San Antonio: Historic Designation for 1880s Brothel Structure Blocks Eight-Story Downtown Project
Feature Illustration: The Dashiell House as it was in the 1880s and today, according to Jonathan Card.
by Adolfo Pesquera
San Antonio (Bexar County) — Plans for an eight-story residential tower with parking garage are unclear now that the remnant of an 1880s brothel has been recommended for a historic designation.
The Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) agreed last week to forward a case involving a structure at 503 Urban Loop to City Council with their recommendation that the property in question get landmark status. City Council will have to initiate a rezoning to create a historic landmark because the HDRC action took place without the owner’s consent.
The case will then come back to the HDRC and the Zoning Commission and must pass by super majorities.
The owner is DPMiller Investments LLC, which is controlled by Douglas W. Miller II and Paula J. Miller of Bill Miller Bar-B-Q Enterprises. The Millers as reported in this VBX May 3, 2021 article, asked the HDRC to approve the demolition of the site and to grant conceptual approval of the “general massing” for a residential tower.
The case took a detour because the Conservation Society of San Antonio, Westside Preservation Alliance and the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center jointly filed a petition to declare the site a historically significant landmark.
The Dashiell House and associated additions of what was a Carmelite Sisters day care. Image: Google Streets.
James McKnight, legal counsel for the Millers, argued the historic designation was no appropriate because the component of the existing complex that is of concern has been changed so much it is not recognizable or even visible. Documentation of McKnight’s claims were prepared by Card and Company Architects on behalf of the owners.
In 1883, the Dashiell House was constructed and around the turn of the century (1897-1901) it was a brothel in a Mexican neighborhood near the city’s Red Light District that was known as Laredito. During that time the brothel owner, Fannie Porter, hosted members of the Wild Bunch, a bandit group led by Butch Cassidy and Harry Longabaugh (the Sundance Kid).
The Dashiell House is one of a very few surviving structures of what was the Laredito neighborhood.
Beginning in 1913, the property was acquired by the Diocese of San Antonio and it became an orphanage and day care center that was run by the Carmelite Sisters. However, there were numerous additions to the original structure, which itself was partially torn down. In subsequent years, so many renovations were done as the building was expanded that the original exteriors are completely hidden from view.
Map of the site, with existing structures (in green) overlaid on where the parking garage and building would be. Image: Jonathan Card.
HDRC Commissioner Curtis Fish acknowledge that most of what remains of the original structure is framing. However, he concluded it still met the criteria for historic designation and his motion carried.
Fish added that the commission’s action does not preclude possible demolition of other portions of the building.
If the historic designation is ultimately successful, it is not known whether the Millers will move forward with some modified variation of their original plan. McKnight said they had not yet considered any type of partial demolition.
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.