After years of sitting vacant and forgotten, one of the most distinctive structures in the Cattleman Historic District on San Antonio’s West Side is about to undergo redevelopment.
Developer Dix Densley, who acquired the building at 803 W. Commerce St. with a group of investors a year ago, is moving forward with plans to restore what is known as the Estrada Hardware Building.
Constructed at the turn of the century, the matching set of two brick buildings will be repurposed for retail and commercial space on the first floor and 10 residential units on the second.
A third building in the block, a single-story structure that is in poor condition and not considered historic, will be demolished. A new two-story will be built in its place.
The city’s Historic and Design Review Commission recently gave its approval for the project in the small historic district west of downtown, an area where Densley sees great potential in the coming years.
“It feels like an inevitability that, in time, the Cattleman Square area, especially with UTSA’s commitment to the downtown, is going to become an immensely popular area,” Densley said.
The buildings he owns are situated two blocks from the downtown campus of UTSA, which is expanding rapidly through a master plan that aims to help revitalize the western part of the urban core.
Densley also pointed to other development activity in the district, including the VIA Metropolitan Transit board’s Scobey project as another catalyst for the area.
Born in San Antonio but raised in Portland, Densley compares San Antonio to that Oregon city in the 1990s when it was less well known. “San Antonio has the energy of a city that the world is about to wake up to,” he said.
Location aside, the developer also sees opportunity in the Westside buildings that have “stood the test of time” and that he said have the same quality as those in the Pearl area.
“The buildings [are] of such quality that someone was going to come in and do something magical and we wanted to be part of that magic,” he said.
Cattleman Square, a small neighborhood of streets and buildings on the near West Side, was designated a local historic district in 1985 but has roots dating to 1881.
The buildings Densley owns were constructed in 1896 and 1905 and operated for almost a century with the Sterling Motel on the second floor, Densley said. In the 1950s, the street-level space became the Estrada Hardware Store, which operated until 2006, according to reports.
A city panel approved the plans Oct. 19 with the stipulation that the developer submit an architectural salvage plan to the Office of Historic Preservation.
Previous plans to add a third-story restaurant space were nixed by the developer when state and federal historic authorities declined to approve it for historic tax credits if such a change was made, said the project architect, Sue Ann Pemberton of Mainstreet Architects.
Crews are already on site working to stabilize the buildings, Pemberton said, but the restoration work won’t begin until sometime next year. “It’ll be a great boost for the West Side,” she said.
Advocates for growth in the area agree, saying the project is a key gateway to the West Side but also could represent an entry point for other developers.
“It’s such a critical and important corridor,” said Ramiro Gonzales, president and CEO of Prosper West, a nonprofit that works to promote economic development on the West Side. Densley’s project, located on the east end of the bridge on West Commerce, acts as “bread crumbs” for others to follow, he added, with the bar Jaime’s Place doing the same on the west end of the bridge.
Gonzales said he and others were admiring the building on Saturday while celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Golden Star Cafe restaurant across the street. It is the kind of building that has so much potential, he said.
But he acknowledged there are challenges, pointing to the concentration of public housing, the Bexar County Adult Detention Center and the homeless shelter, Haven for Hope.
“But that doesn’t mean things don’t happen,” Gonzales said. “That just means that in some ways everyone’s waiting for who [is going to be] the first one to go in there and prove that market out.
“In environments like that, the only way to really overcome the challenges is to really just do it … and then at some point, enough people see that this can be done.”