Siblings Rebecca Savage, Wayne De Winne and Ernie De Winne gathered at the flags in front of the Institute of Texan Cultures Saturday to hear the Conservation Society of San Antonio announce its intent to secure state and national historic designations for the building.
Artifacts belonging to their Belgian Texan ancestors — a hat and a farming utensil — lie within the doors of the ITC, they said. The De Winne’s ancestors were farmers on the city’s South Side, said Savage.
“I think it’s ridiculous to tear down such a beautiful remnant of my life,” said Wayne De Winne. His siblings added they would be devastated to see the Institute of Texan Cultures leave Hemisfair.
The conservation society’s announcement comes as the University of Texas at San Antonio continues its process to evaluate possible scenarios for the ITC. Three options have been in consideration throughout the process: keep the ITC where it is, move the ITC to a new building within Hemisfair, or relocate the ITC altogether from Hemisfair and its home in the aging Texas Pavilion.
As UTSA weighs all options, the conservation society is seeking historical designation in an effort to preserve the building’s architectural structure, even if the ITC relocates.
The De Winne family, like many San Antonians, referenced childhood memories of visiting the ITC. The siblings often brought their own children to visit the ITC to educate them about their heritage.
“We’ve been coming here most of our lives and the Texas Folklife Festival was a big part… the Belgian-American Club booth is a big participant in the festival,” said Savage.
Other supporters gathered around Conservation Society President Kathy Rhoads, who made the announcement to a crowd of about 50 attendees. Some carried posters of encouragement.
The intent to preserve the structure comes in anticipation of HemisFair ’68’s 55th anniversary and as UTSA begins to assemble an internal team to review and analyze submissions of its online public survey, which gives insight to the public’s input on the three scenarios it proposes, said Joe Izbrand, chief communications officer for UTSA, at the announcement on Saturday.
“We welcome the conservation society’s perspective on the pavilion, appreciate our earlier conversations with them, and look forward to continued engagement as we work through our evaluative process,” said Izbrand.
Founder of the San Antonio Report Robert Rivard wrote in a column in July that the future of the structure would determine Hemisfair’s redevelopment. He writes: In one scenario, the ITC would move to a new or existing building outside the Hemisfair development area, presumably downtown, where improved visibility and access would help attract more visitors. The university then could redevelop the 16 acres that form the 100-acre Hemisfair’s southeastern corner.
In its mission to secure historic designation, the Conservation Society of San Antonio hopes to protect the structure of the ITC and have it remain in Hemisfair.
The conservation society tapped Nesta Anderson, who led the discovery of about 1,700 archeological artifacts at the Alamo Plaza in 2016, to prepare an extensive, written nomination for the National Register of Historic Places and the State Historical Commission for designation as a State Antiquities Landmark, said Rhoads.
Rhoads declined to discuss the costs associated with seeking the designations for the ITC. Instead, she spoke about why the designation is important.
“[The ITC is] one of the few examples of mid-century modern architecture,” said Rhoads. “This society is all about preserving architecture. I grew up in Houston and it’s such a nice change because they tore everything down. We kept everything. They have good stuff in Houston, too, but we [in San Antonio] share our culture and our heart.”
If the building is repurposed, Rhoads said developers involved in its preservation could receive historic preservation tax credits.
There are key issues associated with remaining in the current ITC building, according to a committee of civic leaders and experts that delivered a report in November 2021: a bill of $28 million in deferred maintenance and an estimated $2 million per year for ongoing maintenance; and that the facility in its current state “does not meet [the] American Association of Museums accreditation standard,” which limits the institution’s access to touring exhibitions, among other issues.
Rhoads said securing designation and any funds received would not cover those maintenance costs and will solely go toward keeping the architecture in place.
If the building is preserved, Rhoads said she isn’t sure what its purpose would be. Izbrand said this will be considered in UTSA’s ITC Centennial 2068 visioning process.
“We’re hoping UTSA does [have an idea of how it will be used]. Hopefully, they’ll preserve the inside. We don’t know if they’re going to do that or not, but we sure will help,” Rhoades said.
Rhoads also said it is unknown if the artifacts will be kept inside the building or if they’ll be moved to UTSA’s North Campus.
“We hope they save the building. That’s why we’re doing all of this, so they save the building,” said Rhoads.