UPDATE: City Council approved the McNay Art Museum’s request for the permanent closure of a remnant strip of Rittiman Road in order to move forward with the museum’s master plan for its property.
“This closure will create a safer entrance and exit to the museum as well as allow for more green spaces for everyone to enjoy,” Councilmember Mike Gallagher (D10) stated in a news release on Thursday after the closure was approved on the consent agenda.
According to the release, “… the closure will not occur until after the Texas Department of Transportation makes the necessary improvements along Austin Highway and North New Braunfels. The combination of the two properties allows the museum to increase the size of its green spaces and create a larger area for the sculpture garden.”
Original story published on May 27:
The McNay Art Museum moved one step closer to expanding its verdant, 23-acre campus on Wednesday when the City’s Planning Commission approved the “closure, vacation and abandonment,” of a remnant strip of Rittiman Road located between Austin Highway and North New Braunfels Avenue.
Formal approval of the closure will come before City Council at its regular meeting on Thursday, June 4.
William Chiego, the John Palmer Leeper Director of the McNay, said the board and staff have under taken a new master planning effort, the first such effort since the McNay launched a major expansion plan more than decade ago.
That led to the 2008 opening of the Jane and Arthur Stieren Center for Exhibitions, the 45,000 sq. ft. modern addition to the museum’s Spanish Colonial-Revival mansion that has served as the McNay’s core since 1954 (top photo). The Stieren Center was designed by French architect Jean-Paul Viguier, and created large, light-filled gallery space, an interior sculpture gallery and garden, a multimedia lecture hall, and classrooms for the museum’s many educational programs.
Chiego said the street closure will allow the museum to incorporate the triangular parcel on Austin Highway that it bought around the time of its last expansion that was the site of a former service station. The property, which is about 2/3 of an acre, remained isolated by the remnant strip of Rittiman Road that drivers traveling into Alamo Heights on Austin Highway would use to turn north on North New Braunfels Avenue.
If City Council approves the closure, that intersection will be re-engineered so that westbound drivers on Austin Highway will have a proper turning lane on to North New Braunfels, and drivers traveling south on North New Braunfels Avenue will have a proper turning lane to travel east on Austin Highway.
“This will help a great deal if we can get it done next week, ” Chiego said Wednesday. “We are very optimistic, but we still have one more step to go. Joining the corner property to our campus will improve the view of the museum from the street and make it easier for people to enter and exit the museum campus.”
Chiego also said it would expand the McNay’s green space, already an attraction to museum-goers drawn to the outdoor sculpture garden and the shaded, parklike expanses surrounding the traditional museum and the Stieren Center.
“We are still engaged in master planning, but we’d like make more outdoor space available for the public, and we’d like to spread out the sculpture garden,” Chiego said.
About the McNay
Marion Koogler McNay was an heiress from the Midwest who came to Texas when her first husband, a U.S. Army non-commissioned officer, was assigned to Laredo. After his death in a Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918. She moved to San Antonio in 1926, married ophthalmologist Donald Atkinson , and began collecting art. Her first purchase was a Diego Rivera portrait of Delfina Flores, a 1927 painting of an Otomi Indian child, the daughter of Rivera’s housekeeper. The Atkinsons commissioned the celebrated San Antonio architects Atlee and Robert Ayres to design the 24-room Spanish Colonial-Revival house.
The marriage ended a decade later, but McNay continued to collect European art, especially French paintings and post-Impressionists, and American art, including Southwest art from New Mexico. When she died in 1950, McNay left her collection of more than 700 works of art, the house and 23 acres and an endowment to establish what would become the first modern art museum in Texas.
Since then, the museum collection has steadily expanded and now holds more than 20,000 works of art. Its print collection is one of the best in the nation, and its post-war European and American collection continued to grow. In recent years it has collected noted San Antonio artists. The Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts, left to the McNay by philanthropist and international arts patron Robert Tobin, includes more than 9,000 theatre arts objects, principally scene and costume designs.
Among the McNay’s current exhibitions, the Viva Zapata! exhibition, which opened May 20 and runs to Aug. 16, is an excellent introduction of the museum’s collection of Mexican modernist prints. First-time visitors might want to try ArtFULL Wednesdays, an afternoon food and cocktail tasting with a gallery talk and tour that runs all summer.
*Featured/top image: The Jane and Arthur Stieren Center at the McNay. Image courtesy of the McNay.