Local restaurant owners are working to redevelop the site of a onetime child care center on the near East Side into a bar venue with a schoolhouse theme.

A construction crew has installed a wood fence around the old playground of the former Healy-Murphy Child Development Center and are at work on the southernmost section of the property where the bar, named Home Room, is set to open sometime next year.

“It’s not going to be completely in-your-face back to elementary school, but have subtle characteristics to remind you of school — a fun school,” said Chris Coffland, a bar and restaurant industry veteran and general manager of Home Room. 

Coffland began planning the project with restaurant owners Marika Wright and Marc “Frenchy” Groleau in 2020, he said, and after many delays, he hopes it will be completed in early 2023. 

A 4,000-square-foot schoolhouse is being converted into a bar with garage doors that open onto the playground. There will be space for food trucks there as well. But that’s just the first phase of the project.

Wright owns the Northside restaurants Pacific Moon and Charlie Brown’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill, which Coffland is managing while he oversees work on Home Room closer to the urban core. 

“That whole area is up and coming,” he said of the neighborhood where the bar is being developed just north of St. Paul Square and next to a northbound entry ramp to Interstate 37. 

“That whole area has so many things going on. And let’s face it, San Antonio is growing, continuing to grow and continuing to be a destination, so why would somebody not want to be a part of that?”

Wright and Groleau are leasing the space from the property owners, an investor group listed as 517 Live Oak Management that purchased the 1-acre site in December 2020, according to county documents. Tax records show the property is valued at $2 million.

The business owners’ plans for the historic rock house also located on the property are part of a second phase of development and are under wraps for now. “That’s going to be a surprise,” Coffland said. 

Built in 1882 by merchant George Dullnig, the Italianate-style rock house at 122 Nolan St. is a designated landmark in the Healy-Murphy Historic District. 

The two-block district is named for Margaret Mary Healy-Murphy, an Irish immigrant who started a Catholic school for Black children, St. Peter Claver Academy, in 1888. In 1893, Healy-Murphy founded the order of nuns known as the Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate to run the school. To house the students, the Sisters purchased the Dullnig House sometime in the 1940s.

Due to declining enrollment following desegregation in the 1960s, the school was reorganized to serve as an alternative high school and opened as the Healy-Murphy Center in 1970. The house became a child care center in 1975.

Today, the nonprofit Healy-Murphy Center at 618 Live Oak St. operates a high school for disconnected youth, serving about 400 young people a year, and a child development center for the students’ children and others who qualify. 

But because the aging Dullnig house was no longer adequate for the child-care center, the nonprofit built and relocated to a new facility across the street in March 2020. 

The move allowed the nonprofit to increase its capacity from 100 to 136 children, said Doug Watson, executive director of the Healy-Murphy Center. 

Watson said he welcomes the new venue to the neighboring property where, while vacant, people who are homeless had begun to camp. He sees it as an opportunity for Healy-Murphy clients and the neighborhood. 

“Maybe there are some opportunities for some work for some of our students,” he said of the plans for food trucks. “I hope to establish a good relationship with them.”

The nonprofit began renovation on its property in the block of Nolan and Live Oak streets in 2010 —  a time before the pace of development in the neighborhood began to pick up speed in more recent years. 

“I would like to believe that we were the beginnings of all this renovation stuff,” happening on the East Side, Watson said. “I always like to say Healy-Murphy led the way.”

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Shari Biediger

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