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Treasure Hill Residence – Part 3 – “a moment becomes a movement”

Press release announcing proposed changes to city's demolition procedures.  Councilman Roberto Treviño proposes changes to the city's code enforcement procedures and policy to reduce demolitions of buildings like this historic home.

Press release announcing proposed changes to city’s demolition procedures. Councilman Roberto Treviño proposes changes to the city’s code enforcement procedures and policy to reduce demolitions of buildings like this historic home.


The community effort to save this Treasure Hill residence from demolition (#SaveMiguelsHouse) has inspired our city council representative to propose changes to the City of San Antonio policies and processes. The changes are intended to slow the enforcement process for long-time residents, veterans and the elderly, and reduce demolitions. Additionally, it could lead to better-educated Building Standards Board members that participate in code enforcement procedures. A press conference was held at the house to announce the proposed changes, and I would like to thank Councilman Roberto Treviño for his work on behalf of our client’s case. Thanks also go to Vianna Davila of the Express-News and Page Graham of the Rivard report for their coverage of this continuing story. See links in the right-hand column on this page.

Another exciting development is that we filed an application for landmark designation of the house on the same day. Here’s some of the history we found for this prominent site overlooking the San Pedro Springs and downtown San Antonio.

• (February 2, 1906)
Treasure Hill Plat filed for record, owned and subdivided by Adams, Kirkpatrick, and Nicholson (J.E. Adams, J.H. Kirkpatrick, and B.F. Nicholson). Includes Lot 21, Block 1, N.C.B. 3030 (now 1123 W. French Pl.). Nicholson releases several properties within plat to Adams and Kirkpatrick. However, Lot 21, Block 1 is not mentioned in these deeds.

• (1907)
Various properties within N.C.B. 3030, including Lot 18, Block 1, (now 1135 W. French), sold by B.F. Nicholson to one T.E. Hawkins. Deed for Lot 21, Block 1 not found.

• (1908-1911)
Various properties within N.C.B. 3030, again including Lot 18, Block 1, (now 1135 W. French), sold by T.E. Hawkins and wife G.L. to one G.B. Hawkins. Deed for Lot 21, Block 1 not found.

• (March 21, 1912)
Ten properties, including Lots 18 and 21 of Block 1, N.C.B. 3030, sold by G.B. Mitchell and wife L.E. to one J.S. McNeel, (James), a prominent real estate figure in town at the time. The following year’s directory lists the house at 1123 W. French Pl. as owned by J.S. and Emma McNeel.

• (1916)
A widowed Emma McNeel, wife of J.S. Sr., retains ownership of 1123 W. French Pl.

• (1922-1923)
The house at 1123 W. French is listed as owned by William P McNeel, City Fire Marshall and son of J.S. Sr. One Kathryn McNeel is also listed as an owner, and is assumed to be his wife. Emma McNeel is listed as a renter at this time.

• (1924-1930)
1123 W. French is listed as owned by Frank and Angelina Liberto. Frank is president of Frank Liberto & Co., a wholesale grocer and roaster of peanuts and coffee.

• (1931-1937)
Home owned by Andrew and Stella Mae Dilworth. Andrew Dilworth is a partner of Thomson, Dilworth, and Marshall Title and Trust, and is vice president of Union Title & Trust Co.

• (1938-1939)
The house at 1123 W. French is rented to one Marion A Olson and wife Martha. Marion is a lawyer at the Frost National Bank Building.

• (1940-1947)
1123 W. French is rented once again by Orvis E Meador and wife Mildred. Orvis works as a dentist in the Nix Professional Building.

• (1948-1958)
In 1948 William J Lytle is listed as owner of the house at 1123 W. French Pl. At that time, one Hortense E is also listed at said property. In 1958 one Mrs. Susan Lytle, named widow of William J, is listed as owner of the house.

• (1959)
The house at 1123 W. French Pl. is listed as vacant for the first time since its plat.

• (1960-1966)
Solomon Sfair and wife Hasna are listed as owners of 1123 W. French. There is little occupational information regarding Solomon Sfair listed in the respective city directories. According to Miguel Calzada, current owner, the Sfair family owned the “Navy Club” downtown San Antonio, a 24-hour club of some notoriety.

