to a property on East Grayson Street. “At the last minute, he decided he couldn’t take them,” Christensen said. “I apologize. We were just trying to get the project moving.”
The project is a commercial tower designed by HKS architects and set to occupy the city block bordered by Broadway, East Josephine, North Alamo, and East Grayson – a location ideal for growing the business, Jefferson Bank President Paul McSween has said. Jefferson Bank officials partnered with local real estate firm Milam Real Estate Capital to develop the new headquarters.
The tower, featuring ground-level retail space and structured parking, will take its place among other booming development that soon will bring Credit Human and Bank of America into the corridor.
An OHP staffer told the HDRC that the shotgun homes at 1909 and 1911 N. Alamo were not designated as historic landmarks and thus not subject to HDRC approval for demolition. However, the developer was encouraged to pursue relocation or salvage opportunities.
Christensen said the homes were not in good condition and nothing was salvaged. The OHP granted administrative permission to the owner in May 2018 to demolish the homes if no suitable location to move them wasn’t found by July of that year.
“It is unfortunate these homes were lost when obviously there was someone who could have repurposed them,” said District 9 Commissioner Jeffrey Fetzer, adding that the OHP’s upcoming new initiative to work with stakeholders on a deconstruction and salvaging program might prevent such losses in the future.
The HDRC unanimously approved the tower project with no further discussion.
Patti Zaiontz, an officer in the San Antonio Conservation Society, told Alonzo after the meeting that he could have contacted the Conservation Society for help and that the group was very upset to see the homes demolished.
“We watched those for a very long time,” she said. “We wondered what happened to them. It would have been within [the owner’s] right to [demolish them]. … He had no legal commitment to go find someone else. But it would have been nice.”
Alonzo, who once wrote a master’s thesis on adding accessory dwelling units to older neighborhoods to increase density, wasn’t satisfied with the end result of his efforts to save the homes nor the developer’s reasons for demolishing them.
“To be honest, I think it was kind of a lame response,” Alonzo said. “I think if they initially made an effort to coordinate a move and that deal fell through, there was plenty of time [to contact me].
“I hope by speaking out … we prevent losses like this from occurring again.”