The Founding House
Historic Rehabilitation Award
This award recognizes exceptional rehabilitation projects in which a historic resource is adapted to meet the demands of modern use without compromising the site’s historic character. Projects demonstrate adherence to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, and offer creative solutions to rehabilitating historic places.
The Founding House, designed by San Antonio architect Leo MJ Dielmann and dedicated on September 18, 1904, housed the Claretian Order of Roman Catholic priests and brothers who were called to San Antonio to assume parish responsibilities at San Fernando Cathedral and to minister to the over 8,000 Mexicans that resided in the city. The House was all but abandoned in recent years save for a few rooms on the ground floor being used by the adjacent parish for meetings and an outreach program. Several poor attempts at remodeling coupled with years of deferred maintenance had left the building in a sad state. In 2010 the Claretian Province, realizing what an asset they had, decided to make the sizeable investment to completely restore the interior and exterior, and once again use the building as originally intended.
The Claretian Order could have easily relocated to another facility or built a new one in another part of San Antonio, but they chose to stay and invest not only in their own building, but also in downtown. They are committed to seeing this part of downtown revitalized, a once vibrant neighborhood, that was decimated by the construction of the Interstate Highway in the late 50’s and by several less than successful urban renewal projects in the 70’s and early 80’s. With this commitment to their history they are demonstrating that ‘Place Matters’ and that by investing in that history a new era can begin in an area long forgotten, but showing signs of a resurgence, and the Claretians are leading the way.
The first phase of the project was to completely restore the exterior, including masonry repointing, replacing deteriorated limestone sills and replacing missing stone accent pieces (the crosses on the top of the gables, and corbels). Also included were windows; replacing the roof with a similar red standing seam metal roof; and restoring the front porch and steps to their original condition, based on historical photos. The rear galleries were also restored.
Next came the complete renovation of the interior to provide a communal living facility for the priests and brothers of the Order as the house was originally designed. This included ten single bedrooms with private baths and closets, a new kitchen, dining room, living room, and a library and private chapel. In addition to the installation of a residential elevator for ease of accessibility for older priests and brothers living there, new electrical and HVAC systems were installed. For the first time in its history, the building was centrally air-conditioned. The long-leaf yellow pine floors were completely restored and refinished.
The only original spaces that really remained and were restored were the Entry/Stair Hall, and two spaces on either side that became the new Library on one side, and a new private Chapel on the other. Since at the beginning of the project every surface was painted beige, a new color scheme for both interior and exterior was based on microscopic paint analysis and color matching.