This article has been updated with comments from Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3).
When Mark Granados’ company purchased the Toudouze Building in 2018, the former community center and market had been vacant for eight years.
Plans to build a car wash on the triangle lot stalled when San Antonio City Council and the Office of Historic Preservation initiated a process this month to have the building designated a local historic landmark because of its ties to prominent retailer August Charles “A.C.” Toudouze and Spanish Eclectic architectural features.
“There was never any talk of this building being historic,” Granados told the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) last week, adding that he would not have bought the 21,400-square-foot building if he knew that information. “It’s not historic.”
The two-story building, built in 1926, first served as a community center, hosting regular dances and concerts. After a remodel in 1941, it became the fifth Toudouze Super Mart location in San Antonio.
“[The building] represents an important chapter of San Antonio’s history,” the Conservation Society of San Antonio President Patti Zaiontz wrote in a letter to HDRC. “[It’s an] established and familiar feature of the neighborhood.”
With a unanimous vote, commissioners supported designating the Toudouze Building at 4007 S. Flores St. as historic. The Zoning Commission is to consider the designation later this month and City Council is slated to make the final decision on Feb. 20.
Historic designation would make demolition of the building more difficult but could also allow developers to apply for state and federal tax incentives for historic renovation.
Granados challenged the significance of the building and City staff’s analysis, noting that much of the Spanish Eclectic features were lost decades ago. Paint and signage that was added to the building when Garza Furniture store moved into the building in the 1980s still covers windows that have been boarded up, according to City documents.
Large signs still advertise the store’s closing in 2000.
Toudouze moved out of its Flores Street location to expand elsewhere, and its last operating store, which was on Buena Vista Street, closed in 2011.
“Failing at business makes you [and the buildings you owned] historic?” Granados said.
The building’s location and parking lot size limit the feasibility of turning it into a viable business today, he said.
Granados, who has developed several car washes in neighborhoods across the city, said historic designation of the property doesn’t force him to renovate it.
“I don’t have to do anything,” he said, noting the dilapidated state of the property. “This is what stays until the end of time.”
The Office of Historic Preservation doesn’t perform in-depth renovation feasibility studies, said director Shanon Shea Miller. “To my knowledge there’s been no attempts to develop plans to renovate the building. … We would be more than happy to sit down with the owner and other departments to find a solution.”
Granados said he offered a compromise to Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), whose district includes much of the South and Southeast sides of town.
He could move the car wash onto a different lot he owns nearby if the City grants a zoning change that would allow one there. In exchange, he will accept the historic designation of the Toudouze Building, he said.
“[Viagran] just doesn’t want a car wash,” he said.
The HDRC does not have the authority to authorize such a deal, Miller said, as zoning and historic designation decisions are made via City Council votes.
“My residents have also made it very clear – we’ve seen in other areas of District 3 – how single family neighborhoods are vehemently opposed to 24 car washes,” Viagran said.
Granados may have made a suggestion to trade a historic designation for zoning on another parcel during a previous Council meeting, she said, but “he didn’t speak to me or my staff about a compromise.”
The building sits at a “very prominent gateway corridor to the South Side,” she said. It’s minutes away from the San Antonio River, Mission Concepción, and San Pedro Creek.
“There’s so much potential here,” she said. “It has history, it’s a great structure, and if it [is designated] it could get historic tax credits. … I think it would be a great opportunity for [Granados] if he were willing to work with everyone.”