SimplySanAntonio A new lease on life... NUMBER 9
FOR RESIDENTS, VISITORS, OR ANYONE PASSING THROUGH
Repurposing old buildings for the next generation of users
By Peter Aloisi
We dined at Bliss, the restaurant in Southtown, a couple of months ago, then went on to listen to the Symphony at the Majestic Theatre. Dinner was delicious, the four of us agreed, but to my eyes what was as striking as the plate of food in front of me was the dining area we were sitting in with its years-gone-by brick wall contrasting with modern furniture, an adjoining new bar area and new kitchen. There’s a lot of that old and new here in San Antonio nowadays, but I wondered just how much. The last couple of years have witnessed extensive repurposing of many structures, including buildings at The Pearl – once a brewery but now a mixed-use development. The area includes the very new Hotel Emma, at which a person with some imagination can all but tell its previous use from the skeletal “guts” that have been incorporated into the repurposed structure. With the cost of real estate and new construction rising nowadays, as San Antonio continues to attract more and more new residents and businesses, it’s no wonder that building owners and those that desire to be, look for new and different ways to update structures they own, short of tearing down and starting anew. Where once the men’s department of Frost Bros. stood along Travis Street, a three-story condominium building and workout facility now occupies the property. And along South Flores Street are the Camp Street Lofts, formerly a ninestory office building. Still further south across South Alamo, the Steel House Lofts, once Peden Iron and Steel, is now a
In this issue of
SimplySanAntonio • Consider Color for your very personal Great Outdoors • Flood Insurance Rates are Going Up • Stepping Outside the Box (again) • To Buy or Not To Buy • What Living in a tiny Home is Really Like (video) The dining area at Bliss, in Southtown, is as striking as the menu. The old and weathered brick walls contrast well with its modern furniture and new kitchen.
multi level condominium facility. While two and three-story condominium complexes and multi-family buildings abound west of, and in the Southtown and Lavaca areas, and the city and a private group have converted Continued next page
• Conditioning to Stay Cool • A Brief History of Cool • And while we’re still on the subject of Air Conditioning...
A new lease on life...
Continued from front cover
the Municipal Auditorium into the Tobin Performing Arts Center (not exactly something vastly different than its previous life on this earth), other restaurants, lofts and repurposed venues coexist with the new…even the still old. “Old, repurposed and new” in historical cities is not so unusual. Architects and construction companies the world around, even in cities somewhat late to the dance, like San Antonio, often tend toward repurposed, or to wrap it in other words, readapted. As mentioned earlier, old gasoline stations seem to be popular choices for the repurposed in San Antonio. Though I’m sure there are countless others, I can count three stations now: Bliss, The Monterrey – a restaurant on S. St. Mary’s that is now closed – and Sloan Hall, a bookstore / gift shop on Broadway, still sporting the original flying Pegasus of the Mobil gas station it once was. Discovering new uses for old buildings is a challenging idea for architects and designers, so it’s no wonder the last 30 years have seen terms like repurposing, re-emerging and adaptive reuse come into vogue. For urbanists, preservationists and the history-minded, “repurposing older buildings provides a solid connection with the past while honoring a building’s existence,” states a profound declaration on the website of the award-winning San Antonio architectural firm, Lake/Flato Architects, which designed the Full Goods building at The Pearl and continues to readapt older structures into more current and fashionable structures. “Our transformative designs celebrate the existing building and the new program to create an expressive identity and breathe new life into old buildings,” it states. For planners hoping to expand the scope of a city’s landscape, repurposed older buildings provide an important initiative to introduce residences into an area. Necessary businesses such as a pharmacy, grocery and dry cleaner, to name a few, within walking distance, relatively speaking, help complement those new neighborhoods. This is just the challenge San Antonio city officials and business leaders must recognize when considering the redeveloping of downtown and other areas to a mixed-use area that residents will inhabit. As Candid Rogers, Bliss’s architect said, “[The] project seeks to celebrate the historic structure while offering patrons connection to the exterior spaces and views into the neighboring context of the urban inner city neighborhood.” Downtown, the original core of San Antonio stands to gain immeasurably from this new re-creative energy with an understanding that construction need not only be new, but old, repurposed and new. While businesses seem to win the lion’s share of
Once an old garage, later a workroom, now a children’s play area (still with garage door) opening onto a patio.
