Workers take scaffolding down piece by piece on the west side of the historic Rand Building. Photo by Scott Ball.
Workers take scaffolding down piece by piece on the west side of the historic Rand Building. Photo by Scott Ball.

The Rand Building is more than 100 years old yet it houses some of the most innovative thinkers in San Antonio. The symmetrical red-brick building has undergone exterior and interior renovations for more than a year, which will lead by month’s end to all exterior scaffolding coming down and the unveiling of the new lobby.

The Rand Building, built in 1913, was initially home to Wolff and Marx, a local department store, until the retail outfit was acquired by Joske’s of Texas in 1965. In 1981, the San Antonio Conservation Society began a series of lengthy negotiations with Frost Bank to save the Rand Building from demolition, and in a complex transaction, purchased the building that same year and then sold it to Randstone Ventures for restoration and preservation. Randstone Ventures restored the structure’s brick and porcelain exterior and inserted an atrium that hollowed out the center of the building. It then sold the building to Frost Bank, which used it for back office workers.

Weston Urban, the real estate company co-founded by Graham Weston and Randy Smith, bought the Rand in 2013. Frost Bank leased most of the floors until this year, while the seventh and sixth floors were vacated and made available for Weston Urban tenants.

Weston Urban hired Alamo Architects and  Metropolitan Contracting Company for the work, which began with renovation of  the seventh floor as the new home of Geekdom, the collaborative working environment for tech and other startup entrepreneurs,that formerly was located at the Weston Centre. Geekdom expanded to the sixth floor, and will soon expand to the eighth floor as soon as renovations are complete.

“We bought this building knowing that Geekdom needed a long-term home,” Smith said. “The Weston Centre was never going to be the long-term answer for Geekdom.”

The tenants who will occupy the remaining floors have not yet been finalized, but will include both existing companies that are growing and need more space and new tenants.

“We can surround the Geekdom members with established companies and we can surround the established companies with Geekdom members,” Smith said.

An open meeting space at Geekdom in the Rand building. Photo by Kara Gomez
An open meeting space at Geekdom in the Rand building. Photo by Kara Gomez

As of now, the sixth floor of Geekdom is home to startups that have small to medium-sized teams, while the seventh floor is more of co-working space for individual workers a small startups.

When Smith would drive to work everyday to the Weston Centre, using North Main Street as his thoroughfare, he had a direct view of the historical brick building, a structure that lingered in his mind.

“The building just kept calling to us,” he said. “To me it was just so clear that (the Rand Building) is where Geekdom belonged.”

By the end of September, Rackspace’s Open Cloud Academy, the company’s tech education center, will move into the fifth floor and increase the number of young, innovative workers in the building.

Given the building’s historic status, Smith said there were “some lines we had to color within” when it came to renovation. He wanted to expose the ceiling piping on the eighth floor for the same industrial look as the other levels, but was not allowed to do so, so ceiling panels were installed.

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The historic Rand Building’s main entrance facing North. Photo by Scott Ball.

“In general, we are trying to respect and celebrate all of the character of the historical building,” said Ben Bowman, an architect for Alamo Architects.

The historical and industrial aesthetic flowed seamlessly in other parts of the building. The lobby elevators were stripped of paint which added a contemporary element to the lobby’s mostly-traditional design. The inside of the elevators are lined with the same tile that covers the floor of the lobby, which mixes old with new.

“The design intent there was to have something that was period correct, yet still had enough modern in it to reflect the energies of the companies here,” Smith said.

No alterations were made to the exterior of the building. Metropolitan Contracting cleaned and repaired windows, red brick, and porcelain tile.

But the real art of renovating the building, Smith said, is finding the retail outfits to occupy the ground floor.

“I don’t see a scenario where there’s not a bar and I don’t see a scenario where there is not a coffee/breakfast/lunch place,” he said.

Soon, tenants will have the pleasure of grabbing a drink after work or having the option to hold impromptu meetings at the ground floor café.

“I don’t think we are there yet for a place that serves supper, but I wouldn’t rule that out someday,” Smith said.

Glass panels will be restored to the first floor at the street level, offers passersby a view in for the first time in decades.. Visitors will enter the building on East Houston Street by opening two large, wooden doors with glass inserts.

“The old entry looked like a tired, old office building entry,” said Taylor Jordan, a project manager at Metropolitan Contracting. “The new (entryway) will change the entire look of the building.”

The Rand Building is on the western edge of downtown. To the east is the Majestic Theatre, to the south is Main Plaza, City Hall is just southeast and two blocks away, while  the Aztec Theatre and Market Square are further west

Major development is in the works for the he western edge of downtown, including the $142 million Weston Urban Frost Bank Tower, which is slated to be complete by 2018 or 2019, and the $175 million San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, the first phases of which are set to be complete by San Antonio’s 300th birthday in 2018.

For workers already at the Rand, the months of walking under scaffolding, working through the noise of drills, saws and jackhammers, will soon end. People are already asking: When’s the party?

A construction worker puts finishing touches on the main lobby. Photo by Scott Ball.
A construction worker puts finishing touches on the main lobby. Photo by Scott Ball.

*Top image: Workers take scaffolding down piece by piece on the western side of the historic Rand Building. Photo by Scott Ball.  

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Joan Vinson

Former Rivard Report Assistant Editor Joan Vinson is a San Antonio native who graduated from The University of Texas with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She's a yoga fanatic and an adventurer at heart....