French & Michigan building. Photo by Page Graham.
French & Michigan building. Photo by Page Graham.

French & Michigan owners announced Wednesday that they will move their art gallery from its namesake intersection in Beacon Hill to a warehouse in Southtown, consolidating their businesses under one roof to save money.

Many in the art and city development communities were surprised by the Wednesday announcement in light of the hard-fought zoning battle by proprietors Billy Lambert and Céleste Wackenhut went through in order to legalize the building’s commercial use in the first place.

“The emotional and financial strain it has taken to regroup from this particular period has been tough, and it has required us to make difficult decisions,” Lambert stated in a news release. “While heavy on the heart, these difficult decisions are important to the sustainability of our business.”

“This particular period” pitted neighbor against neighbor more than a year ago. Lambert and Wackenhut found themselves and their new gallery unwelcome in the immediate neighborhood block by several longtime Beacon Hill residents, including former District 1 Councilwoman María Berriozábal, poet Carmen Tafolla, and resident Jessica Fuentes. On the other hand, Beacon Hill Neighborhood Association saw the small business as a positive economic and cultural addition to the neighborhood.

From left: French & Michigan Designer Shane Tafares, Céleste Wackenhut, Billy Lambert, building owner Jeffery Dersh, and French & Michigan Designer Nate Manfred stand outside City Council chambers after Thursday's meeting. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
From left: French & Michigan Designer Shane Tafares, Céleste Wackenhut, Billy Lambert, building owner Jeffery Dersh, and French & Michigan Designer Nate Manfred stand outside Council chambers after City Council approved the zoning change in Oct. 2014. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The building in question, located at the corner of French & Michigan, had long been the site of several different businesses, but was rezoned as residential in recent years despite its lack of on-site parking.

For Lambert, winning the zoning battle in late 2014 was a matter of principle. He contracted the services of well-known zoning attorney Rob Killen to take on the case, which cost the equivalent of a “small student loan,” Lambert said it at the time.

With today’s news, however, it turned out to be a pyrrhic victory.

City Council granted a special-use permit which allowed them to run their gallery at French & Michigan, but the permit would not allow for the additional design-build firm that Wakenhut and Lambert had planned to compliment the gallery with. They then secured a workshop space in Southtown to run the design-build firm while the art gallery remained in Beacon Hill. French & Michigan has hosted a number of notable art exhibits since then.

Ultimately, however, the owners choose to move everything under one roof in Southtown.

And so another building is vacant near the Fredericksburg Road corridor, and another blow to its rebirth as an art hub between the Five Points Neighborhood and Interstate 10.

Several artist-run spaces moved into the area over the past years found themselves harassed by certain members of the neighborhood who vehemently oppose their setting up shop in the area.

Months ago, Uptown Studio, located in the 700 block of Fredericksburg Road, was the subject of a police raid during a burlesque show. It’s doubtful the police were staking out the place, some speculate that it was a citizen complaint led to the raid. The tenant, noted dance choreographer Stephan Gaeth, is now looking for another studio space.

These kinds of situations, along with parking concerns, has made the revitalization of this commercial corridor a risky proposition for developers who would otherwise seek to renovate existing buildings. So far, the only business that has publicly shown interest in moving into the immediate area is a Stripes convenience store on Fredericksburg Rd at I-10. They’ll be building it on an empty lot.

*Top image: French & Michigan in Beacon Hill. Photo by Page Graham.

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French & Michigan: Still No Decision

UPDATED: French & Michigan Zoning Case: The Battle Rages On

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French & Michigan Zoning Case: A War With No Winners

San Antonio Report Staff

This article was assembled by various members of the San Antonio Report staff.