• (1967-
Vincente and Francisca Calzada are listed as renters of the home. Later in 1970, Miguel and Guadalupe’s names are included in the directory.

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In ‘Birdman,’ The Crossroads plays itself



The Crossroads was a classic New York City project – turn-of-the-century tenement apartment buildings; a stone’s throw from Times Square; client-tenants mixed across all lines of income, ethnicity, age and interests; publicly funded; private ownership; gut-remodel; selective historic restoration; excavation into Manhattan Schist; contemporary design solutions; etc.

The building has been in the movies a few times, now; and much like the nearby St. James Theatre featured in the article quoted below, The Crossroads plays itself, just more anonymously. A while back my clients got in touch and let me know a film was being made there with Michael Keaton. I may not have been a Michael Keaton fan, but I certainly am moved by some of director Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s work. Now I’m looking forward to this one, and seeing an old friend on West 43rd Street.

The building has now been used for film locations 3 times: 2006 – a Lindsay Lohan film titled, “Just My Luck”; 2014 – the Michael Keaton film, “Birdman”; and just last month, an HBO film with a working title of, “Bluff”.

The film production crews especially like the ADA-compliant exterior ramp. Camera operators can back up the ramp while filming a walking actor from an angle not usually open for such a shot. The ramp was designed to get from the sidewalk up to the stoop entrance. Another, interior ramp in the lobby continues the rise to the existing first-floor level and a new elevator.

Below, it is shown staged for the filming with all manner of signage in the windows.

All dressed up for the filming with commercial signage in the windows.

All dressed up for the filming with commercial signage in the windows. Note the set’s traffic light (this is in the middle of the block.)

Reminiscing about the project led me to some “lost New York” photos I took before demolition, as well as construction photos I took after the interiors had been removed. Scroll down below the St. James Theatre article blockquote to see a few of these.

"Birdman," the latest movie from director Alejandro González Iñárritu, is generating significant awards buzz for its comeback leading man, Michael Keaton, and a supporting cast that includes Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan and Naomi Watts.

One of the movie’s key stars won’t be found in its final credit roll, however.

A Broadway house with a storied history, the St. James Theatre plays itself in the movie’s plot about a has-been action star (Keaton) and his attempt at career resuscitation through a vanity stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love."

The action of "Birdman" takes place almost entirely in and around the St. James, which is located in prime Broadway territory on 44th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues.

Shooting took place over 30 days in April and May of 2013.

One of the existing kitchens with bathtub in the kitchen before the project removals began.  Photo by David Bogle.

One of the existing kitchens with bathtub in the kitchen before the project removals began. Photo by David Bogle with Pierre-Olivier Milanini.

Existing light well space between the two, typical 1890's apartment buildings.  The stair core for each building has a wide double-hung window opening onto these.   Laundry line hardware pulley just outside the kitchen window from which this photo was taken before construction began.  Photo by David Bogle.

Existing light well space between the two, typical 1890’s apartment buildings. The stair core for each building has a wide double-hung window opening onto these. On the right, a laundry-line hardware pulley is just outside the kitchen window from which this photo was taken before construction began. Photo by David Bogle with Pierre-Olivier Milanini.

Leveling tops of existing, new and repaired joists.

Leveling tops of existing, new and repaired joists. Photo by David Bogle.

One of the most fun days of Construction Administration - observation of the existing joists - all 4 floors worth.

One of the most fun days of Construction Administration – observation of the existing joists – all 4 floors worth. Photo by David Bogle.


Click Here to view The Crossroads project gallery

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Treasure Hill Residence – Part 2

Treasure Hill Residence workday gathering.  December 13, 2014.

Treasure Hill Residence workday gathering. December 13, 2014.


This week, more news coverage of the neighborhood effort to Save Miguel’s House (see Part 1) came out in theRivardReport (online) and in the San Antonio Express-News. It centered around the volunteer work day organized by Bob Comeaux, and it was nicely covered by two neighbors, authors Jessica Belasco in the San Antonio Express-News article and Page Graham of The Rivard Report in #SaveMiguelsHome – The Work Begins. The work day was a success thanks to approximately 50 persons who came to help.

