Across the street from the Bexar County Courthouse, the former Federal Reserve Bank (FRB) building at 126 E. Nueva St. hasn’t safeguarded vaults of cash for years now, but the building rechristened as the Presidio Gallery will soon become the repository of true Texas treasure, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library.

All that remains to complete the deal is for Bexar County Commissioners to approve a lease agreement with Texas A&M-San Antonio at their Tuesday, Aug. 9 meeting. The two-year lease will take effect on Sept. 1, with three one-year renewal options. The university will lease about 10,000 sq. ft. for $2,119.89 a month or $25,438.72 a year.

“We will have normal working hours, Monday through Friday, and we will make the collection more open to the community,” Cynthia Teniente-Matson, Ed.D., president of A&M-San Antonio, said Thursday. “The building meets archival quality national museum standards.”

Texas A&M-San Antonio President Cynthia Teniente-Matson. Photo by Scott Ball.
Texas A&M-San Antonio President Cynthia Teniente-Matson. Photo by Scott Ball.

An agreement among the three parties – Bexar County, A&M-San Antonio and the DRT – would bring to an end speculation about a near-term home for the DRT Library, which was placed in secure storage in June after being removed from the building the DRT constructed in 1950 on the grounds of the Alamo.

A&M-San Antonio’s leasing of space in the Presidio Gallery also signals the end of its lease at Centro de Artes, a development that is certain to disappoint all who believe the Zona Cultural should have a national caliber contemporary Latino arts space.

“I’m grateful for the Texas A&M University – San Antonio’s partnership and I’m saddened to see the University vacate the Centro de Artes building,” said Mayor Ivy Taylor. “The City and the University will continue to collaborate on educational opportunities for our upcoming Tricentennial, some of which will be housed at Centro de Artes.”

Terms of the agreement between the DRT and A&M-San Antonio have not been disclosed, but it appears the university is taking the first steps in an effort to provide the collection with a permanent home. That could be in a campus library building that the A&M-San Antonio master plan states will be built when the student body grows to 10,000 students. This year the student body will reach about 5,000.

Whether DRT officials will agree to such an arrangement is not known, but for now, the lease agreement means the collection will not remain indefinitely in storage and will be more accessible to the public than it was in its original home.

A&M-San Antonio will also embark on an ambitious plan to digitize the DRT Library, Teniente-Matson said, making many of its rare books, letters, photographs, and other materials more accessible to scholars and students. The university’s growing faculty, which includes 39 new members for the 2016-17 academic year, also will make use of the facility to offer students new learning opportunities to explore Texas and San Antonio history.

Beginning in the Fall 2016 semester, A&M-San Antonio is incorporating Borderland Studies, History, and Political Science into a single course of study that will be enhanced considerably by access to the the DRT Library.

“The plan is to have the University Library curate the collection in the FRB vault and use the first floor gallery section to display on a rotating basis some of the collection materials,” Teniente-Matson said.

She described the Presidio Gallery, as envisioned, as a “teaching laboratory.”

Some Bexar County historical archives also could be moved into the facility, she said, noting that the County’s exhibition, “Nuestra Historia, Our History: Spain in Bexar County“, is currently on display there through Sept. 4.

Bexar County purchased the blast-proof building from the federal government for $6.4 million in June 2014 after federal officials downsized and moved to their current offices at 402 Dwyer Ave. The advent of online banking and the disappearing tradition of paper check processing made the secure, vaulted building an obsolete relic for the local Federal Reserve branch.

The building’s many security features mean it will not require upgrades to meet National Archives and Records Administration standards.

City and A&M San Antonio End Centro de Artes Lease

The deal with Bexar County and the DRT also marks the end of A&M-San Antonio operating a Latino arts institute in the Centro de Artes building at 101 S. Santa Rosa St. The fast-growing Southside university has sought to maintain a high-profile presence downtown, but its ambitions to operate a national caliber Latino arts and education institute in the landmark building in the Zona Cultural seemed to diminish over time, despite the recruitment of a respected new curator and an annual stipend from the City that totaled $300,000 in 2015. 

“The City has agreed to terminate the lease with A&M-San Antonio,” Assistant City Manager Lori Houston confirmed Thursday, although she and Teniente-Matson both said the university would remain a presence in the building as a partner rather than a landlord.

Center City Development Office Director Lori Houston accepts the 2014 Downtowner of the Year award from Centro San Antonio. Photo by Andrew J Gonzales.
Assistant City Manager Lori Houston. File photo.

Houston said the building’s future as a Latino arts exhibition space will be studied anew over the next four months by the City Department of Culture and Creative Development (DCCD), the Tricentennial office, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), Latino arts leaders, and Zona Cultural businesses.

“I am pleased that Texas A&M University – San Antonio will have an expanded presence in our downtown. The County’s facility is move-in ready and provides them the space they need for current and future programs,” Treviño said. “I look forward to working with the Department of Culture and Creative Development, Tricentennial Office, and our community partners on the future programming and curation of Centro de Artes.

Treviño said San Antonio is on the right track to more fully and honestly embracing its heritage and history with various renewal projects, including the San Pedro Creek Improvement Project, scheduled for groundbreaking on Sept. 8, the newly-recognized Zona Cultural along West Commerce Street, restoration efforts at the Alameda Theater on West Houston Street, and, above all, at the Alamo and Alamo Plaza.

“These are ways to set the right tone,” he said. “We have opportunities, and we should approach (them) in such a way that it recognizes its people, its diversity, its culture.”

Any new effort will have to overcome what is now a sequence of failed attempts to house a vibrant contemporary Latino arts center in the Centro de Artes building that began with the demise of the Museo Alameda.

It would now appear that the latest casualty of those failed efforts will be Arts Administrator Joseph Bravo, a former San Antonio Museum of Art curator who returned to San Antonio in January after winning acclaim for his programming and exhibitions at the International Museum of Art and Science in McAllen. Bravo was the last to vacate the downtown building one week ago and now offices on the A&M-San Antonio campus without portfolio. Asked if he would play a continuing role in any new endeavor, Teniente-Matson said, “It’s a personnel matter.”

Bravo confirmed his recent move to the A&M-San Antonio campus, but otherwise declined comment.

“Centro de Artes is going to take a partnership between the City, the County, the university and others,” Houston said, adding that the City will pay the $10,000 monthly maintenance and security costs of the building, which is temporarily vacant while a leaking roof is replaced.

Houston said the City’s Tricentennial Commission staff is expected to move back into the Centro de Artes building next month when the roof repairs are completed. Teniente-Matson, who serves as one of 18 appointed Tricentennial Commissioners, said plans are underway to assemble a timeline exhibition of the city’s 300 years to be housed at Centro de Artes.

A new contemporary art exhibition curated by the DCCD and showcasing the works of San Antonio artists and their roots in Mexico, SATX/MX: Un Viaje Lleno de Cultura, will open sometime in early September before the city’s Diez y Seis de Septiembre celebrations. It will remain open through Dec. 16.

The future role of Centro de Artes is bound to become an issue of intense interest and debate among Latino artists, Zona Cultural advocates, and those who believe San Antonio as a Latino majority city would be culturally incomplete without a destination contemporary Latino arts space.

https://rivardreport.wildapricot.org

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Cynthia Teniente-Matson has a Ph.D. she does not. She received her doctorate of educational leadership from California State University, Fresno in May 2013. The story also stated that she is one of the City’s five Tricentennial Commissioners. She is one of 18 commissioners.

Top image: The anticipated location of the new Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.