San Antonio: Architectural Commission Approves Remodel Plans on Historic Liberty Bar
by Adolfo Pesquera
San Antonio (Bexar County) — Don B. McDonald, architect, obtained the Certificate of Appropriateness on the remodel, relocation and expansion plans for the historic Liberty Bar and Boehler House that have stood by the south edge of Brackenridge Park for well over a century.
McDonald also managed to convince the Historic and Design Review Commission at its Wednesday session to overrule a staff objection to his proposal of using limestone rubble walls on an addition that will face east toward Avenue A (the front façade) and north (the rear façade).
Silver Ventures, developer of the Pearl district, acquired the Boehler House nearly five years ago. The developer later revealed plans to relocate the Liberty Bar within the same block. Instead of facing Josephine Street on the north end of the block, it is to be moved to the south end and turned 90 degrees to face Avenue A. In this configuration, the two-story Liberty Bar with its second level two-sided balcony will be behind and to the left of Boehler House, with both front entrances aligned in the same direction.
Silver Ventures received conceptual approval on its plans last summer. Yesterday’s decision opens a path for the urban developer to pull permits and begin the construction phase.
View of the two-story Liberty Bar with addition and facing Avenue A. Signage at apex of parapet says, “Liberty Saloon * Fritz Boehler * Est. 1890”. Courtesy: Don McDonald.
This block is considered a distinctive boundary that separates architecture oriented toward Brackenridge Park from an industrial district that has been increasingly oriented toward the Pearl. The Office of Historic Preservation took the position that rubble limestone elements were not consistent with the industrial architecture prevalent along Grayson Street.
“Brick cladding or an alternative material would be more consistent with the period of development of the neighborhood,” commented Edward Hall, senior historic preservation specialist.
Recalling the Liberty Bar’s origins, McDonald said it was built in 1890 near the southeast corner of the park bestowed to the city by Col. George W. Brackenridge. The park context was dominant in that area during the building’s first half century, he noted. But the house was cut off from the park by the construction of McAllister Freeway/U.S. 281.
Rather than morph the Liberty Bar’s architecture to fit an industrial-style to which it is unsuited, McDonald said it should be seen as an extension of the park culture.
“We would like to reestablish that original context,” McDonald said.
The north walls of the Boehler House and Liberty Bar, with the proposed rubble limestone walls. Courtesy: Don McDonald.
The limestone McDonald proposes would come from Brackenridge Park; there once was a quarry on site that was later converted to the Japanese Tea Garden. The rubble walls would join at the corner to cut blocks of limestone to give it a clean corner line.
Another key element in the park theme includes an extensive upgrade in landscaping that will make green screening a dominant feature. This will include a bioswale along one side of the building and a generous arrangement of shade trees; McDonald mentioned bringing in cypress, Texas maple, live oak, and palmetto.
The HDRC agreed with McDonald, but conditioned their approval on the submittal of a detailed landscape plan.
McDonald’s documentation did not summarize square footages, but it’s clear enough from McDonald’s site sketch that the area of the restaurant/bar (labeled Boehler’s Bar on the site plan) will more than double. Additions to the building include a kitchen with offices and a party room that are larger than the original Boehler’s Bar.
The Boehler House, located diagonally from the bar/restaurant, has three additions. Another feature that further expands that area for pedestrian and customer traffic is a courtyard at the corner of Grayson and Avenue A that is equal in area to the expanded Boehler House.
The north half of the block will be turned into a surface parking lot with about 57 spaces and landscaping. Drive-up customers will access the property from Josephine.
Site plan for the Liberty Bar and Boehler House remodel/reloction. Courtesy: Don McDonald.
Patron’s of the old Liberty Bar will recall the oblong opening in the floor of the second story. As can be seen in the floor plans, it has been preserved. Overall, the building was in terrible condition. It leaned on its foundation and much of the original wood was beyond repair. Troy Jessee Construction and Dodson House Moving stabilized the building. Silver Ventures is going to consider expense to restore the structure to its original shape.
The floor plan (above) for the first floor of the Liberty Bar (Boehler’s Bar). And the 2nd level floor plan is shown below. Courtesy: Don McDonald.
Summary Scope of Work:
Relocate the structure from its current location on E Grayson.
Rehabilitate original materials on each façade including door and entry fenestration, parapet walls, windows, wood siding, roof replacement and painting.
Install a new center bay window on the east façade’s ground floor.
Install a new five bay dormer on the north and south façade.
Construct a kitchen addition to be clad in loose rubble limestone.
Construct a new restroom, elevator and dining addition on the west façade of the historic structure to be clad in wood siding and loose rubble limestone.
Construct an exterior balcony egress stair to be added to the north façade that is to include a balcony addition.
Construct a new awning between the Boehler’s Bar and House.
Relocate the structure from its current location to a location further south on Avenue A.
Rehabilitate original materials on each including wood siding, window and door repair, roof replacement and painting.
Install new window adjacent to the proposed west addition.
Construct a screened porch addition to the front of the structure. No front porch currently exists.
Construct an addition to the west façade of the structure to feature restrooms.
Construct an addition to the south façade of the structure to feature dining.
Construct a courtyard on the southwestern corner of the site, near the intersection of E Grayson and Avenue A. The proposed courtyard is to feature an outdoor dining area.
Construct a parking lot on the lot at the corner of E Josephine and Avenue A.
The south elevation of the Liberty Bar, as it would appear from Grayson. Courtesy: Don McDonald.
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.