Click here for the Express-News article on SYNCROSTUDIO which appeared on the front page of Monday’s paper (in case you don’t have a subscription to read it at The Express-News website.)

1906 Treasure Hill Plat

1906 Treasure Hill Plat

We’re calling this project Treasure Hill Residence, after the original name of the subdivision created in 1906. Legend had it the early Spanish explorers hid treasure here, but the name has been overshadowed by “Beacon Hill” which abuts this property on the north and is the current name for the whole neighborhood. The elusive treasure, however, is being mined today in the trove of neighbors and folks from all over the city generously donating to the cause. E-mail Bob Comeaux at bobtheunionguy “at” aol “dot” com if you want to find out more about how you can help.

Detail of 1911 map showing Treasure Hill Residence and outbuildings.

Detail of 1911 Sanborn map showing Treasure Hill Residence and outbuildings near Blanco City Road.

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The Human Face of Gentrification

Contemplating the possibilities if he could move back into his home of 50 years.

Contemplating the possibilities if he could move back into his home of 50 years.


Thanks to Page Graham at the Rivard Report for covering this story and using my photographs. This spacious, one-story home has stood here on “Treasure Hill” since prior to 1911 overlooking the San Pedro Springs Park valley and downtown San Antonio beyond from its south east facing front porch. We were asked by neighbor Bob Comeaux to help the owner, pro bono, to determine if it can be saved from demolition. After a quick walk-through it was obvious to me and our team that there could be no good reason to tear this virtually all-original house down.
100 year old house in need of repairs.  View of the front from the southeast.

100 year old house in need of repairs. View of the front from the southeast.


I am looking forward to working on design of the selective renovation soon. Currently, we’ve just completed the Repair Scope of Work developed with the assistance of our structural engineering consultant, Patrick Sparks, P.E., of Sparks Engineering Incorporated.
Interior of the front room, south east corner.  This is where everyone slept in the summer time, before air conditioning.

Interior of the front room, south east corner. This is where everyone slept in the summer time, before air conditioning.


Fundraising is underway, and the greatest news of today is that Donna Bertolacci, of D.B. Home Repair completed her proposal for the repairs and is donating her time, overhead and profit! A very generous proposition from a great homebuilder and her team who I just had the pleasure of working with on the Olmos Park Residence. Please contact Bob Comeaux, bobtheunionguy@aol.com, if you can contribute.

Comeaux sums up the situation best by saying, “How can we help the Miguels of the world, as opposed to tearing down their houses?”

Looks like that is what we’re figuring out. How to filter the gentrification process so it allows residents stability if they want it, and mobility if that’s their choice.

More on this story in Treasure Hill Residence – Part 2.

via Save Miguel's Home: The Human Face of Gentrification by Page Graham for the Rivard Report.

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HemisFair art projects are kid-size

San Antonio Express-News article image:  Hemisfair Art projects are kid-sized

San Antonio Express-News article image: Hemisfair Art projects are kid-sized

The “Yanaguanna Gardens” (a working title for what was first called “play escape”) was covered in the Express-News regarding the civic art being planned for this phase of the redevelopment of San Antonio’s 1968 Hemisfair Park. They also mentioned that Karen Mahaffy, one of the artists, consulted me on her art project; though they did not illustrate with her art proposal. I wrote a little bit about collaborating with Karen and with artist Jen Koshbin for her piece at the planned Yanaguanna Gardens in this post.

Mahaffy studied archival photographs of the homes located in the area and worked with architect David Bogle to create accurate proportions. In addition to the perforated side walls, the playhouse will feature a cutout porch and roof inspired by the leafy canopy of pecan trees.

Click here to read the full article on syncrostudio.com.

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Citizen-Input Public-Planning Processes

tonio Proposed Solution #1

This image is NOT the plan proposed by H-E-B, but it is illustrative of a Win-Win Solution to keep Main Avenue open.


San Antonio Current reporter Mary Tuma contacted me for her article following up on H-E-B’s plan to privatize the section of Main Avenue on the south edge of downtown.   H-E-B’s bid to to create a suburban style campus downtown sailed through city council as widely expected. Council’s action is an approval to create an automobile-oriented superblock, which not only is contrary to urban planning best-practice principles; but more heinously, it is contrary to the democratic institution of community-input planning the city has been conducting. It is reveals an ugly side of our city’s processes: special interest lobbying and top-down management.