attention from the media and other sources, single-family homes have not escaped the vision of architects and builders in the area who have fashioned structures into homes as well. One architect, Jonathan Card, an alumnus of Lake/Flato, states of his original business, Urbanist Design (now merged into the Austin architectural firm of Clayton&Little), “our focus is urban infill and adaptive use projects that contribute and reinforce San Antonio Texas as a world-class place. We are equally interested in projects and collaborations that promote sustainability and responsibility in the built environment through re-purposing and reimagining existing buildings and properties.” In fact, Mr. Card has taken his reimagining to a very personal level, readapting an old wood shop and converting it into his personal residence. Kurt Walker, a contractor and owner of Renaissance 7, LLC, a contracting firm, fashioned a machine shop, later an art studio, into an upscale residence for a client. “Although larger scale developments attract the
most attention, there are plenty of smaller building conversion opportunities that are more attainable for an individual looking for a unique space of their own,” Mr. Walker states. “For the right team of professionals to walk you through the processes and requirements, you will need an architect familiar with zoning, permitting and design issues and a good contractor who can help with understanding structural issues and getting your cost together. Or you can hire a good design build team like ours, that can handle the project, turnkey.” So, without further hesitation, if a project like this introduces visions of a new home or business into your mind, stop hesitating and start repurposing. Anew!
Above: A machine shop turned art studio fashioned into a family room, extending from the kitchen, in an upscale private home.
Above and below: Urbanist Design architect Jonathan Card turned this 1930s cabinet shop-turned-automotive-repair-shop into his own personal family home which he calls “Casa [de] Tarjetas” (House of Cards)
Consider COLOR For your very personal Great Outdoors I live on a street where, by and large, most homeowners don’t care whether their property has a fully grown front lawn, much less flowers and greenery, the argument often being made in defense of weeds and bare earth that we live in south Texas where summers are dry, dry, dry. This defense is punctuated, often, by a “top-ofthe-masthead” item in the San Antonio Express-News showing, consistently, the low depth of water in our Edwards Aquifer since the last rain and further, how often our San Antonio Water System will allow us to water, now once a week. Still, a few homeowners do care about the presentation their house and surroundings make. And in certain subdivisions, and other neighborhoods, where homeowner associations might “dictate” the look of front yards, homeowners take pride in the presentation their homes and land do make. If you’re one who has given consideration to, or acted upon “rehabilitating” your surroundings, but haven’t moved quickly, perhaps because of the lack of design strength you possess, I strongly urge you to think seriously and if you must, consult with a professional gardener, contractor, landscape architect, local nursery, or certified arborist; yes, go ahead. Finding the right help requires the same sort of diligence that you need to undertake interior projects, but the result should be all that you anticipate and, hopefully, more. When talking to one of these professionals, be sure to say that adding color to your home’s exterior will make the days brighter for you. But more, it will add value in how others see the space you live in, especially if you’re thinking of selling your house. Make no mistake, most home buyers are moved to excitement when reaching a home that has a front yard, if not back, that is more than just a lawn, or worse weeds. Abounding greenery with touches, if not a plenitude of color, brings a glow to the eyes of buyers. How much so? That’s difficult to say, but a slow, extensive search of the internet produced numbers from 50 percent upwards of those who would rather see green and color rather than
by Russell Slayback
crushed stone and weeds. Traditionally, front yards serve two main purposes. They provide an entrance to your home, yes, but they create curb appeal as well. And, as they say, first impressions being lasting impressions, after all, creation of a look that expresses your personality, your outlook on life and a perspective that is all you is what you should desire. For instance, paint the front door to mix, mingle or contrast with what you envision will be your “front” look. And as an aside, consider adding a water feature which can bring the joy of sound to your home, as well as the beauty of attracting feathered friends. In addition, a stone bench, ceramic pots, sculptures, trellises, and small rock mounds will complement your front landscape. And don’t forget a creative walkway leading up to your newly repainted front door, perhaps of flagstone, bluestone, or brick. From the street, it can meander at its own pace, or reach the front door from the street in time Roger Bannister would have been proud to call his own.
Everyone loves to see a well-kept front yard, and a splash of color
makes a world of difference.
