A request to demolish one of the oldest restaurant buildings in San Antonio and make way for a larger, contemporary Tex-Mex eatery is on the table. But some neighbors and business owners in the historic neighborhood encompassing the restaurant object to the plan.
In December, restaurateur Lisa Wong applied to the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) for conceptual approval to demolish a large part of the former El Mirador restaurant building at 722 S. St. Mary’s St. in the King William and Lavaca neighborhoods. In its place, Wong proposes to build a larger commercial structure where she would relocate her Southtown restaurant, Rosario’s.
Commissioners gave conceptual approval of the plan on Dec. 2 with stipulations that city staff said Wong and architect Andrew Douglas have mostly met, according to the HDRC application. The application for final approval was scheduled for review on Wednesday.
For that meeting, city staff recommended final approval on the condition that Wong modify the plan to create a greater setback for fencing and submit both a final landscaping design and mural design. They also placed the item on the consent agenda, a list of items commissioners rubber-stamp unless discussion is warranted.
Earlier in the day, however, more than 150 people left phone messages objecting to the proposal, according to staff. Restaurateur Peter Selig, owner of the Maverick Texas Brasserie next door, also spoke against the plan, and commissioners chose to move the application to individual consideration.
Wong, who also owns Rosario’s on the North Side and manages and operates San Antonio’s River Walk barge concession, said the neighborhood is like a second home to her, and she’s been working with the neighborhood associations in the area to get their input on the plan.
“I’ve been part of the neighborhood for the last 30 years,” she said, speaking to commissioners in December. “You have my commitment there, and any other issues that we need to work through, you have my commitment as well. The project is very important to me.”
The project involves clearing the property of the one-story El Mirador and building an expansive new restaurant while preserving elements of a historic homestead within the space. Also in the proposal is a plan to relocate the historic house that also sits on the 1-acre property to make way for parking.
A longtime favorite of business and civic leaders, the former El Mirador first opened its doors in 1967 on the eve of HemisFair ’68 and moved to the King William neighborhood in 1978. Owners Julian Treviño Sr. and Mary Treviño later passed the reins to son Julian and wife Diana who sold the restaurant in 2014 to architect and developer Chris Hill.
Hill closed the space in 2016 for renovations and reopened in December of that year. In 2018, Wong purchased the property for more than $3 million and promptly closed the restaurant for what she called a brainstorming phase.
Renderings for the new Rosario’s show a modern, two-story structure with a rooftop terrace, patio seating, and a surface parking lot on South Presa Street. Commissioners gave conceptual approval of the plan to demolish most of the original structure, which was expanded and added onto over the years, to make way for the new restaurant.
What will remain of El Mirador are the caliche block walls and kiva that the restaurant enveloped long ago. The 1860s-era caliche walls are remnants of the historic Jim Mitchell homestead, one of the oldest remaining structures of its kind in San Antonio and designated as an individual local landmark in 1988.
Another part of the construction project calls for moving the historic F.L. Dixon House, home to Pig Liquors, to the southeast corner of the former El Mirador property. Designated as a local landmark in 1988, the Queen Anne-style house is being relocated to make way for a new surface parking lot.
The Conservation Society of San Antonio said in a statement that it supports the relocation of the F.L. Dixon House and the developer’s plan to preserve the caliche walls.
The Conservation Society also called the massing and elevation of the proposed new restaurant an improvement over the existing building and less “out of scale” with the neighborhood.
A representative of the King William Association said the group’s architectural advisory committee also approves of the plan as long as portions of the caliche walls are visible to patrons in the main dining room and the fencing materials installed in front of the historic King William garden house are appropriate to the era of the structure.
Though city staff did not present to commissioners the public comments because those messages were left after the 9 a.m. deadline, the board heard from restaurateur Selig, who voiced his concerns about a planned barrier separating the parking lot and his restaurant.
“We object in the strongest terms to the proposed 20-foot wall that is set to be only 6 inches away from Maverick’s existing windows and the restaurant’s only outdoor patio,” he said. “It would change the character of the dining experience dramatically.”
Selig suggested that there’s “ample room for a wonderful design for Rosario’s on the current site without devastating their adjoining business,” and asked commissioners to delay a decision to allow more time for discussion.
With Wednesday’s HDRC meeting exceeding a time limit, commissioners voted to delay consideration of Wong’s application and several others to the board’s next meeting, which is scheduled for March 17.