Downtown fire destroys abandoned building in the process of becoming a historic landmark

SAN ANTONIO – The abandoned building located at 503 Urban Loop may have been an eyesore for some with its boarded-up windows, but it was rich in history for those who knew its story.

The building was in the process of becoming a historic landmark. That long history went up in smoke when an overnight fire destroyed the 17,000 square-foot complex.

San Antonio fire officials believe people experiencing homelessness may have been trying to stay warm, leading to the fire. However, the cause of the fire remains under investigation.

The 503 Urban loop building has been around so long that it’s a landmark for two different eras.

The first was in the Wild West when it was a brothel in 1883. It was the last remaining reminder of the city’s red-light district. The building was also said to have been used as a hideout by the notorious outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, according to Vincent Michaels, executive director of the San Antonio Conservation Society.

Then in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, its history with Laredito, a Mexican American neighborhood, began.

“For over a century, it served as a daycare and orphanage for Laredito -- first under the Carmelite sisters from 1914 and then under Father Flanagan’s Boys Town in 1990,” said Michaels.

In the hundred-plus years of community care, he said there is no exact number on how many kids were helped, but he believes it’s well into the thousands.

Michaels said the only reason the building was not already a historic landmark was because of confusion.

“The city thought it was a landmark, but because of a clerical error 30 years ago, it wasn’t,” Michaels said.

The San Antonio Conservation Society, the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, and the Westside Preservation Alliance hope to get some type of memorial in place of the burnt building.

The Office of Historic Preservation sent KSAT the following statement:

“After researching the available records, we determined that the designation for 503 Urban Loop is likely an error that occurred about 30 years ago. While some documentation seems to speak to an intent to include the 503 Urban Loop property as part of a designation for the nearby Immaculate Heart of Mary complex, an ordinance that clearly ties the properties together could not be found and additional historical research has not shown a clear connection between the properties. Given all of the information available, it would not be good practice to treat the property as a currently designated landmark. Historic designations require a change in zoning (adds an H or HL layer to the base zoning for additional protections). In our city, only City Council can approve zoning changes and that is documented through an ordinance. There is no ordinance designating this property as historic.”

About the Authors

John Paul Barajas is a reporter at KSAT 12. Previously, he worked at KRGV 5 in the Rio Grande Valley. He has a degree from the University of Houston. In his free time, he likes to get a workout in, spend time on the water and check out good eats and drinks.

Adam Barraza is a photojournalist at KSAT 12 and an El Paso native. He interned at KVIA, the local ABC affiliate, while still in high school. He then moved to San Antonio and, after earning a degree from San Antonio College and the University of the Incarnate Word, started working in news. He’s also a diehard Dodgers fan and an avid sneakerhead.

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