The citizen-input public-planning processes which occurred over the past few years along with enacted policies for redeveloping a more livable downtown should stand, be respected and should have categorically thwarted the private corporation’s deep-pocket real estate play that contradicts the public-input plans. H-E-B should have come to the community planning meetings and openly voiced their objectives. They should have sought resolution in the public-planning arena. Instead, public land, a right-of-way, is being traded for a gas station and jobs. Job creation is an important component of the community’s plan, but not at the expense of the larger goal: to create livable communities that integrate all goals.

The sad part of this situation is that H-E-B could accommodate a higher number of employees without taking over public land (See illustration by imagineSanAntonio, above, and as issued in their Press Release.) The city could have worked with H-E-B to create a vibrant campus that would reflect the thriving, progressive city Mayor Castro’s SA2020 initiative projects. The surrounding community could have retained its vision for livability.  

Thinking idealistically, I wonder how can our city evolve so that powerful corporate interests and the real estate oligopoly genuinely participate in community-based urban planning processes?

Below are a few excerpts from the article.

 

….Proponents of the $100 million expansion point to the allure of job growth. While the promise of new employment brought on by the 10,000- square-foot store remained vague for some time, the City’s Development Office cleared the confusion up at the early December meeting, saying H-E-B will employ 800 workers by 2020 and an additional 800 employees by 2030—50 percent of these will be new jobs. Mayor Julián Castro said he understood concerns of the residents affected by the partial Main Street closure but that the chance for economic development was worth the investment.

“We have on the table an opportunity to create a significant number of jobs in the urban core of the city and create a grocery store that I believe will further catalyze the revitalization of downtown,” said Castro, of the 1,600 estimated jobs.

To mitigate walkability and cyclist concerns, H-E-B also promised to create a 30-foot pedestrian and bike amenity zone, re-open Whitley and Dwyer Streets, ensure ADA-friendly walking paths, arrange and replace or preserve the bike route and pedestrian path through South Main Avenue and enhance pedestrian signals and crossings. The street upgrades must be made before closing Main Avenue, City representatives said.

However, the mitigation improvements didn’t do much to help assuage critics’ qualms.

“Those ideas don’t alleviate any of those concerns from citizens, myself included,” David Bogle, a local architect and University of Texas at San Antonio College of Architecture professor, tells the Current. “They’ve broken the street grid and connectivity already, it’s not mitigating the real problem they’ve created.”

“To use their term, the ’30-foot amenity zone’ is just sort of window dressing on their own property,” says Bogle. “… It’s just one block long they’re talking about improving; it’s a conceptual proposal that is not something that is very feasible or workable and it will just create unsafe situations.”

Bogle, co-chair of the local chapter of the AIA Urban Affairs Committee, has presented against the H-E-B site at City zoning and planning commission meetings. He argues the plan is “antithetical” to most of the citizen and public input policies that are in place here in San Antonio, pointing to the Lone Star Community Plan, which shows residents favor high-density, public transit-oriented, mixed-use developments in the core. “What they are proposing is anything but this,” says Bogle. “It’s a low-density, single-use parcel and very much automobile oriented—it’s not what our downtown needs.” In fact, says Bogle, the new store will negatively affect SA2020 goals, including miles traveled, public transit ridership, travel time and air quality indexes as well as walkability scores….

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Streets for the people – SA Current


Businesses on Broadway are increasingly pedestrian- and bike-friendly. The street itself? Not so much.  Photo by Callie Enlow.

Businesses on Broadway are increasingly pedestrian- and bike-friendly. The street itself? Not so much. Photo by Callie Enlow.

Streets for the people is an article about San Antonio’s downtown streets issues – at least about a few of our many street issues. Automobile-oriented street spaces are what we have inherited, and while they provide connectivity for people who wear cars everyday, they choke the city’s potential to transform into a walkable, more sustainable city.
Below is an excerpt. Please link to read the entire article.

