Ruby City, the long-anticipated exhibition space that will connect to the San Pedro Creek, broke ground in Southtown Wednesday. The 14,000-sq. ft. gallery will house the extensive contemporary art collection of San Antonian Linda Pace, who was planning the project when she died of cancer in 2007.

The two-story structure will cap a complex located on Camp Street. With its eventual sculpture garden, the new building will connect to CHRISpark, the one-acre public green space Pace built in memory of her son in 2005, as well as SPACE, which presents special exhibitions and programming throughout the year.

Trustees of the Linda Pace Foundation, together with project architects, County Judge Nelson Wolff, on Wednesday celebrated the future jewel in San Antonio’s cultural landscape, slated for completion in late 2018, roughly the same time as the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project.

Pace’s art collection contains more than 800 paintings, sculptures, installations, and video works by contemporary artists from around the world, many from artists working at Artpace, the residential art program she founded downtown in 1993.

An heiress to Pace Foods, Pace believed strongly in the power of art as a social force that should be available to all. Ruby City’s estimated $16 million cost and future admission fees will be completely funded by the Linda Pace Foundation.

“She didn’t want an admission fee to preclude someone from experiencing the art,” Linda Pace Foundation President Rick Moore said.

An oblong outline of colored tape marked the new space so guests could imagine the shape and scope of the building. The galleries will open some six months after the complex’s completion, once the structure has “cured” and the collection can safely be installed.

Moore said the Foundation is collaborating with the San Antonio River Authority on an approach from the San Pedro Creek that mimics the building’s deep red concrete panels, embedded with shimmering glass and mica. The Foundation is donating land to the River Authority to accommodate easy access.

In addition to serving San Antonio and Bexar County when Pace developed various projects, Wolff and his wife Tracy became friends with her. He said they were invited to an “extraordinary” party Pace hosted in her all-white penthouse at Camp Street Lofts, the condominium building she developed across the street from CHRISpark.

“I remember Tracy saying, ‘This is San Antonio’s version of a New York Truman Capote party. We’ve finally arrived!’

“[Pace] was an extraordinary lady, and this is a very important project for San Antonio,” he added. “I think it will get worldwide recognition.”

Pace believed in and studied the meaning of dreams. When she had a vivid dream of radiant ruby towers, she sketched it in hues of red and pink, and met with acclaimed architect Sir David Adjaye. Adjaye’s $540 million Smithsonian Institute National Museum of African American History and Culture opened on the National Mall in Washington D.C. last fall.

Pace’s original sketch was etched into small glass paperweight blocks and given to guests at a breakfast at SPACE after the groundbreaking ceremony. Among the guests were Joe Franchina from Adjaye Associates, Irby Hightower and Mike McGlone of Alamo Architects, and Linda Pace Foundation Trustees Moore, Kathryn Kanjo, Alexa Person, and Laura B. Wright.

Pace’s brother, Dr. Paul Pace, told the Rivard Report that his sister “always talked about dreaming.” Her niece, Katie Pace Halleran, amplified his remembrance.

“Her dreams became maps of intuition,” she said, “and thankfully, she followed them. I always sensed that Ruby City was a paradise of sorts – a place of light and goodness, a place that is both a beginning and an end. I fundamentally believe that she wanted this built so her art collection could permanently serve that purpose for others – to be a place of light, reflection, and joy.

“When you find a piece of work that moves you, it can be transcendental, and I think she wanted to share that potential with everyone in San Antonio as a kind of offering for the greater good. She lives on with the Ruby City, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.”

The new structure’s soaring planes will be “punctuated by strategically placed lenses that will overlook CHRISpark and the new sculpture garden. Largely rectangular, the building will feature a dramatic rooftop of sloping angles and skylights that will rise to varying heights and echo cut-away spaces at the building’s base. The entrance plaza, formed by the building’s cantilevered structure and the ground floor lobby, share the vibrant ruby color pattern establishing a dynamic and porous relationship between indoor and outdoor elements. A grand staircase will take visitors to a series of gallery spaces, which will feature concrete floors with white walls and ceilings to allow the extensive collection to take center focus,” according to  the Linda Pace Foundation.

Joe Franchina, associate director for Adjaye Associates’ U.S. & American Projects, said Adjaye worked with many artists and greatly enjoyed collaborating with Pace.

“She’s one of those big thinkers, one of those inspired kind of people,” Franchina said. “I think the idea of the tower with the city wall [the project’s design], is very similar to her dream.”

Architect Joe Franchina from Adjaye Associates speaks at the Linda Pace Foundation announcement of Ruby City.
Joe Franchina of Adjaye Associates speaks at the Linda Pace Foundation’s announcement of Ruby City. Credit: Hannah Whisenant / San Antonio Report

The distinctive architecture is a welcome addition, San Antonio Museum of Art Kelso Director Katie Luber told the Rivard Report. “In the choice of David Adjaye as the architect for Ruby City, Linda Pace and the board of the Linda Pace Foundation together will change the cultural profile of San Antonio. It will be wonderful to have a seminal architectural monument here designed by this internationally renowned architect to house her extraordinary collection. As a city we have not widely invested in major architecture, so this is a truly exciting moment for us here.”

The story of a strong, principled female art collector creating a space to share her large art collection may remind local art lovers of Marion Koogler McNay, who created the McNay Art Institute, as it was named when it opened in 1954, largely devoted to modern art. Its Head of Curatorial Affairs, Rene Paul Barilleaux, spoke to the Rivard Report about its similarities.

“While the McNay holds claim to be the first museum of modern art in Texas, perhaps Ruby City will come to be known as the first center of postmodern art in the state,” he wrote in an email. “Its addition to San Antonio’s increasingly robust visual arts landscape is certain to complement existing institutions by showcasing Linda Pace’s collecting vision.”

Nancy Cook-Monroe is a local freelance writer and public relations consultant. She has written about San Antonio arts and civic scenes since she could hold a pencil.