Crumbling wall at Spanish Governor’s Palace rebuilt for San Pedro Creek project

by Brigid CooleyAugust 27, 2020
The Spanish Governor's Palace facade in downtown San Antonio taken Monday Aug. 24, 2020.
The Spanish Governor's Palace was built in 1722 next to San Pedro Creek. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

The deteriorating, Circa-1930s western perimeter wall of the historic Spanish Governor’s Palace, which once faced San Pedro Creek, has been demolished, making way for the construction of a reimagined rear wall.

The 8-foot wall located on Calder Street, which runs parallel to the creek, first showed signs of decay in 2016, said Colleen Swain, director of the city’s World Heritage Office. Rather than restore it, the city chose to demolish and rebuild the wall in order to create visual continuity between the palace and this segment of the San Pedro Creek just south of West Commerce Street.

“We have this failing wall and we also knew San Pedro Creek is being built,” Swain said. “It is an opportunity, hopefully with the development of San Pedro Creek, for people walking along this wonderful new creekway to get a peek inside the Spanish Governor’s Palace.”

Most of the wall will be rebuilt, except for a 9-foot portion where utilities are attached; that section will be restored. The construction, which began in June and is scheduled to finish in March 2021, is considered part of the $225 million San Pedro Creek Culture Park project.

The Spanish Governor’s Palace, located behind City Hall, was constructed in 1722 by Marquis de San Miguel de Aguayo, who served as governor of Coahuila and Texas. The building housed government and religious officials during the early settlement of this region.

Final design rendering of new rear wall for the Spanish Governor's Palace. Courtesy City of San Antonio
Final design rendering of new rear wall for the Spanish Governor's Palace. Courtesy: City of San Antonio
The San Pedro Creek Culture Park under construction on Monday Aug. 24, 2020 where the Spanish Governor's Palace backs up to it.
The San Pedro Creek Culture Park under construction on Monday Aug. 24, where the Spanish Governor's Palace backs up to it. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

The palace backs up to San Pedro Creek, which once served as a water source for early settlers in this region. From the 1920s through the ‘70s, the city began channeling and paving over parts of natural waterways in an effort to control flooding. The San Pedro Creek Park project is intended to address flood control while beautifying and expanding the creek.

Unlike the original, the new wall will include four wrought metal windows and a Mahogany gate. Architects aimed for a new sense of continuity between the palace and San Pedro Creek. During the process, it was decided the city should reuse the wrought metal slide bar latch from the original gate on the new structure.

“We’ll always look at anything we can do to salvage original material,” Swain said.

The new concrete wall will be plastered white to match the rest of the building so the finished structure remains consistent with the landmark’s facade.

The palace facade and entrance, and the captain’s offices, are original. Over the years, the palace was expanded twice, once during the late 1700s and again by the City of San Antonio in the 1930s, when a model kitchen, children’s bedroom and a perimeter wall were added. The site is now used to host events and educational tours about Texas during the Spanish Colonial era.

The back wall of the Spanish Governor's Palace shows the wall deteriorating. Unknown date taken. Courtesy City of San Antonio
This photo provided by the City of San Antonio shows the rear wall falling apart.

The wall being reconstructed surrounds the main courtyard of the palace. Patti Zaiontz, president of The Conservation Society of San Antonio, noted it was originally constructed during the 1930s restoration and therefore is not part of the original building structure.

The wall “was not built at the same time as the Governor’s Palace itself, therefore it’s not part of the historic designation of the property,” Zaiontz said.

The Conservation Society reviewed and approved the design of the wall, and agrees that the changes will add to the experience of people visiting the revamped San Pedro Creek.

Before beginning the demolition of the wall on June 22, the World Heritage Office received approval for the construction plans from the city’s Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC), the National Park Service, the Texas Historical Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The $405,000 project is mostly funded under the city’s deferred maintenance program for fiscal year 2020.

Brigid Cooley is a Heron intern this fall. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, where she also serves as editor-in-chief of The Mesquite newspaper. She can be reached at brigid@saheron.com, @brigidelise1 on Twitter

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