The sale leaves the visual arts’ ceramic courses without a facility, an art professor said.
By Sergio Medina
The Koehler Cultural Center, which has been part of this college since 1973, will be up for sale by year’s end after the Alamo Colleges board of trustees declared it surplus property during the board’s September regular meeting.
District administration wants to save money used for renovations, which ranges from $1 million to $9 million, said Gregory McClure, vice chancellor for facilities and construction management, in an interview Oct. 21.
“There was no money budgeted to renovate Koehler House, so it’s not a matter of taking budgeted funds and distributing them elsewhere,” McClure said. “It’s more cost avoidance so we don’t have to sacrifice anything or budget money from elsewhere.”
Located at 310 W. Ashby Place, the mansion was built in 1901 and was donated to the college by Otto A. Koehler, nephew of the house’s original owner, Otto Koehler, founder of Pearl Brewery.
The mansion, designed by architect Carl Von Seutter, is said to have given Otto Koehler a view of his brewery. From the third floor of the historic house, Koehler had a clear view of smoke stacks at the brewery about 12 blocks east of the house. He could tell by the output how hard his employees were working.
“Because of its historic nature, it would be very expensive to restore,” McClure said.
The Texas State Historical Commission labeled the building a Texas historical landmark in 1975.
“We’re planning to sell it, and it’s going to go out publicly for proposal,” McClure said. “And any number of potential developers or even people who want to turn it into a residence can submit a proposal.”
McClure said the district will publish an RFP, or request for proposals.
“We’re going to look at the offer price, but we’re also going to look at the usage they plan, and we’ll evaluate that based on compatibility with San Antonio College because it’s adjacent to it.
“We certainly want a usage that doesn’t conflict with education,” McClure said.
The RFP, still under draft and review, should be published before the year’s end and will include requisites that adhere to the Texas State Historical Commission and the Office of Historic Preservation of the City of San Antonio, he said.
“It’s such an important part of San Antonio’s heritage,” McClure said.
In 2009, this college’s biology department considered the property’s greenhouse as a lab space. In 2011, a student construction project from St. Philip’s College attempted renovation efforts that failed because of a lack of district funding.
The Ranger reported in 2012 that the greenhouse had asbestos contamination, lead-laced paint and a rotten wood structure.
The house underwent lead-paint removal and restoration in summer 2014.
The cost of renovations will depend on the use developers plan for the house.
For example, McClure said if a developer wished to turn the house into a museum with historically accurate Queen Anne and Empire Victorian renovations — the 19th century American and French architectural styles the house is based on — then the cost would range between $7.5 to about $9 million.
The minimum renovation investment needed is upward of $1 million, he said.
McClure said the value and asking price for the property is approximately $2 million, accounting for renovations needed, which include limestone, tile, ventilation, plumbing, plaster, windows, electrical, roof and chimney work.
The three buildings on the property — the main house, the carriage house and the greenhouse — all need renovating, he added.
The estate has been used to house ceramics, art metals and jewelry design studios of the visual arts center.
“Definitely, the carriage house is full of our ceramics equipment,” art Professor Eduardo Rodriguez said in an interview Oct. 22.
As part of the visual arts program, the mansion was used as an art gallery through the 1970s and ’80s.
In the early ’90s, the district started using the house as an office space while also renting out the property for public events like weddings.
Rodriguez said the carriage house was still being used for ARTS 2346, Ceramics 1, as recently as spring 2020. However, since the start of the pandemic, the visual arts program has not offered the in-person course.
He said there is no room in the visual arts center to host the class or move the storage to.
“No. No, absolutely not,” Rodriguez said.
“We’re hoping to offer our ceramics classes again, but we were planning to in January. But now, obviously, we cannot.
“There’s no facility right now for a ceramics studio,” he said. “We’re hoping some modifications can be made, but it’s not going to happen any time soon that I know of.”
In an interview Oct. 25, Mary Mena, interim chair of the fine arts department, said, “It’s probably not likely at this time.
“What I would like to do is go in with someone to take an inventory of all the equipment so we could see the size of the equipment … so that we can better anticipate what size of storage or classroom we’ll be needing.”
On Oct. 26, Dr. Stella Lovato, vice president of college services, said she is working with Mena to find a suitable location to relocate both the ceramics course and storage.
The estate’s lawn is used as a playground by Great Hearts Monte Vista K-5, which rents space from Temple Beth-El, located at 211 Belknap Place.
Great Hearts’ administrators did not provide comment during the production of this story.