Once-concealed building's true character revealed

Facade nearly gone; 1928 exterior surprises many

SAN ANTONIO – After being encased by a heavy aluminum facade then abandoned for over two decades, the true character of the 10-story Real Estate Building at the corner of North St. Mary’s and East Martin streets is finally being revealed.

“It’s hard to imagine how many times I passed the building and it never caught my eye,” said Chris Taylor, a prospective business tenant. “As soon as the cladding started coming off, it was like, ‘Wow.’”

The cost to build it back then was $375,000 and crews used reinforced concrete, brick, stone and terra-cotta. The ornate designs on the exterior are said to add charisma to the building.

Uri Villarreal and Craig Glendenning are among the partners behind the multimillion-dollar project. 

“It’s been a sizeable investment. We’re all excited,” said Villarreal, who is also the project’s real estate broker.

He said they also are grateful for city support such as tax incentives, fee waivers and a 15-year property tax reimbursement grant, which is an annual rebate of city taxes generated by the completed project. In addition, they are eligible for historic tax credits from the Texas Historical Commission.

Villarreal said they had no idea what was behind the facade put up in 1963 that was covering the building, which was then owned by the Great American Insurance Company. It then became the Hedrick Building, earning an award for its “complete modernization.”

“Makes you kind of wonder why someone would go to all that trouble, but I guess times have changed,” said J. Gilbert Candia II, a passerby who happens to be an architect.

While taking photos of it, Candia said he was encouraged to see “someone had the foresight to come back and restore and beautify what was something that can be shared with a whole new generation.”

The Real Estate Building is the cornerstone of a mixed-use project on North St. Mary’s between East Martin and Convent.

Villarreal said the bottom floor will be retail and the remaining floors, the Flats at St. Mary’s, will be 54 apartments.

The single-story building next door is being demolished for a courtyard or “urban retreat.” On the other side, the two-story Voss Center will feature a restaurant, coffee shop and perhaps a rooftop bar.

Pedro Rodriguez, the general contractor with LTP Builders, said his crew has been removing the aluminum facade and the windows that were installed for the past three weeks.

“I have more on top,” Rodriguez said. “The top is the hardest part.”

 RELATED: Photos of Real Estate Building restoration process

He said to try to avoid congestion on North St. Mary’s approaching the heart of downtown, his specially trained crew has been working in the evenings.

Villarreal said the urban retreat and the Voss Center should be completed in the next six to eight months, and the interior of the Real Estate Building will take another year to year and a half.

WEB EXTRA: Read some of the history of the building below: 

The Real Estate Board Building Company, which built the building, was composed of a nine-member board, including the city’s most prominent real estate developers. The Real Estate Board Building Company was organized to construct a 10-story building to provide offices for San Antonio Realtors.  It was the first building of its kind built by Realtors in Texas. The organization selected the firm of Adams and Adams to design the estimated $225,000 building constructed of reinforced concrete, brick, stone, and terra cotta. (At completion the cost was said to be $375,000.) The formal opening of the building was held on March 26, 1928.

The Great American Insurance Company owned the building, known generally as the “Insurance Building,” until 1958 when it was sold to architect/engineer Wyatt C. Hedrick (c. 1889- 1964) of Fort Worth. Hedrick, who had designed and/or built major projects throughout Texas, had widespread real estate investments that included commercial and ranch holdings. Hedrick had a long association with San Antonio where he was the local manager for Sanguinet and Staats from 1909 to 1913.

Wyatt Hedrick remodeled the Insurance Building in 1963, adding multi-colored exterior sheathing, a modern canopy, aluminum doors, new elevators, and air conditioning. The completed building was pictured in the San Antonio Light in March 1963. Later in the year, the Hedrick Building, as it was renamed, received “the latest development award because of its complete modernization.”

Occupancy began to decline in the early 1980s. By 1984-1985, five of the ten floors were vacant, and by 1986, the building was totally vacant.  The Hedrick Building, which was acquired by Gill Savings Association, fell into disrepair.  As a result of the real estate and banking crisis, the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC), acting as receiver for Gill, liquidated its real estate holdings.  The RTC sold the Hedrick Building to B.P. Agrawal, president of RBRA, Inc. in January 1993.


About the Author:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.