San Antonio's downtown skyline, looking southeast from the top of the Weston Centre. Photo by Kara Gomez.
San Antonio's downtown skyline, looking southeast from the top of the Weston Centre. Credit: Kara Gomez for the San Antonio Report

San Antonio’s River Walk and downtown could soon be nominated as a historic district under the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). If this designation becomes a reality, properties within the historic district could be eligible for tax credits with preservation efforts. 

The City’s Historic Design and Review Commission (HDRC) met Wednesday and unanimously endorsed the Office of Historic Preservation‘s (OHP) recommendation for the nomination. OHP staff readied the nomination with help from the Texas Historical Commission (THC), which lists 197 buildings, structures, and objects – including the River Walk – that all have greatly contributed to the city’s history and growth.

The proposed Downtown San Antonio and River Walk Historic District is roughly bounded by Augusta, Camaron, Sixth, Losoya, and Bonham streets and Tolle Place.

The boundaries for the proposed Downtown San Antonio and River Walk Historic District.  Image courtesy/City of San Antonio.
The boundaries for the proposed Downtown San Antonio and River Walk Historic District.  Image courtesy/City of San Antonio. (click to enlarge)

According to documentation reviewed by the HRDC, the National Register designation allows the owner of income-producing property to receive state and federal tax credits for rehabilitation. The THC’s state board of review will consider San Antonio’s application, among others, on Sept. 17 in Alpine, Texas.

To see the documentation, including an inventory and description of buildings and areas in the district, click here.

The nomination outlines those downtown buildings that are considered significant contributors to the city’s heritage and physical development, including: Scottish Rite Cathedral, hotels such as the St. Anthony and El Tropicano, the Brady building/Empire Theatre, and the San Antonio Light building.

Many buildings and structures within the proposed historic district are already individually recognized by the National Register, and/or by the City and State. This nomination even includes a break down of individual parts of the River Walk, how they contribute to area flood control, and how they interact with surrounding streets and walkways.

“The nominated district is the most intact reflection of the city’s commercial and architectural development and growth between 1854 and 1970, and includes the San Antonio River Walk, one of the most influential public works projects of its type in the state,” the nomination document states.

No HDRC commissioner expressed opposition to the nomination. “This is very exciting,” said commissioner Tim Cone.

Susan Beavin, first vice president on the San Antonio Conservation Society board, was one of two residents to address the nomination at Wednesday’s meeting. She said the Conservation Society formally helped start the process of gaining this official nomination by the City in 2009.

“This nomination encompasses many of the key resources that make San Antonio unique,” Beavin said.

Bill Richard, president of the Hermann Sons Home Association, also enthusiastically backed the nomination. Hermann Sons Life Insurance and the association’s main lodge hall are based on the 500 block of South St. Mary’s Street, at the southernmost end of the proposed historic district.

“We try to maintain the cultural heritage of the German immigrants who came to this country,” Richard said of his organization, adding that Hermann Sons could benefit from having this property be part of an area that gets national historical recognition.

“We think we more than qualify for this registration,” Richard said. “We want access to grants and all the other stuff that could help us maintain our structure.”

Cory Edwards, a planner in the Office of Historic Preservation, said property owners within the proposed historic district boundaries all have been informed of the nomination and “are on board with it.” The granting of tax credits that a National Register recognition can yield, he added, could be an economic catalyst for downtown property owners.

HRDC Chairman Michael Guarino echoed Cone’s sentiment that further official historic recognition in San Antonio’s urban core can only benefit the city as a whole.

Top image: San Antonio’s downtown skyline, looking southeast from the top of the Weston Centre. Photo by Kara Gomez.

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Urbanist to San Antonio: Use More Tax Credits for More Historic Retrofits

City Council OKs Downtown Hotel, Housing Projects, and Incentive Packages

Historic Designation Stripped From Merchant’s Ice House, Friedrich Building

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.