Plan Would Raze West Side Icon, Replace It With 7-Eleven and West Side-"Branded" Bus Stop

click to enlarge Plan Would Raze West Side Icon, Replace It With 7-Eleven and West Side-"Branded" Bus Stop
City of San Antonio records
In the latest saga in San Antonio's ongoing push and pull between redevelopment and historic preservation, the city on Wednesday will consider plans to demolish the Malt House, a west side icon that dates back to the 1940s. In its place, according to plans submitted to the city's Historic Design and Review Commission, would go a 7-Eleven corner store that's "reflective" of the original neighborhood gathering place – that and a VIA bus stop with "Malt House branding." 

In a letter filed with the city arguing for demolition, the local attorney representing 7-Eleven, William T. Kaufman, says the current Malt House owners closed the restaurant earlier this year hoping to make much-needed repairs to the building and eventually reopen. That didn't happen, he says, because of serious issues with the building's structure that would be too costly for the beleaguered restaurant owners to repair. The filing with the city included a letter from Ivan Gonzalez, whose family has operated the Malt House for the past two decades. "Unfortunately, our business has been struggling for many years and the building is in great disrepair," he wrote. "We believe redevelopment will better serve the residents of San Antonio's westside." 

What's become clear since the request to raze the building was filed is that others feel the larger west side community has a stake and ownership in the building because of its longstanding history in the neighborhood around Zarzamora and Buena Vista. A petition launched by the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, which has successfully pushed to save other iconic but crumbling west side buildings, soon gathered support from people like former San Antonio City Manager Alex Briseño, who penned his own "Ode to the Malt House" in reaction to plans to demolish the place. 

When the issue goes before the city's historic and design committee Wednesday, Gianna Rendon with the Esperanza says that the group plans to present a petition with more than 450 signatures from people who want to save the building. "When I was block walking I found 3 people that really want to buy the building and one man who left talking to me to see if he could find the owner's phone number to make an offer," Rendon told the Current in an email. "I think this really boils down to community ownership versus corporate ownership. ...  People keep bringing up that it was a failed business (after 70 years), but that doesn't mean the whole building should be destroyed, only that it needs new management." 

In fact, the city already said the building deserves protection when it designated the Malt House a "local historic landmark" in 2013 as part of a larger historic preservation initiative on the west side. But that only saves something like the Malt House if it's not too expensive to rehab – or, according to city ordinance, "unless the applicant demonstrates clear and convincing evidence supporting an unreasonable economic hardship." Property owners or developers that want to demolish a historic landmark can also give the city commission further information about the building's "loss of significance." 

What's clear from the Esperanza's petition is that many still consider the Malt House an important reflection of the community's history. The petition drew comments from people like Naomi Shihab Nye, Carmen Tafolla and Maria Berriozabal, who many activists and city leaders alike consider one of San Antonio's leading voices of conscience. 

The Esperanza says it plans to livestream the commission's hearing at 3pm today on its Facebook page. 

Update 10/6/16: The city's Historic Design and Review Commission tentatively approved the plans for demolition Wednesday, saying the building could be razed so long as 7-Eleven comes back with an updated design that better pays homage to the soon-to-be-bulldozed landmark. You can watch the meeting, which was streamed by the Esperanza, here: 


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