April 21


A Brutal Redesign: future potential for HemisFair's endangered pavilions

George Torres' proposal for the John H. Wood Jr. courthouse: an outdoor cinemaOn April 13, PdA co-hosted a public design charrette with the AIA's Emerging Professionals Committee. Local architects and planners spent the day at the AIA's Center for Architecture at the Pearl imagining radical new futures for the brutalist-era buildings in HemisFair, the site of the 1968 World's Fair. Situated in the heart of San Antonio, the former fairground is in the process of a major redevelopment that will restore residences and street life to the former neighborhood. While the historic buildings that an earlier generation of preservationists sought to save from "urban renewal" are safe this time around, early proposals for the makeover suggested demolishing former fair pavilions that currently house the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures and the John H. Wood federal courthouse (as well as the federal building located next to the courthouse, which was not part of the fair).

Since then, the San Antonio Conservation Society has renewed its efforts to obtain historic designation for the buildings, and Andres Andujar, CEO of the HemisFair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation, has said his organization will respect that process. But that leaves the question of how to adapt these large, imposing structures to a new life in an age that favors accessibility over impact.

Andujar participated in the charrette process with a detailed presentation on HPARC's progress, and the Conservation Society supported the effort by donating the use of the former Alaskan Palace at 102 Navarro for a two-week exhibition of the results. District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal attended a reception for the participants April 16, where he said that what he thought would be a nice exercise for local talent had actually opened up the discussion of these buildings' potential – just what the project's co-sponsors had in mind.

Erica Gagne's team tackled several aspects of the site, including the federal administration buildingThe five-person Show Some Green team opened up the massive structures to sunlight and airErica Goranson and Brantly Hightower added a network of skywalks, and proposed turning the ITC into the Institute of Texan RecreationThe HemisFairway team proposed using portals, elevation, and walkways to change the perception and impact of the buildings on their surroundingsArchitect Brantley Hightower blogged about the experience and his proposal on the Rivard Report, and RR writer Bekah McNeel covered the results and the reception here.

You can download PDFs of the proposals here:

The HemisFair Pavilion - Slab Cinema, by George Torres III

The HemisFair Pavilion - Concert, by George Torres III

Show Some Green, by Rivera, Mulry, Floyd, Mendoza, and Ramirez

A Cultural Connection, by Gagne, Gonzalez, and Aaron

HemisFAIRWAY, by Martinez, Alonso, Cantu, and Sepulveda

The San Antonio Skywalk, by Goranson and Hightower

ITC Concept, by Emil Moncivais: image and narrative

Video: PdA forum

Wednesday, February 20, Trinity University Press, City Design Center, imagineSanAntonio, NOWCastSA and Plaza de Armas convened a conversation about pushing boundaries in SA's skyline and urban environment. Architects, developers and city planners discussed the obstacles, opportunities and latest trends that hinder or enable creative urban design. Trinity University Press Associate Director and PdA columnist Tom Payton moderated. Panelists included Mark Brodeur of the City of San Antonio's City Design Center, Irby Hightower of Alamo Architects, Dan Markson of NRP Group, Anita Devora, executive director of Build San Antonio Green, and Timothy Cone, Chairman of the Historic Design and Review Commission. Made possible by the generous support of Lake Flato Architects, Big Grass Living, Centro Properties and Briones Engineering and Consulting. NOWCastSA webcast and archived the forum.


A richer dust: Villa Finale and the art of living well

Villa Finale at night. Photo by Jon King Keisling, courtesy Villa Finale and the National TrustOn the banks of the San Antonio in auld King William, where the river resembles a lush private canal more than any stream made by springs or glaciers, sits the grandest mausoleum1 you’re likely to encounter outside Imperial Russia. Villa Finale (hard “Ls” please, San Anto) is the former home and final resting place of Walter Nold Mathis, whose ashes are buried out back, and Texas’ only contribution at the moment to the National Trust for Historic Preservation – the national entity in charge of saving the nation’s architectural heritage.

After the demolition battles that preceded HemisFair and Highway 281 renewed public interest in San Antonio's architectural trove, and King William in particular, Mathis helped pioneer the reclamation of the once grand neighborhood from its run as a picaresque SRO tenement – eventually restoring and/or financing purchases of well over a dozen homes. Historian Lewis Fisher has called Mathis' arrival in King William "a serendipitous result of the [Highway 281] project," which displaced Mathis and pushed him into the welcoming porches and porticos south of downtown.

King William first peaked in the late 1800s, and the restored Villa Finale is an appropriately Gilded Age crush of acquisition, from the Pompeo Coppini friezes on the garden wall to the golden curtain cornices salvaged from an Old South plantation. Mathis, who died in 2005, left the home to the National Trust along with an endowment valued at roughly $10 million at the time – a must since National Trust properties are largely responsible for their own budgets. With nine employees, it's proportionally one of the more richly staffed cultural entities in town. The Edward Steves Homestead, a King William neighbor preserved in Victorian-era style by the San Antonio Conservation Society, has just one full-time employee. (To be sure, a higher chaperone-to-visitor ratio is required for the many pocket-size temptations and bull-in-a-china-shop risk at Villa Finale.)

Mathis was to hoarders what Michael Bloomberg is to oligarchs – the ideal form, free of its more alarming attributes. He collected voraciously and widely – high, low, and in between – ordering through auction catalogs and selling surplus and disfavored items at his booth in a local antiques mall. He collected not just multiples but en masse – 126 shaving mugs, 317 stickpins, 240 pieces of Centennial glass (much of it purchased after the Witte asked to use his collection for an exhibition and he felt the set was too paltry).


Radio Pa Pa: It's getting gray left of the dial

Jim Beal Jr., of the Third Coast Music Network on KSYM. Illustration by Jeremiah TeutschA few months ago I was stuck in a rush-hour parking lot on 281 North, scanning the FM radio for something decent. Because I was at a dead stop and packing a newly upgraded iPhone with Siri, the personal assistant software, I jokingly asked my phone, “What’s the best radio station in San Antonio?” (Try this for yourself, readers!) Siri answered, “KSYM 90.1.”

I thought this was a savvy answer for a voice-activated piece of aluminum, and I was also a bit ashamed. Why hadn’t I, a former college radio DJ, thought of that? Probably because I don’t associate KSYM’s typical format with what I’d always understood to be “college radio.”

KSYM 90.1 FM is the campus radio station of San Antonio College and markets itself as “your only alternative.” However, if you tuned to KSYM during weekday rush hours, or “drive time” as it’s known in the radio industry, you might be confused. “What’s that old man doing on college radio playing Joan Osborne and Buddy Guy songs?” you might ask yourself. Move up the dial just a bit, to KRTU 91.7 FM, Trinity University’s station, and you could ask yourself almost the same question. “Are Trinity kids really into jazz? Was an essay on John Coltrane part of the application?”


Virtual Culture: Uncommon Fare at Cevallos Lofts

Videographer Cindy Chaffin takes her camera inside Uncommon Fare, the new urban grocery store in Southtown's Cevallos Lofts.

"These are the kind of stores you shop in every day," says chef Tim McDiarmid, who curated the store for MBS Fitness. McDiarmid takes Chaffin on a tour of the aisles and shelves, which are filled with goods from Bakery Lorraine, Partridge in a Pie Tree, Fresh Urban Flowers and other local artisans. Featuring a cameo by artist Kelly O'Conner and Cruz Ortiz artwork.

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