A well-designed landscape can be inspiring, it can provide a sense of calm, excitement or a sense of awareness. And it can add a balance to your life. Not to mention pride when others admire and comment favorably. It can boost your spirits and give you a solitude you won’t find often. And, not to be forgotten, a beautiful ‘scape often, but not always
with bountiful color, can also improve the curb appeal of your home. And finally, neighbors will like you more when you improve your property, perhaps because theirs is improved already and they were concerned the curb appeal they had desired was being drawn down by your property. Or they needed the motivation to upgrade their own yard, which they’ll derive from you. Despite the high temperatures we experience in the San Antonio area in the summer, spending time outdoors has become one of the passions of many of today’s homeowners. Many have discovered the joy of gardening, growing their own food and herbs and landscaping. And once you have created your front ‘scape to your pleasure, spending time outdoors will become a pleasurable pastime for you too. That’s a promise from this born-again gardener who revels in his backyard garden, growing vegetables for his daily salads, as well as listening to the birds sing, evidently complimenting me in their own way on my good taste.
Even if the color is mostly green, thoughtful landscaping adds curb appeal to any property.
Flood Insurance Rates are Going
Property owners who have flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program will see their insurance premium rates increase due to changes that took effect April 1, 2016. The NFIP, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), works with private insurance companies to offer flood insurance at rates that are set nationally.
Here are a few highlights of the changes:
• Premiums, surcharges, and fees will increase • Premium rates will increase an average of 9%; however, some premiums will increase as much as 25% • Premium rates will vary according to where the property is located. Flood maps are being revised, so a property may be located in different NFIP zone now. Use FEMA’s Flood Map Service Center to find flood maps by address
Texas leads the nation in flood-related fatalities
Read more about the April 1, 2016 changes in these documents from the NFIP at the National Flood Insurance Program’s website, floodsmart.gov, for a sampling of updated policy rates and other resources. Go to realtor.org to see how the National Association of REALTORS® has been following this issue. Texas leads the nation in flood-related fatalities. The first step Continued next page
Flood Insurance Rates are Going UP
Continued from previous page
towards preventing flood-related fatalities is knowing the flood risk in your area. The Bexar Regional Watershed Management (BRWM) partners—Bexar County, the City of San Antonio, the San Antonio River Authority and 20 suburban cities in Bexar County—undertook a comprehensive effort to update Bexar County’s flood risk maps beginning in 2004. In addition to converting the maps to a digital format, the BRWM updated flood studies and re-mapped many areas of the floodplain that were originally mapped in the 1970s. In March 2010, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved the new Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps for Bexar County. That means the floodplain maps for your area might have changed based on more up-to-date flood studies. Local governmental bodies (Bexar County, the City of San Antonio and suburban cities in Bexar County) have been given six months to approve the newly updated maps. If the maps aren’t approved by a governmental body within this six-month period, that community risks losing access to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). To find out the risk of flooding in your neighborhood, go to bexarfloodfacts.org or call your insurance agent.
the box (again)
In issue No. 7 of SSA we ran a popular story about how a cashier at Whole Foods was making a difference in her store at The Vineyard by engaging Frost Bank’s seminar offers “hands-on” information and resources for homeowners their younger audience with storytelling looking to maintain and improve their properties. (click here to revisit). Happily, Whole Foods is not the only organization thinking “outside the box” for its customers! The four-hour long seminar provides sessions that Frost Bank, one of San Antonio’s oldest and most include an overview of home improvement loan options venerable financial institutions, now offers the “Frost that detail the difference between home improvement and Bank Home Improvement Outreach.” home equity loans, tips on how to choose a remodeler to Probably the largest single asset a person has is avoid potential scams, utility assistance programs for cost their home. And while a home is a source of great pride, savings, quick processes for drywall, painting and others the responsibility of maintaining a home is one of the repairs. most expensive and labor intensive tasks a homeowner In an effort to educate attendees and alleviate conwill face. fusion about home improvement and home equity loans, In an effort to help homeowners—specifically Frost Bank consumer loan specialists provide information those with limited or fixed incomes—maintain their on home loan options and all that is entailed in the proproperties, Frost developed a seminar offering “handscess. The loan option presentation is complimented with on” information, including many useful tips from outside suggestions on how to choose and what things to look for resources. when hiring a remodeler/contractor.
