The 1940s Malt House building is one step closer to demolition after the Historic and Design Review Commission unanimously approved conceptual plans on Wednesday for the 7-Eleven gas station and convenience store that will take its place.
The new design represents a substantial improvement from the initial designs, commissioners said. A large canopy from the front door to the gas pumps mimics the Malt House’s design and a covered outdoor seating area is also planned. The company’s design team is committed to using both historic Malt House signs on the exterior of the building.
The team estimates that it will be back in front of the HDRC with final designs in 3-4 months. Final approval is required before any demolition can take place.
More than 20 citizens attended an HDRC meeting in October to protest the sale of the historic property to 7-Eleven and plead for more time to find a new buyer who could restore the building.
The iconic restaurant holds memories for many Westside residents. Baldemar Gonzalez, the former owner, had to sell the property because he couldn’t keep up with building repairs, and business was too slow to keep the doors open.
Only two citizens signed up to speak on Wednesday.
“A gas station of this magnitude [cannot] replace the Malt House,” said Beatrice Moreno of the Westside Preservation Alliance. “Give us time [to] find someone else to rehabilitate it and bring it back to its glory days.”
It’s been more than six months, HDRC Chairman Michael Guarino noted. “[Approval of these designs] comes not without thought and consideration.”
Some commissioners complimented the team for incorporating feedback from previous HDRC meetings and the public design charrette held in December.
“I feel the design as proposed is responsive [to that feedback],” said District 3 Commissioner Edward Garza. “This is a favorable solution.”
The Office of Historic Preservation recommended that the plan be rejected because the convenience store would be located in the southeast corner of the plot instead of the northeast corner where the restaurant sits vacant today.
That configuration simply won’t work for a gas station, said Bill Kaufman, a prominent local attorney representing 7-Eleven in this case.
The building needs to be situated in the southeast corner so that pedestrians, vehicles, and large fuel trucks can all safely access the store and pumps without increasing on-site accidents or traffic on adjacent neighborhood streets, Kaufman said.
“I think we captured the spirit of all the direction [we received] from the community,” he said, adding that only a handful people at the charrette thought the building should be in the same spot.
The design team will be working with VIA Metropolitan Transit on options for incorporating Malt House history into a bus stop shelter on Zarzamora Street in front of the building, Kaufman added.
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5), whose district includes the former Malt House, owns all the property surrounding the restaurant, lives just blocks away, and has known the now-former owners of the Malt House for decades. She has stayed out of the process, but has helped connect Councilmen Roberto Treviño (D1) and Rey Saldaña (D4) to neighbors and resources.
“It really kills me that I can’t weigh in on it,” Gonzales said.
Beyond her political career, she has substantial investments in that area, she said. “What happens to that corner is very important to me.”
Treviño helped organize a design charrette with AIA San Antonio’s Latinos in Architecture Committee.
“It could have been a lot worse, but the fact that 7-eleven was willing to listen, the fact that we were able to bring architects and local artists together to address a very important thing, I’m very proud of that,” Treviño said.
After reviewing the preliminary renderings, he said he thought they demonstrated that the company did actually listen to the community about what they’d like to see on the corner of Zarzamora and Buena Vista.
“[The design team] pieced together something that I feel was … something that responded to community input,” he said.