….we really need a citywide conversation and rethinking of how our major streets work, and for whom. Fortunately, we have some guides for ways to think better and smarter about streets.

Former San Francisco planning chief Allan Jacobs, in his book Great Streets, provides a host of models and guidelines from around the world. Jacobs describes the best streets as “comfortable to walk along with leisure and safety,”—streets that are equally usable by both drivers and pedestrians. He also notes the importance of streets as social spaces, where people can socialize and interact. The basic elements of “great”—or even just better—streets are now widely recognized and developed, employed in such ways as San Francisco’s 2010 Better Streets Plan. They include sidewalks sufficiently wide to accommodate both walking and gathering, with benches and shaded areas as well as sidewalk cafes and kiosks. Improved street ecology is also important, including an abundance of street trees and greenery, effective management of storm water and thoughtful placement of utilities (that means not building sidewalks with poles right in the middle)….

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Open floor plans – San Antonio E-N

Outdoor Rooms Sketch

Outdoor Rooms: Deck, Treehouse, Covered Patio


I was interviewed by Jennifer Hiller for her article for the Express-News and was pleased to see it run with my conceptual design sketch for a series of outdoor rooms I proposed as additions to a house. There are three areas to extend the interior kitchen and breakfast rooms: a covered porch, a mulch-floored room with a tree house above for the kids, and an open deck with built-in seating. Also published with the article is a photograph of the open plan kitchen of the Holland Avenue Residence.

Please view the article on-line or see excerpts below.

Multiuse rooms, open floor plans among trends – San Antonio Express-News – By Jennifer Hiller: November 8, 2013

Home design has gotten practical and wandered outside.

Outdoor living areas and no-nonsense spaces such as home offices and mudrooms are among the most popular trends in home design, according to the latest survey from the American Institute of Architects.

Kermit Baker, chief economist with the AIA and senior research fellow at Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, said post-recession design dollars are being directed toward practical rooms that people use the most, such as great rooms and master bedrooms, or mudrooms where families can stash shoes and backpacks. Low-maintenance or energy-efficient features are popular, as are things such as docking stations for phones.

“During the boom it was about technology-intense media rooms and wine cellars and sort of froufrou areas in the home that you didn’t really need,” Baker said. “Now it’s really much more about lifestyle and more multipurpose spaces. Homes have gotten smaller and you need multifunction rooms. Mudrooms and home offices are very practical. You can telecommute or consult between jobs, or work at home part time.”

Other practical features trending in home design: tankless water heaters, recycled materials, water-saving features, extra insulation, ramps and elevators, storm-resistant design, automated lighting and first-floor master bedrooms. Additions or alterations to existing homes are popular.

And even people with large budgets are spending it in a focused way, Baker said. “It’s not just, ‘I have some extra money to spend on my home,’” Baker said.

Architect David Bogle of Syncro Architecture Studio, said many clients want to renovate existing homes, whether it’s one they already live in or one they’re purchasing, and may take their time.

“The goal is to transform it over a period of years. They want a master plan like an institution would do for the long-range planning of their home,” Bogle said. “I think people are getting smarter about the built environment, and it translates to their homes.”

Smaller square footage means design must focus on the most heavily used parts of the home. “It’s an optimization of what is important,” Bogle said. “That’s where the expense and the space goes.”

Including outdoor living areas as “rooms” of the house is one way to extend the home and take advantage of the yard — and the budget.

“The idea is that through affordable and ordinary, inexpensive, everyday materials you can achieve great things through design,” Bogle said.

….

Bogle recently did a conceptual drawing of a townhome project for a developer who wants to target empty nesters. All the townhomes would have elevators — which would make it easier to age-in-place (another design trend) — installed or as an option.

….

jhiller@express-news.net

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Cultural Landscape of San Antonio’s Westside


conocimiento_cover
Claudia Guerra has been analyzing the cultural landscape and spirit of place on San Antonio’s Westside. Recently she applied to the Graham Foundation for a grant to further her research. SYNCRO architecture studio has agreed to finance a portion of the study and lend support with some supplies and a mapping exercise. Linked here, by the cover, above, and in the right-hand column, is the photo essay distilled from her academic paper presented at the National Council of Chicano and Chicana Studies in March 2013.