Other entities partner with Frost to bring additional resources and hands on demonstrations to the audience. The San Antonio Water System with water conservation ideas, tips on detecting leaks, how to read water meters, and utility assistance programs. CPS Energy and the Alamo Area Council of Governments provide maintenance tips on large appliances, energy conservation and how to qualify for the Weatherization Program. The City of San Antonio brings a vast array of services from the Department of Planning and Community Development on rehab and other neighborhood programs, and Code Compliance provides insightful information on what they do and why it is important. Both the San Antonio Police and Fire Departments attend and
provide information on possible scams and provide safety tips that attendees can take home and immediately apply. Another session that is well received focuses on minor home repairs such as fixing drywall, filling holes and painting hosted by M&M Weatherization Inc. Real time participation provides attendees real time tips on how to correctly execute fixes that will last, as well as providing information on the correct materials to use for home repair projects. “Frost is proud to bring educational opportunities such as this to residents wanting and needing to upkeep their homes. A happy attendee is one that leaves with information they can take home and put to use right away,” said Donna C. Normandin, Senior Vice President.
To buy or not to buy? That is the question...
Pier and beam foundations can be leveled and then supported by placing additional piers of wood or concrete.
A concrete slab foundation can also be repaired using concrete piers provided they are properly positioned.
“Should I buy a house with a repaired / leveled slab foundation?” It’s a question that comes up from time to time. It is interesting to note that buying a house with a pier and beam foundation that has been leveled and/or repaired doesn’t seem to bother buyers as much as buying a house with a slab foundation that has been leveled. This is somewhat curious since properly adding piers under a slab foundation should make the foundation more level, and a little more stable. It should also be less likely that the leveled home would need leveling in the future. Any perimeter pier supports can help prevent settlement of the perimeter of the slab during dry spells when the clay soils under the perimeter of the foundation can dry out and shrink. Unfortunately, some movement in a slab foundation resting on clay soil is likely, even after the slab is leveled, since the slab is still mostly resting on the clay soil which swells and shrinks with changing moisture conditions. But remember, the clay soil under the middle of a slab foundation should swell less as the house gets older, provided there are no plumbing leaks or drainage issues, since the clay soil has a limit to how much it can swell (the swelling starts with the first rain after the slab is poured.)
Greg Sethness, P.E., Structural Engineer
What Living in a
Home is Really Like
There’s a growing hype surrounding tiny homes and micro-apartments, especially in places with skyrocketing rents like San Francisco, Seattle, and New York, but what’s it really like to live in one? A New York Times reporter recently spent the night in a brand-new 302-square-foot micro-apartment, and gave an in-depth account that may help real estate pros understand the benefits and the drawbacks of this real estate niche.
Key Tiny Housing Takeaways: • Tiny homes are defined as being 500 square feet or less, and while micro-apartments like the one featured in the New York Times represent the most extreme side to this trend, apartment size across the country is dropping. • Micro-apartments are typically designed in a way that maximizes space and feature a lot of storage options. Even an apartment like the one featured in the New York Times story has kitchen amenities that include a refrigerator, microwave, stove top, and even a dishwasher, though it surprisingly did not come with an oven. • Tiny housing is often already furnished, with pieces that are designed to have multiple functions, including desks that transform into dining room tables or beds that fold into walls so they’re out of the way during the day. • The downside to this, however, is the daily grind of moving and transforming furniture can get a little tiring, and the wall-bed featured in this story was pretty difficult to set up. • These types of spaces are probably only ideal for one person to live in, but even the smallest unit can be used to entertain up to 10 people comfortably. • Not only are these spaces eco-friendly and leave a smaller environmental footprint, as the New York Times points out they may offer residents in high-rent areas the only chance to afford living alone and having some peace and quiet from hectic city living. Source: “Tiny Home Test Drive,” The New York Times (June, 2016)
Conditioning…To Stay Cool As the temperature reading moves upwards beyond the comfortable range, you can bet it is going to be a long hot summer. The secret to survival, needless to say, is staying cool and for those of us in Texas that means having your air conditioner working at its’ most efficient. The key to an efficient cooling system always begins at home, by having knowledge and understanding of what is involved. First of all, your Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning (HVAC) system does not just add cool air. It actually removes the heat from the air already in your house. It “conditions” the air, which is why it is called an “air conditioner” rather than an “air cooler.” It is during this process that moisture in the air (humidity) goes from a gas to a liquid, creating condensation. If you want to maximize your HVAC’s ability to work efficiently, your unit needs to breathe without hindrance, and effortlessly. Much like an athlete running a marathon…the outcome will be a lot better if the runner does not compete with his hands tied behind his back. Vegetation around your conditioning unit should not be any closer than 15 inches around the unit, nor 3 – 4 feet above it. The closer the vegetation, the less air is available for the unit and the harder your unit has to work. And with your bottom line in mind, the closer the vegetation is the more electricity is used.
