San Antonio’s Lavaca District: Historic Homes

By Rita Heck

In the early 18th century, San Antonio's Lavaca neighborhood was part of Mission San Antonio de Valero (The Alamo) farms watered by a Spanish-built irrigation ditch. Lavaca evolved in the middle of that century when Thomas J. Devine and Sam Maverick purchased a large tract, subdivided it, and sold it in lots for housing and retail.

Bounded by César E. Chávez Blvd. to the north, South St. Mary's Street on the west, IH-37 to the east, and the Missouri-Kansas Railroad Line on the south, the area attracted mostly German craftsmen and food vendors who built caliche block cottages, Victorian cottages and two-stories, Craftsman houses, and a few Neoclassical homes. Many are still in existence. Some were moved or demolished to make way for 1968’s HemisFair. Others have been given new life by caring new owners and skillful architects and builders who are restoring them and maintaining their historic integrity while including modern conveniences. 

Longtime architect Charles Schubert, AIA, has given new life to several Lavaca/King William historic residences, injecting his unique talent of melding the old with the new. A native Texan, Schubert worked for several years in Zurich, Switzerland and returned to San Antonio in the 1960s to resume his career focusing on restorations.

Twin Structures

In recent years, as Bonham Elementary School expanded its facilities on the 1000 block of St. Mary's in the Lavaca neighborhood, many houses were either moved or demolished, depending upon their condition. Two identical Classical Revival structures with two-story front porches have remained standing. They are located at 1010 and 1012 S. St. Mary's.

Built in 1908, they served as single-family homes until the 1940s, when a chiropractor purchased 1010, opened his practice on the first floor, and moved his family to the second story. In 1965, the twins were purchased and converted to fourplexes; in 2007, new owners retained Charles Schubert to bring the 2600-sf structure at 1010 S. St. Mary's back to its beginnings; 1012 remains a fourplex.

1010 S. St. Mary

The house at 1010 S. St. Mary, converted to a fourplex in the 1960s, was restored by Charles Schubert, AIA, and is once again a single-family home. – photo by Rita Heck

“The house had suffered greatly from a lack of maintenance — leaning to one side due to a failing foundation, rotted siding and wood trim, unusable electricity and plumbing, deteriorating doors and windows, which all needed total restoration, as well as the need to reconfigure the living space,” Shubert recalled. The architect worked on the project with San Antonio Builders’ Robert Alvarado, who was well experienced in restorations. The project began in October 2008 and was completed in July 2009, when the owners moved in. Most of the interior was gutted, and a fresh new plan to meet the owners’ wishes was designed with the living room, kitchen/dining area, and a master suite on the first floor. Two bedrooms, a library, and a large playroom are on the second floor.

House Plans

The restored home was reconfigured to meet the needs of the new owners. Plans include a living area, kitchen/dining space, and master bedroom on the first floor.- courtesy Charles Schubert

 

Work in Progress

Retired advertising and political genius Lionel Sosa (of Sosa & Associates, America's largest Hispanic ad agency) and his wife Kathy left the agency business to pursue their personal talents in art and writing. Both have authored books and created memorable works of art, some of which now hang at the Sosa Gallery in an 1872 restored historic home in Lavaca. They acquired the property in 1996 and opened the gallery, which features a guest suite on the lower level (basement), in 2006.

Sosa Art Gallery Front

Built around 1872 on original Spanish Land Grant property, the building is now the Sosa Art Gallery with a guest suite in the basement.- photo by Rita Heck

Early in 2012, the couple decided the home would be a good place to live and work. They commissioned architect Charles Schubert to design a companion building in the back of the property to meet both their needs and historic preservation building specifications. The new 1547-sf structure will have an open living/dining/kitchen space and a master suite on the first level with a large studio upstairs. Schubert designed an energy-efficient building with insulated panel sheathing, operable double-hung, double-paned windows, 8-inch foam attic insulation, and high SEER air conditioning for the main floor. A ductless unit was selected for the upstairs studio for increased energy efficiency.

Rather than match the original stone of the 1800-sf historic home, the Sosa's opted to match the period instead, using a type of wood siding and metal roof prominent in historic Lavaca homes. The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2013. It received a grant through the San Antonio Conservation Society.

Sosa Art Gallery Back

Still a work in progress, the back addition to the 1870s Sosa Gallery reflects features from the past with a modern twist: transom wood windows, Hardy Plank siding, and a metal roof. – photo by Rita Heck

Sosa Art Gallery

In keeping with Historical Preservation office requirements, the separate two-story addition in back of the Sosa Art Gallery, designed by Charles Schubert, AIA, is not visible from the front. To be completed by December 2013, it will become living quarters and studio for Lionel and Kathy Sosa.– photo by Rita Heck

 

The Rules

Historic structures must retain their original facade when being restored. Additions require compatibility with the main building and may not be visible from a front view. Both require plans to be submitted and approved by the city's Historical Preservation office. Property taxes for major restorations are frozen at the assessed rate prior to rehab for 10 years. Some may be eligible for grants through the San Antonio Conservation Society. Recently, the State of Texas introduced a 25% tax rebate for commercial historical restorations.

Rita Heck is a freelance writer based in San Antonio.