The 1892 Solon Stewart house at 311 Pereida St. in King William is for sale. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

An empty lot on a friendly neighborhood block can sometimes seem like a “missing tooth” in a broad smile. That’s the comparison Mary Nethery, a 40-year resident of the King William Historic District, made to the tract at 311 Pereida, which happens to be across the street from her home – and which has been a flashpoint for controversy over the past several years.

Fortunately for everyone involved – and the cast of characters in this drama includes a prominent family, a fabled architect, a school district, a developer, the City, a husband-and-wife restoration team, a mysterious “twin house,” and a coalition of historically impassioned neighbors – a prolonged bit of urban dentistry has resulted in a white-as-enamel restored historic home that could have been the victim of the wrecking ball. 

“It’s fantastic,” said Nethery, a grant writer, editor and landscape designer. “I see it every day out of my north windows. We have a new front tooth that was our missing tooth forever. It really seems to be a win-win-win situation.” 

The house is the 1892 Solon Stewart house, a two-story Texas cottage with a wide front porch. It looks a lot like the house in the background of Grant Wood’s famous painting American Gothic

Designed by noted architect Alfred Giles for prominent lawyer and former State legislator Solon Stewart and his wife, Georgia Grimshaw Stewart, according to King William historian Maria Watson Pfeiffer, its original address was 114 Cedar St., just around the corner from its present location on Pereida. 

The prominent Stewarts – Solon was president of the San Antonio Bar Association in 1919 and Georgia was a charter member of the Woman’s Club of San Antonio – lived in the house on Cedar until they both died in the 1920s. Their son, a writer, lost the house to foreclosure in 1932. Like many other single-family King William homes, the Solon Stewart house became a rental property in the ’30s, broken up into tiny apartments, and over decades fell into disrepair. The San Antonio Independent School District eventually obtained the property, visualizing the Cedar lot – sans house – as an expansion to the adjacent Bonham Academy for a new playground. 

But the neighborhood fought back, and the City’s Historic and Design Review Commission ruled that the Solon Stewart house was “a contributing structure to the historic district” in 2011 and couldn’t be razed – a win for the coalition of “pragmatic preservationists” that included the Conservation Society of San Antonio, the King William Association, and the Emily Edwards Endowment. 

Meanwhile, the Solon Stewart house continued to deteriorate, with roof damage allowing rain inside, while Bonham parents fretted over rumors of drug addicts using the house as a crash pad. Enter local developer Steve Yndo, who wanted to build townhomes in the area. To simplify a complicated plot, Yndo bought the old house and got City approval in 2016 to move it to his nearby empty lot at 311 Pereida. It had to be sawed in half to negotiate a tricky turn. He built the Cedar Street Townhomes, the Bonham got its playground, and the Solon Stewart house received a new lease on life. 

The 1892 Solon Stewart house was in rough shape before restoration began in July 2018. Credit: Courtesy / Kai Homes

The home, in its new site, went up for sale, with the hope a loving buyer would come along and restore it. 

The house passed through a couple of other owners before winding up in the hands of Paul and Amy Perez, owners of Kai Homes, which builds new homes and renovates old ones. They bought the house for $345,000 in June 2018 and started construction in July. The restoration is expected to be finished by the end of the month, and they plan to put the house on the market for $950,000–$1 million in early April. 

“I grew up in this neighborhood,” said Paul Perez, 42. “I graduated from Brackenridge High School and was in the very first ever SAY Sí class. So this is my ’hood, and I told Amy that if she ever came across a King William house to buy it.

“So we ended up with the biggest dump in King William, really just a wreck,” Amy, 34, added with a laugh, “and now look at it. It’s our beauty.” 

The Perezes have spent several hundred thousand dollars on the restoration – sorting out the plumbing alone took six months and cost $65,000, Amy Perez said – and they have created an elegant, two-story 2,780-square-foot home with three bedrooms and three-and-a-half bathrooms, as well as a downstairs office. 

The home features an open plan downstairs with 11-foot ceilings and connecting dining room, kitchen, and living room about 40 feet long, all centered on a 6-foot-by-6-foot kitchen island with a quartz countertop. Ash-colored engineered hardwoods are installed throughout, replacing the original floors, which were beyond repair. Black limestone tile adorns the laundry room and baths. 

The second floor, which has two bedrooms with their own bathrooms, was almost completely rebuilt. The back bedroom has a view of the Tower of the Americas. 

The color scheme throughout is black and white, carrying over from the bright white exterior with black window trim. The house has the original front door, as well as restored, 8-foot vertical windows throughout the ground floor. Most of the original siding was kept. 

The home’s restored entry hall features about 95 percent original materials, according to the builder. Credit: Courtesy / Kai Homes

“The whole back of the house was really sketchy,” Paul Perez said. “The floors were bad. The roof was bad. I had my guys wear hardhats when we were working on the master bedroom in the back. But this house needed basically everything, because it was just dropped off here, and it sat for a couple of years. It has a new roof, new plumbing, electrical, HVAC –everything.” 

Based on a survey of Sanborn Maps of the home, the Perezes knew the house had a porch across its 47-foot front facade that was lost at some point in the home’s history. Through some sleuthing and blind luck, they found a “twin house” in Alamo Heights, also designed by Giles, that showed them what it might have looked like. 

Kai Homes constructed a wide porch with pillars and four steps leading up to it on the front of the house. 

“We worked with the Office of Historic Preservation and the Conservation Society to reconstruct a porch as similar to the house twin as possible, while making all the historic groups happy,” Amy Perez said. “The front porch, as well as the back deck, will be great for Fiesta parties.”

Like most restorations, the Solon Stewart house has been a thorny process of headaches and setbacks as the owners have had to navigate the rigorous historic review process, gaining approval every step of the way from City agencies and the King William Association. 

“It was a very stressful project,” Amy Perez said. “We received conflicting signals from different agencies, and we had to rip some things out and start over – at our cost. But we approached it as if it was a house we were going to live in. In fact, we initially thought we might move in, but the restoration was just too costly. But you look at the house before and the way it is now, and the changes are pretty dramatic.” 

Paul Perez said he learned that no historic house is beyond saving, even if it puts some strain on close relationships. 

“They’re all salvageable; you just have to find the right people to do the work,” he said. “We learned that challenges like this can test your marriage. But Amy and I have good chemistry, and we never said let’s just get out of this. You don’t fight all those battles and then walk away from it. We’re just not those kind of people.” 

Steve Bennett has written about arts and culture in San Antonio for more than 30 years.