Past the business parks, strip centers, big box stores, and housing developments that consume De Zavala Road on the city’s far Northwest Side, at a sharp bend in the road sits a bucolic property that soon could be protected by historic designation.
The Historic and Design Review Commission on Dec. 2 approved a finding of historic significance for the former dairy farm known as the Bacon-Steubing Ranch and requested the City move forward on rezoning the property.
“I’m sympathetic to the designation just knowing how this aspect of our rural landscape and rural heritage is really vastly disappearing pretty quickly,” said Commissioner Scott Carpenter.
Stephanie Dwyer, a resident of the neighboring Ridgehaven subdivision for 38 years, submitted the request. Dwyer recalls the days when farmers still ran the dairy operation and said she used to drive past the farm daily when leaving her subdivision.
“At that time, it was a 192-acre farm,” Dwyer said. “Morning to evening, I would see the farmers work diligently over the land and I appreciated their hard work.”
Dwyer once met the farmers at a hearing and heard how important it was to them and their family as a way of surviving, she said. “Then in 2020, I learned that there was a demolition permit request made by today’s owner at the property,” she said.
Originally purchased by Joseph Vinson Bacon, for whom J.V. Bacon Parkway is named, the property remained in the Bacon family between 1917 and 1947, according to a report in the application. The Bacon and Steubing families were united in a marriage between Joseph’s daughter Bernice Bacon and Raymond Oscar Steubing in 1938.
For three generations, descendents of the Bacon-Steubing family, with the help of contract workers, engaged in dairy farming on the site until the mid-1980s. Other family members operated the farm up to 2012, but “the steady incursion of urban development made farming too difficult,” the report states.
The farm changed hands in 2012 and again in 2017 when it was acquired by an investor group known as Dezavala Ventures, according to county tax records, which show the 12-acre property appraised at $3.1 million. All that remains of the farming operation is a barn, feed room, and milk house.
Those remaining structures at the north corner of the property are at the center of the debate over whether the property warrants historic designation.
Conservation Society of San Antonio librarian Beth Standifird told commissioners the farm meets four criteria for historic significance as defined by the National Register of Historic Places and the Unified Development Code (UDC). A property must meet at least three of the 16 UDC criteria to be considered historically significant.
“The remaining farm buildings serve as a valuable, visible reminder of the cultural heritage of dairy farming that once flourished in northwestern Bexar County, in which author Gayle Spencer described as a part of San Antonio’s heritage almost erased,” Standifird said.
There’s also precedent for preserving the structures, she said. “Operating as a dairy into the 1980s, the Bacon-Steubing Farm outlasted the older Voelker farm, whose barn and houses are preserved in Hardberger Park.
“The midcentury buildings on [the farm] remind an increasingly urban community how long dairy farming persisted as a part of the area’s rural heritage.”
However, attorney Ashley Farrimond, representing the owner at the commission meeting, said the property does not rise to the level of a historic designation.
“In reviewing the National Register document, it actually specifies that dairy farming flourished in Bexar County between 1880 and 1920, and as has been noted, this structure here that we’re considering [for demolition] was constructed in 1954,” Farrimond said.
In addition, she said, “The dairy farm had older structures that were removed and demolished. … So [those] structures may have been a better example of dairy farming during the period when it flourished [but] the demolition of those structures was already approved.”
Farrimond did not respond to an email requesting more information about the property and the owner’s request to demolish its structures.
Standifird said the historic significance is valid because her research shows that milk production accelerated between World War II and 1970, and documents indicate the barns on the property date from the late 1940s to early 1950s.
An architect speaking on behalf of the owner also said adaptive reuse of the barn would be difficult due to the sloped floors for drainage and built-in food troughs.
“It would be fairly expensive to do that work,” said James Ray. “There’s not much to that building in structure so we would be significantly altering a large portion of that building just to get it into an adaptive reuse situation.”
But commissioners agreed that the property is eligible for historic designation, voting 7-1 to approve the request.
Their recommendation will go before the City Council to initiate the designation process. If the site is approved as a historic landmark, the owner is required to present to the commission engineering and economic hardship reports before any demolition is approved.
Dwyer said she spoke to residents in neighborhoods surrounding the farm who hope the property will become a designated landmark.
“This barn represents the iconic history that our city was built upon,” she said. “Without the building to remind us of our history, we will lose the memorial.”