Top photo: Professor William Dupont (left) reviews a site plan with
student Matthew Waguespack in the studio.
Second photo: Student Dean Wiederstein (right) explains his design to
Jude Valdez, UTSA vice president for community services
Third photo: Patsy Steves speaks with UTSA President Ricardo
Romo at Fire Station 11.
Bottom photo: Fire Station 11
UTSA students create plans to restore firehouse
By James M. Benavides
Public Affairs Specialist
(Dec. 19, 2008)--During the fall 2008 semester, graduate students in the UTSA College of Architecture had a rare opportunity to re-envision a piece of San Antonio history. Just down the street from the Monterey Building on UTSA's Downtown Campus sits the historic Fire Station 11, a structure that traces back more than 80 years.
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Though the station has fallen into disrepair, it is a designated historic property. In the advanced studio of William Dupont, UTSA's San Antonio Conservation Society Endowed Chair for Historic Preservation, students see great potential for rehabilitating and re-using the structure.
After a conversation with Mayor Phil Hardberger and a few phone calls to City Hall, Dupont discovered the disputed ownership of the facility. A hand-written 1892 contract with the Steves family, proprietors of the Steves Sash and Door Company (now Steves and Sons), contained a reversion clause, returning the property to the family if the city no longer maintained a fire company on the premises.
The station was decommissioned in the late 1990s because newer fire engines are too large to be accommodated at the station. A new fire station was built 200 yards south on Frio Street, and the historic station briefly served as an EMS facility before being consigned to warehouse space. When the city moved to sell the property, the Steves family entered litigation to enforce the terms of the 1892 contract.
Dupont met matriarch Patsy Steves after delivering a presentation at a San Antonio Museum of Art event and opened the conversation about the historic station. Steves called upon her sons Marshall, Edward and Sam to endorse a plan for UTSA students to use the property as a case study and to explore new uses for the old fire station. A memorandum of agreement with the Steves family granted the fall 2008 design studio access to the station.
"The firehouse is a laboratory for students to combine the disciplines of historic preservation and architectural design in the same project," said Robert Baron, interim dean of the UTSA College of Architecture. "This is what is so important about the way Professor Dupont teaches his studio. Students first thoroughly analyze the historic building and its context before starting to adapt the building to new uses."
On Dec. 4, members of the Steves family gathered with the architecture students at Fire Station 11 to review proposals for renovating the historic structure. Students shared concepts for a residential setting, offices and conference rooms, a health club, and a drive-through café and coffee shop.
Dupont and his students admit that the new uses are a long way off, since the facility would first have to be rehabilitated. It requires masonry and structural work, plus bringing HVAC, electrical systems and plumbing up to current standards. And while the second level of the structure could be exempted from the Americans with Disabilities Act, Dupont and his students insist that all programs at the historic station be accessible to any student or patron.
Neutralizing the danger of the fire poles is another obstacle. While poles on the lower level would serve as mounting points for tables, the openings in the ceiling pose a hazard for anyone on the second floor. To remain true to the station's original purpose, the students want the poles to remain intact and have suggested sealing the openings with clear acrylic floor plugs or capping them with structural glass.
Dupont said the fire station would be an opportunity for an excellent case study across various disciplines. It could serve as an ongoing design-build project for architecture students and as a small business start-up project for the College of Business. Additionally, UTSA students could manage the display of student art and performances within the facility.
"This would be something unique," said UTSA President Ricardo Romo. "We are extremely fortunate to have an historic structure so close to our campus and the family's agreement to use it as a learning opportunity for our students."
Dupont and UTSA continue to seek grants and private donations to carry out the rehabilitation. The spring 2009 graduate studio will continue an evaluation of Fire Station 11, determining business plans for new uses, specific requirements to rehabilitate the building and developing the required solutions for technical conservation of the historic materials.
For more information, read the spring 2008 graduate studio's historic structure report at the UTSA College of Architecture Web site.
>> Read more about the Fire Station 11 project in a Dec. 17 San Antonio Express-News story.