The building is at the heart of every city, and San Angelo is no exception. What separates the city from the country are the brick and mortar of City Hall, the hotel, the apartment, and the place of business. Over time, each building becomes a relic of the past and is demolished to make room for something new. Alternatively, structures of special value are preserved, either for practical use or in memory of the special services that it provided.
In a similar fashion, organizations in San Angelo choose to preserve certain buildings to benefit the public as a whole.
Downtown San Angelo
Downtown San Angelo (DSA) is one such organization.
“Our purpose is to maintain the historic and preservation of our buildings and our culture and our history,” DSA director Del Velasquez said. “[Promoting] the economic revitalization of downtown is the most critical [purpose], in my opinion. That’s the main thing that we really do work hard at.”
DSA runs a myriad of events throughout the year in order to draw tourists and share San Angelo with its visitors. In addition, DSA also works to preserve the buildings in San Angelo; cultivating tourism is one purpose for DSA’s interest in remodeling older buildings, but simply preserving history is another.
The Roosevelt Hotel, which Velasquez said was built in the late 20s or early 30s, was donated to DSA after it was considered for demolition. The structure was sold to a hospitality group out of Austin. However, the organization’s progress on renovations, according to Velasquez, has slowed because of the abundance of hotels in the city. In addition, DSA also oversaw the negotiations and sale of the Townhouse Hotel.
Most recently, DSA has been overseeing the sale of an entire block between Harris and College that starts at 2 North Chadbourne and goes up to 38. The First Baptist Church asked DSA for help with selling the structures. After meeting with potential buyers, all of the buildings were eventually sold to a single buyer.
The buildings, Velasquez said, have no designated historical significance, “but they certainly have played a role in the history of San Angelo.” According to Velasquez, many kids who grew up in downtown San Angelo would use the bus depot stationed in the block. Furthermore, Lighthouse for the Blind was once located in the area along with a variety of other businesses.
The Performing Arts Coalition
The San Angelo Performing Arts Coalition (SAPAC) is working with the city to bring the City Hall’s auditorium up to date. The theatre will have state of the art lighting, equipment, seats, and all the other features that attract traveling companies. Advisor and fiscal sponsor for SAPAC Matt Lewis said the City Hall auditorium is almost 90 years old.
“There was a need there,” Lewis said. “[The project] accomplished multiple things in that it took a piece of inventory that was sitting dormant and vacant [and restored] it. It’s part of the historic fabric of our community.”
Furthermore, the coalition is also working to repurpose an abandoned Coca Cola warehouse just across the street from the City Hall auditorium. Although the building does not have any particular historical significance, the renovated warehouse will be integral for smaller companies as the new Performing Arts Center. Lewis said half of the building will be home to the Angelo Civic Ballet; the other half will be a small 300 seat performing arts venue as well as a 120 seat black box theatre space.
Lewis said that both of these facilities will not only cultivate the arts in San Angelo, but will also bring profit to the area. Visitors from out of town, Lewis said, would be likely to stay in town for dinner or spend the night in a local hotel. Such practices would have potential benefit for the businesses in the area.
Lewis claimed that many different kinds of groups, both profit to non-profit, are eligible to use the Center for their purposes. These include Be Theater, Angelo Civic Theatre, and San Angelo Broadway Academy. The Performing Arts Center, according to Lewis, is on schedule to be completed in August of 2016.
Challenges and Benefits
There are problems, however, that are associated with renovating older buildings.
Al Torres, San Angelo Building Official and Construction Board of Adjustments and Appeals board liaison, said the biggest challenge of remodeling such structures is bringing life safety items up to code. These items include a sprinkler system, number of exits, and handicap accessibility.
“Those kinds of things always have to be brought up to code if you’re remodeling a building,” Torres said. “In a new building, you can plan for that in advance. With an older building, you have to retrofit these things into the building. But life safety issues could mean life or death if there’s an emergency or fire.”
Torres said that another obstacle when renovating a building is the unexpected circumstances involved in such projects. For those who are planning to undertake ambitious remodeling projects, Torres recommended a contingency plan for unexpected situations
“Of course, the other challenge is once you start remodeling the building, you always find surprises,” Torres said. “You remove a wall and find that something isn’t where you thought it was or the wiring isn’t where you thought it was. There’s always something that you don’t expect.”
Despite the challenges involved in renovating older buildings, the process has many economic benefits.
“From an economic perspective, there’s a significant economic development around historic tourism,” Velasquez said. “We have these unique buildings; they’re not duplicated anywhere else in the whole country. People are interested in historic buildings and the history of the community.”
Of course, the history of these buildings is what makes them priceless to the City of San Angelo.
“These buildings are unique to San Angelo,” Velasquez said. “They’re part of our history. It’s important for the City to know where it came from.”