The owners of a dilapidated but historic West Side building are suing the City of San Antonio for halting a demolition that started and stopped months ago. 

The Yuen King Lim family, which has also owned and operated the adjacent Golden Star Café on West Commerce for 89 years, filed a petition Monday claiming the city put an undue economic burden on them by ordering a partial demolition that would preserve the character-defining facade. 

The work to raze the rear portion of the concrete-block structure, which had been deemed a public safety hazard due to years of neglect, began in June but was halted weeks later when a structural beam was damaged. What remains of the building is still standing. 

The Lims want the building they purchased in 1990 demolished because restoration is too costly and the building poses a danger to pedestrians in the area, according to the family’s lawyer, Peter Stanton.

“Demolition of the building will also help create an environment that promotes much-needed opportunity for growth and improvements to the neighborhood,” said a statement issued by Stanton. 

The saga of the circa-1930 Whitt Printing Building, located in the Cattleman Square Historic District, began in February when the owners filed a request to demolish the building after severe weather badly damaged the roof. 

The Office of Historic Preservation denied the request in May, but the Development Services Department declared the building a safety hazard and issued an emergency demolition order. 

During an emergency meeting in early June, the Historic and Design Review Commission approved a partial demolition that would keep the facade standing. It was a move that mostly satisfied local preservation groups and the Lims.

During demolition later that month, more of the building fell than anticipated and the work stopped. Subsequent meetings between the owner and the City stopped short of a resolution, with the city declining the family’s request to complete demolition of the rear portion, according to a family spokesperson.

Bo Lim operates with her brother Alex Lim the Golden Star restaurant founded by the Lim Family in Market Square in 1932. The restaurant moved to its current location at 821 W. Commerce St., after the family purchased the property in 1983. They used the Whitt building on the site for storage.

The building has its origins as the Whitt Printing Company which was founded by Gilberto Whitt after he fled the Mexican Revolution in 1914. He operated the business at this location through 1977. 

Designated a historic landmark in 1985, the building was considered historically significant for its role in Spanish-language printing in San Antonio which at the time had the most such publishing houses of any city in the United States. 

In the Lims’ lawsuit, the family accuses the city of a “regulatory taking,” of their property, and damaging and destroying it without compensation. 

“We are a local, family run business, providing affordable meals to generations of families in this community,” Bo Lim said in a statement. 

“We’ve tried working with the city. We are not against preservation, we tried … But we do need viable options and flexibility with property we own. Working with the city on this has gotten us nowhere. We are literally stuck in limbo.”

The Lim family is seeking more than $1 million in damages and a court ruling that would prevent the city from imposing fines of $2,000 a day over the state of the property. They also want a section of the city’s unified development code, requiring owners to restore buildings, declared invalid and unenforceable and a violation of the Texas Constitution.

In response to the legal action, the City Attorney’s office released a statement saying that both public safety and preserving the community’s historic fabric are priorities of the City and it is hopeful that prolonged litigation can be avoided with a plan that maintains both. 

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.