by Adolfo Pesquera
San Antonio (Bexar County) — Architectural designs for the Alameda Theater restoration are to wrap up by June and construction documents will be prepared from June to October, according to the project team representatives that spoke at a Monday open house.
The designs affect the missions of three organizations–Alameda Theater Conservancy, Texas Public Radio, and Henry Ford Academy–but the focus of the presentation was work being done for the theater.
Gary Martinez of OTJ Architects describes the Alameda Theater restoration. Photo Credit/Adolfo Pesquera.
Gary F. Martinez, a principal with Wash., D.C.-based OTJ Architects, spoke to a small audience at the Guadalupe Theater. Keeping in mind throughout the process that the theater must be designed to be as versatile as possible for all types of live performances and film, Martinez said the restoration will result in a state-of-the-art 21st century venue with most of its original character intact.
“Our goal is to retain as much original material as possible. I’m not looking to scrub every crack out of this building. The building has earned that–those are the wrinkles of its age. It tells the story of how well the building was used, how much it was loved,” Martinez said.
“If something was broken, we will fix it. But if it’s good, if it’s solid and there’s not going to be a (safety) problem, … we’re going to clean it and we’re going to leave it there as a testament to the history of the building.”
Guido Construction was selected last summer as the construction manager. The construction period is estimated to take about 14 months. ATC board member Pete Cortez said the theater is about 24 months away from completion.
The overall site (above) includes the future TPR headquarters (hatched area) and the future San Pedro Creek redevelopment. The Alameda Theater portion (below) has three sections–the stage/seating arena in ochre; the back of stage functions in blue; the lobby/lounge in aqua. Courtesy: OTJ Architects.
Martinez said the size of the theater has gone through several iterations. One obstacle with the initial concept was the depth of the stage, which was only 15 feet. The Alameda architectural team–OTJ and Seventh Generation Design–told the Texas Public Radio architectural team, Overland Partners, that the stage depth had to be at least 30 feet to be successful.
This forced Overland Partners to make a number of changes to the back of the building, which will be the future home of TPR. One major change was the reconfiguration of TPR’s black box theater.
The proximity of the black box to the Alameda stage also presented acoustical challenges. A thick concrete wall and other sound suppression materials were designed to allow both stages to be in use simultaneously.
The TPR project is currently under construction and expected to be complete by the end of this year.
The Alameda was renowned for its acoustical quality, a feature that Martinez saw was a result of its unique curvilinear walls. The ambition of the team is to make the acoustics even better.
“The goal is to increase its (sound) range so that you can have unamplified shows. You can have the spoken word. The room will work for many different kinds of presentations.”
Plans for the stage include the introduction of a removable platform that will extend beyond the proscenium into the orchestra pit. Courtesy: OTJ Architects.
On March 20, the Alameda Theater architects obtained conceptual approval for their interior and exterior designs from the Historic and Design Review Commission. The scope of work under consideration included:
1. Rehabilitative work to the stucco; blade sign, marquee and canopy; terrazzo sidewalk; the reconstruction of the historic terrazzo finishes at the eastern end of the West Houston Street sidewalk, if needed; the potential temporary removal and replacement of the existing fire escape and marquee canopy, if needed; the replacement of rooftop mechanical equipment and various other repair and maintenance items upon further assessments.
2. The replacement of the existing storefront system and entry doors to address accessibility deficiencies, energy codes and life safety codes.
3. Perform rehabilitative work to decorative finishes within the lobby spaces and associated stairs; the expansion of the theater box office and ticketing areas; the installation of a new elevator; the expansion of patron areas; the existing lounges and restrooms; the addition of a new lounge space; the restoration of decorative plaster and paint elements; the reconfiguration of the seating arrangement to feature approximately 1,000 seats; the addition of a thrust stage; the reduction of the audience chamber at the orchestra level; the reduction existing rake to accommodate a lounge and bar area; the reconfiguration of the lower balcony seating area; the creation of standing lounge areas in the upper balcony, the reconfiguration of the stage area; and the reconfiguration and increase in size of the back of house space.
The Alameda originally had about 2,500 seats when it opened in 1949. The conservancy commissioned a study to determine the optimal seating capacity and based on a comparison of other performing arts venues in San Antonio concluded that there was a need for a theater with about 1,000 to 1,500 seats. Martinez said an exact number hasn’t been determined but the capacity will fall within that range.
Longitudinal cut-away view. Courtesy: OTJ Architects.
There are plans to build a stage that extends beyond the proscenium (the stage’s front opening), into the area that was once the orchestra pit to provide for a more intimate experience. Martinez said the team is studying whether to make this stage extension collapsible, “so if there’s a show that wants to have musicians where you traditionally have them, you can do that, still.”
Except for some booth seating to the rear, seating at orchestra level will be configured much as it was. The balcony level will have three sections. Nearest the stage, will be traditional seating. In the center, the seating will include tables and be arranged for small groups and couples. The rear section of La Terrazza will be wide open, with various sofa, stool/table and chair/table arrangements and a concession bar that will be open depending on the wishes of the artists booking the venue.
The orchestra seating (lower level) will have some booth seats to the rear and light/sound barriers will lock out noise and light from the lobby when patrons come and go during performances. — The balcony level (below) will have three sections. Courtesy: OTJ Architects.
There are myriad details to the project that require all kinds of specialized expertise. OTJ is working with one custom manufacturer to reproduce theater seats that will copy the style of the originals, and with another custom manufacturer to reproduce the lobby carpeting.
Tests are underway on the fluorescent mural at orchestra level to determine the best chemicals to clean the surface without destroying the mural.
“It’s incredibly intricate work that’s going on in this venue,” Martinez said.
Sound and light lock chambers will be installed between the lobby and theater to prevent lobby light and noise from disrupting performances. The lobby itself, because of its original grandeur, has been prioritized with the highest level of preservation of existing material.
OTJ Architects’ rendering of the refurbished Alameda lobby.
Except for the upper floor offices (levels two to four) where the Henry Ford Academy Alameda School For Art+Design operates, the theater has been closed for nearly 40 years. When construction begins, the school will be temporarily relocated. The school’s quarters are not within the scope of OTJ’s mandate.
The theater portion of the project has a $23 million price tag. Cortez said the city of San Antonio and Bexar County each contributed $9 million. A majority of the remainder is expected to be covered through state and federal historic building tax credit financing and new market tax credits. The conservancy will conduct a fundraiser to cover any gap.
VBX first reported this project in Virtual Concept & Design on Sept. 29, 2015. Members with access to this service may monitor progress by tracking Project ID #2015-2E86.
Functional areas of the second floor (salon level) of the theater include (in ochre) a VIP lounge, men’s and women’s lounges, and (in blue) dressing rooms and a rehearsal room for artists. Courtesy: OTJ Architects.