Additionally, a dirty filter reduces the amount of air flow into your unit and compromises the quality of air within your home. Still more, if a hole has developed in the air ducts, cool air will be escaping into your attic space, great if you want to cool your attic because you’ve made it into another room in the house, but not so good if it is where nothing but the ducts are located. Finally, is your condensing unit sitting upright or is it tilting? Uneven expansion of the soil around your house can contribute to condensing unit tilt. These units are gravity lubricated; if your unit is not sitting flat, all of the oil is collecting at the lowest point. This leaves the other side high and dry. Unlubricated parts wear out faster and demand more electricity. Heavy vegetation, dirty air filters, leaks in air ducts, and tilted units all contribute negatively to the well being of your HVAC system. They result in higher electric bills for less cooling,. Your unit will attempt to compensate by using more electricity and working harder which results in a shorter life span. Solution? Easy. Keep vegetation trimmed away from your unit all year long, replace dirty filters once a month, have your AC unit checked twice a year, once at the beginning of the summer and then again, in the fall. And finally, make sure your unit is sitting upright and not tilting.
A brief history of cool and San Antonio’s part in it (this is a very cool city in ways you probably never knew!)
• The first business in the USA to have air conditioning was a publishing house and print shop in Brooklyn, New York, in 1902 (the building still stands and the A/C is still running!) • The first private home in the USA to be air conditioned was a mansion in Minneapolis in 1914, at a cost of $10,000 • The first theater in the USA to have air conditioning was the Rivoli Theater in New York City, in 1925 • The first air conditioned bank in the USA was Frost Bank, San Antonio, 1928 • The first air conditioned streetcar in the USA took to the streets of San Antonio in 1928 • The first theater in Texas to be air conditioned was San Antonio’s Majestic Theatre, in 1929 • The first fully air conditioned store in Texas was Joske’s, San Antonio, in 1936 • The first fully air conditioned hotel in the USA was the St. Anthony in San Antonio, 1936 and finally... • The first ever air conditioned car was a Packard which offered the option for an extra $274 in 1939 Sourced from Express-News news research and file archives, San Antonio Central Library Texana/Genealogy Department and from slate.com and eyewitnesstohistory.com
And while we’re still on the subject of Air Conditioning... Are you feeling hot today? Are you expecting the same again tomorrow? Perhaps even the next couple of days or weeks? Turn on the air-conditioner. After all, the A/C made the Sunbelt livable. So here’s a brief statistical look at this wondrous invention from the U.S. Census Bureau: with the nation’s average hottest day of the year falling upon us July 26, many of us welcome ducking into a cool office, business or home. For this immense relief, we can thank Willis Haviland Carrier, who in the depth of winter in 1906 received a patent for what he called an “apparatus for treating air.” His idea has changed the way many Americans live and where they might comfortably do so. He launched his own company 101 years ago this month, and the Carrier name is still prominent among air conditioning manufacturers. The invention did not come into widespread use until after World War II. Even by 1965, only 10 percent of homes in the U.S. were equipped, and just 2.8 million window air conditioners were manufactured that year. Today, 91 percent of all new, single-family houses in the U.S. are air-conditioned. You can find more facts about America from the U.S. Census Bureau at census.gov
My best friend is a person who will give me a book I have not read.”
Willis Carrier, inventor of the Air Conditioner
Real Estate Questions? ...Call Me!
– Abraham Lincoln
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14855 Blanco Rd, Suite 403, San Antonio, Texas 78216 Your referrals are always welcome.
In this fast-changing city and metro area in which we live, it behooves us to stay in touch with the old as well as the new. Change touches all of us. Thus the mission of SimplySanAntonio is to highlight change and how it affects us, as homeowners, so that we can make the most of the present and keep a watchful eye on the future.
For Residents, Visitors or Anyone Passing Through