San Antonio: Aztec Theatre Renovation in Works to Include Boutique Hotel
Texas Construction News from Virtual Builders Exchange
by Adolfo Pesquera
San Antonio (Bexar County) – Overland Partners obtained conceptual approval for designs that will be used as a starting point to renovate upper story sections of the historic Aztec Theatre for use as a boutique hotel.
The Historic and Design Review Commission gave conceptual approval Wednesday with the understanding that Overland, the architect firm, would comply with suggestions of the Office of Historic Preservation and the commission’s Design Review Committee.
Proposed exterior additions to the Aztec Theatre building include a pedestrian-accessible terrace above Crockett Street that leads to the River Walk; a rooftop restaurant enclosed in a glass structure with stairs leading to a plaza above the restaurant that is covered with a curvilinear pergola, possibly made of glass or metal; a rooftop terrace beside the restaurant overlooking Crockett Street; and a rooftop pool/lounge area overlooking Commerce Street.
The rooftop addition includes a restaurant along St. Mary’s Street, a rooftop terrace at the corner of St. Mary’s and Crockett, and a pool terrace overlooking Commerce Street. Illustration courtesy of Overland Partners.
Of most concern to city officials were options in the Overland concept regarding the length of the new second story terrace above Crockett Street that would reach to the boundary line of the River Walk; the addition of signage and lighting to the exterior staircases facing Crockett Street; and the height of the curvilinear pergola (also referred to as a canopy structure) atop the roof.
In the findings of OHP, it was noted, “This request was reviewed by the Design Review Committee on December 12, 2017, where committee members noted that the overlook terrace should feature a separation from River Walk elements and that the general massing and location of the rooftop addition was appropriate.
“This request was reviewed a second time by the DRC on Jan. 9, 2018, where committee members noted concerns over the option to include signage on the proposed egress stair.”
View from the St. Mary’s Street bridge over the River Walk. The proposal includes a refurbishing of the stairs on Crockett Street and the raising of the River Walk Aztec monument to street level. Image courtesy of Overland Partners.
The second story terrace above Crockett would have an area of about 1,306 square feet. It would extend from the building to the existing Aztec sculpture at the public right of way on the River Walk. Overland proposed raising the existing sculpture to the height of the overlook terrace (14 feet-10 inches from street level).
Overland proposed accentuating a new exterior staircase system with colored lighting and/or iridescent metalic materials. Overland founding principal Timothy Blonkvist reasoned this would raise the profile of Crockett Street, which in its current state resembles an alley. The objective is to make Crockett safer and more inviting to pedestrians, particularly for visitors to the theatre and future hotel guests.
One option was to install a second vertical blade “AZTEC” sign on the staircase on Crockett. It would have been of similar scale to the AZTEC blade sign at the corner of St. Mary’s Street and Commerce Street.
The River Walk level entrance to the Aztec as it exists today. Overland proposes raising the center column with Aztec head to meet a new second story terrace that will be built more than 14 feet above Crockett Street. Photo courtesy of Google Maps.
OHP staff objected, describing such signage as “polluting lighting that will negatively impact the historic structure, the pedestrian atmosphere at West Crockett or the pedestrian atmosphere at the River Walk level.”
On the rooftop, the one-story glass addition had a proposed height of 17 feet-9 inches, and the curvilinear pergola above it had a proposed height of 12 feet-3 inches. Blonkvist said the actual materials to be used for the pergola have not been determined.
While staff and commissioners considered the rooftop designs appropriate, they asked and Overland agreed to find ways to minimize their visibility from street level.
A staircase at rooftop level (above) would take guests from the restaurant up to the curvilinear pergola. As seen from street level on Commerce, (below) there would be limited visibility of the addition. Images courtesy of Overland Partners.
Overland recessed the structures away from the edge of the roof to reduce their visibility, but the design teams is limited to working with a narrow roof surface. The auditorium roof of the theatre is at a different (lower) height and cannot be built upon.
The Aztec opened in 1926 as a grand cinema theater. However, the building was constructed to be more than an auditorium. It includes retail space at the street and basement/river levels and office space from the second to sixth floors along St. Mary’s and Commerce streets. In recent years, the theatre has been more of a concert hall, a venue for live musical entertainment.
However, the office space has been out of use for decades. In 2015, there was an attempt by developer Samuel Panchevre to convert the office spaces to apartments. That plan was abandoned last year in favor of a hotel that will have about 55 guest rooms on levels three to six.
At ground level, the hotel portion will have a lobby and reception area of 752 square feet facing Commerce Street at the building’s midsection. The hotel will have a small second entry lobby, 151 square feet, that provides access to the rooms via an elevator.
HDRC Commissioner Michael Connor complimented Overland’s efforts, telling Blonkvist his team was going in the right direction. Connor emphasized that Overland was working with a theater, implying that this gave the design team more freedom to be creative.
“No one is going to accuse you of giving us a false historic narrative,” Connor said. He was referring to a design standard with historically significant buildings that require a clean break from the past when additions are considered, so as not to confuse architectural periods in the same structure.
Likewise, HDRC Chair Michael Guarino noted that Overland’s modifications since the DRC meeting conformed to their comments.
Blonkvist told the commissioners that the success of the hotel will depend on the success of the rooftop amenities. Because the hotel is so small, the owner is depending on the rooftop restaurant and pergola to become a popular attraction for weddings and other social events.
BC Lynd Hospitality, the same firm that renovated the St. Anthony Hotel, is the development partner on the Aztec project. The design documents refer to the boutique hotel as Aztec Hotel, however, a BC Lynd spokesman said this is just a working title and no decision has been made on the actual name.
The Aztec Theatre building (above) sits at the northeast corner of St. Mary’s Street and Commerce Street. The building cross section (below) shows how the second story terrace would extend over Crockett Street to the edge of the River Walk. Images courtesy of Overland Partners.
Adolfo Pesquera (Reporter/Editor) is a veteran news journalist. He has worked for Hearst Corp., American Lawyer Media, News Corp and Freedom Communications. His work has been published in newspapers and magazines across the USA. He is a journalism graduate of UT-RGV. He writes, edits and creates digital pages for VBX.