City Council last week approved funding that assigns pre-war military officer housing a new purpose: promoting historic preservation in San Antonio. 

With the acceptance of a grant from the Texas Historical Commission and a lease agreement with Port San Antonio, a group of 1920s-era homes and other structures at the former Kelly Air Force Base known as the Bungalow Colony will be restored and used for training in trade skills and storage of salvaged housing materials.

As the vote took place last Thursday, a team of tradespeople was already on the site, learning how to repair and replace windows in the historic homes newly established as a site of operation for the Office of Historic Preservation’s Living Heritage Trades Academy and a Material Innovation Center.

The one-year lease agreement between the City of San Antonio and Port SA includes an option for two 12-month renewal periods.

Built mostly between 1920 and 1927, the 15 bungalows were constructed using lumber salvaged from packing crates used to ship airplanes to Kelly Field, according to a report by Port SA.

The goal is to rehabilitate the bungalows while also generating a pipeline of skilled tradespeople who have experience working on historic homes, said Shanon Shea Miller, director of the Office of Historic Preservation (OHP). 

“There are so many historic neighborhoods in San Antonio, whether they’re designated historic or not, and sometimes it’s difficult for people to find contractors who are skilled or have experience in dealing with older and historic buildings,” she said. 

One restored bungalow also will serve as a community “tool library,” lending tools to tradespeople, while others will be used as leasable office space at Port SA.

The colony also will serve as the site for storing materials salvaged from deconstructed structures, Miller said. An old parking garage will be repurposed for this use, and some material has already been collected, including some salvaged windows.

“That’s tied to [a proposed] deconstruction ordinance which we’ve been working on for several years with a lot of community stakeholders,” she said. The storage facility would be an answer to the question of what to do with materials that can’t be readily sold or donated to places like the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. 

Through the Material Innovation Center, OHP will be working in partnership with UTSA to research looking at how those materials can be reused in affordable housing projects to keep costs down.

“To the extent that we can take reclaimed material and utilize that when we’re doing affordable housing rehab in the city, then that will help keep the cost down in addition to the benefits of diverting that waste from the landfill,” Miller said. 

Tradespeople work on stripping paint from windows outside of a 1920-era building on the Bungalow Colony located near Kelly Field on Friday.
Tradespeople work on stripping paint from windows outside of a 1920-era building on the Bungalow Colony located near Kelly Field on Friday. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

A $25,000 grant from the state’s historic preservation agency will be used to develop a preservation plan for the colony, with OHP staff and area workforce agencies supporting the work of the Trades Academy. 

Additional funding from the Alamo Area Council of Governments will be used to purchase equipment such as forklifts and scales, and rehabilitate the garage for the Material Innovation Center.

Other grant funding is going toward a UTSA program that will develop kits composed of salvaged materials that could be used for constructing accessory dwelling units, which are additional living quarters, such as an apartment or “granny flat,” built on single-family lots.

Port San Antonio will also provide funding for restoring and maintaining the historic bungalows, listed with the Kelly Field Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places since 2003. 

Jim Perschbach, president and CEO of Port San Antonio, called the council vote on funding a win for both the city and the former military installation turned innovation and technology campus.

“It preserves our proud heritage at the Bungalow Colony, and it empowers program participants with new in-demand skills that will shape their career paths for years to come,” Perschbach said.

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.