Oakwell Farms site map courtesy of Pape-Dawson Engineers. Download the full size PDF here.
Oakwell Farms site map courtesy of Pape-Dawson Engineers. Download the full size PDF here.

A 43-acre land parcel at Oakwell Farms, one of the city’s most attractive undeveloped tracts inside Loop 410, has been sold by the Tobin Endowment to David Weekley Homes of Houston for development of a single family residential community set amid heritage oaks and expansive green space.

“We think this is the largest, privately owned tract inside 410, certainly in the northeast quadrant,” said J. Bruce Bugg Jr., chairman and trustee of the Tobin Endowment. “It’s going to be a mini master planned community, not unlike what Robert Tobin did with the other 450 acres.”

Proceeds from the sale of the 43-acre parcel, recently appraised at more than $7 million, will benefit the Tobin Endowment, a private charitable foundation in San Antonio that has made more than $53 million in grants since 2000, including the lead naming gift of $15 million for the recently opened Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. The Tobin Endowment had assets of $65.6 million at the close of 2012, according to its tax filings. The sales price was not disclosed.

The property, however, would have made a coveted acquisition for any developer. Bugg said the challenge was finding a buyer who could pay market rate while agreeing to develop the property in the same spirit Robert Tobin developed 450 acres as Oakwell Farms starting in 1977 when he formed the Oakwell Farms Corporation.

Chairman and Trustee of the Tobin Endowment Bruce Bugg Jr.
Chairman and Trustee of the Tobin Endowment J. Bruce Bugg Jr.

“Robert Tobin’s idea was to develop the property where the built environment blended nicely with the natural environment, a concept that was quite unusual in its day,” Bugg said. “We wanted to find someone sensitive to the land and our desire for the Tobin Endowment to keep the house.”

The Tobin Endowment’s offices now occupy the Oakwell Farms home Robert commissioned in 1959 that was designed by noted Houston architect Roger Rasbach and still features pieces from Tobin’s art collection and his considerable library.

“If you asked Robert who designed the house, he said, ‘I did,’” Bugg said, adding that it underwent extensive renovations in 1999 that preserved the home’s Saltillo tiles, Austin limestone and floor-to-ceiling glass window panes. The Tobin Endowment will continue as the owner and occupant of the home and three acres of land.

Robert Tobin. Courtesy Photo.
Robert L.B. Tobin. Courtesy image.

The tract acquired by David Weekley Homes occupies heavily wooded land with a running creek that separates the Tobin home from a stretch of Harry Wurzbach Road between Loop 410 and Eisenhauer Road. The property is zoned commercial, Bugg said, dating back to a time in the 1980s when Robert collaborated with Dallas retailer Stanley Marcus to develop an upscale retail center on the tract and convert the house to a conference center.

“It was going to be called The Village at Oakwell Farms, but then what I call the Texas Depression hit and that was the end of that deal,” Bugg said, adding that a down-zoning to residential will be requested in November with the case going to City Council in December.

David Weekley Homes, he said, is working on a master plan to build single family, detached town homes that will sell for $300-500,000. The developer will keep half the property as green space and plans to preserve more than half of the heritage oaks.

“The property is grandfathered and not subject to the tree ordinance,” Bugg said, “but the first thing we agreed to do was split the cost of a tree survey because we want to preserve as many of the heritage oaks as possible. How many developers would start a deal with that kind of agreement?”

The property is the last remaining undeveloped tract within Oakwell Farms, a 500-acre dairy farm acquired in 1937 by Robert’s parents, Edgar and Margaret “Mag” Tobin, three years after their son’s birth. The farm served as a rural weekend retreat for the Tobins, who resided in Terrell Hills at the time, decades before the area became part of the urban landscape.

Today Oakwell Farms is a mix of single family residential homes, apartment complexes, commercial and office space, a large equestrian center, and the nearby Tobin Library at Oakwell, a branch library in the San Antonio Public Library system. The branch library sits within Robert L.B. Tobin Park, a 121-acre city park that includes 2.1 miles of the Salado Creek Trailway. The park was made possible by the Tobin Endowment’s donation of 81 acres of land in 2002 and another 40 acres acquired by the City of San Antonio.

Then Mayor Phil Hardberger (right), former Mayor Howard Peak (far lefl), and Mayor Emeritus Lila Cockrell (left, center) unveil the Robert L.B. Tobin statue at the Salado Creek Greenway trailhead in 2008 with Bruce Bugg Jr., chairman and trustee of the Tobin Endowment (far right).
Then Mayor Phil Hardberger (right), former Mayor Howard Peak (far left), and Mayor Emeritus Lila Cockrell (left, center) unveil the Robert L.B. Tobin statue at the Salado Creek Greenway trailhead in 2008 with J. Bruce Bugg Jr., chairman and trustee of the Tobin Endowment (far right). Photo courtesy of the City of San Antonio.

“In the years since Tobin Park was created, with all the growth related to military medicine at Fort Sam Houston, the Wurzbach corridor has become the focus of new development and the value of the remaining real estate  has increased enormously,” Bugg said. “As Chairman and Trustee of the Tobin Endowment, we had no choice but to sell the property in order to satisfy our fiduciary duty to make trust property productive…we are taking this action to grow the Endowment’s assets in order to increase our capacity to make charitable gifts, which is the reason Robert created the Tobin Endowment in the first place.”

Bugg said he met David Weekley, chairman of David Weekley Homes, through Gene Dawson, president of Pape-Dawson Engineers.

“I have to credit Gene for introducing me to David Weekley, who told me he spends half his time working on his own foundation and the other half serving as chairman of his company,” Bugg said. “We spent an afternoon together and it was clear he was sensitive to our needs and what he would build here would be a continuation of Robert Tobin’s vision.”

Robert Tobin was an art collector and patron whose passion and philanthropy made him a leading national figure in the arts and performing arts worlds, better known, perhaps, in New York and Santa Fe than in San Antonio. He amassed one of the largest and most important theater design collections in the country, which today is the Tobin Collection of Theater Arts at the McNay Art Museum. Tobin died at the age of 66 in 2000. You can read his obituary in the New York Times by clicking here.

*Featured/top image: Oakwell Farms site map courtesy of Pape-Dawson Engineers. Download the full size PDF here.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.