Advertised as smart, cool, and comfortable, the knee-high cotton dresses were manufactured at a time when flapper-style was in and hand-sewn on its way out.
Now officials hope the abandoned frock factory building that helped put San Antonio on the ready-made garment industry map in the late 1920s will bring the West Side roaring back.
On June 9, the board of the Westside Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) approved a loan agreement for economic development group Prosper West (formerly known as the Westside Development Corp.) to purchase and rehabilitate the Basila Frocks building at 500 N. Zarzamora St.
The loan amount of $945,000 fills the gap between what Prosper West and local development partner DreamOn Group have invested and what’s needed to make the project pencil out. If approved by the City Council, it will allow the historic building to be restored and occupied once again. (TIRZ board member Julissa Carielo, a DreamOn founder, recused herself from the vote.)
Both groups expect the $3.8 million project, which many see as transformational to the West Side, to begin this fall and be completed in summer 2022.
The TIRZ board vote was a significant step forward on a project that stalled when equity partner and affordable housing developer Dan Markson died unexpectedly in 2019. Last year, Prosper West issued a request for proposals, seeking a new development partner, and selected DreamOn in November.
DreamOn brings not only equity but also expertise and focus on a part of town where new development has lagged other parts of the city, said Ramiro Gonzales, president and CEO of Prosper West.
“Any inner-city project is difficult,” Gonzales said. “There tends to be a gap between the project costs and the revenues that it will produce to satisfy lenders and investors, and it’s even more exaggerated on the West Side because of some of the conditions of the market.”
Gonzales said the organization, which owns the building, was eager to complete renovations on the two-story Basila Frocks structure before it degrades further and becomes a bigger problem for the community. “Time is of the essence,” he said.
Prosper West plans to move its offices into the building, which could be developed for a mix of uses including public meeting space, coworking space, a coffee shop, or other retail.
No other tenants have been identified yet, but a number of nonprofit organizations have inquired about renting space in the building, said Rene M. Garcia, co-founder and partner at DreamOn, which also has its offices on the West Side.
“We really founded this company a few years ago to do projects like Basila,” Garcia said. “We thought that there was really a need in the community for developers to pay attention to … and it’s the type of project that we traditionally pursue.”
Built by Syrian immigrants Nicholas and Marie Basila, the building was designed in the daylight factory style of industrial buildings in the early 1900s, according to a 2016 report by the Office of Historic Preservation (OHP). In 1929, there were 31 garment factories operating in San Antonio, employing more than 500 people.
An economic downturn halted Basila’s production at the location in 1936, though other garment manufacturers operated there in subsequent years. Throughout later years, the building served as home for various nightclubs, restaurants, ballrooms, housing and health services — even a church.
The OHP report advocated for rehabilitating the building based on its historical value and architectural integrity, and despite disuse, lack of maintenance, ongoing vandalism, and trespassing, which has resulted in some damage to the structure.
Development is coming to the West Side, if slowly, Garcia noted, and rehabilitating Basila Frocks represents the kind of development that can positively impact the neighborhood.
“There are a lot of developers that go in and start to strip out areas of the West Side and want to increase property values or wind up increasing property values,” he said. “This is more of a community-based project that will hopefully fit more like a glove.”
There’s a groundswell happening on the West Side, said Joe Carreon, board chairman of Prosper West, who pointed to creative space Warehouse 5 as one example.
“We’re attracting new businesses and new people to the area,” Carreon said.
“With that, they’re bringing opportunity, a new vibrancy. I’m really hoping that Basila Frocks is going to be the next step … for the Westside corridor.”