Rosario’s owner seeks to demolish site of landmark San Antonio restaurant El Mirador

by Brigid CooleyNovember 8, 2020
The former El Mirador building, 722 S. St. Mary's St., looks to be the new home of Rosario's.
The former El Mirador property, 722 S. St. Mary's St., looks to be the future home of Rosario's. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

After purchasing the old El Mirador property two years ago, restaurant owner Lisa Wong has submitted an application to demolish the structure and build a new restaurant, presumably the future home of Southtown staple Rosario's.

Perhaps complicating Wong's plan is the fact that the building, 722 S. St. Mary's St., is a local landmark, parts of which date back to the 1860s. The Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) is scheduled to review the demolition proposal and new construction plans on Nov. 18.

The building has been vacant since Wong purchased it in 2018 from local developer and restauranteur Chris Hill, and subsequently closed El Mirador after 50 years of business. Since late September, outdoor advertising has suggested Wong’s plan to move Rosario’s, which she acquired in 1992, from its current location on South Alamo Street a half-block south to the El Mirador location in 2021.

The property received local landmark designation in 1988 after the Center City Cultural Resource Inventory, a comprehensive downtown survey of more than 1,000 designations, was conducted by the City of San Antonio. The oldest portion of the building dates back to the 1860s; throughout the years since, the structure, which is located in the Lavaca Historic District, has seen many alterations, renovations and additions, according to the Office of Historic Preservation (OHP).

Wong did not respond to interview requests.

The Conservation Society of San Antonio, which has fought to preserve historic structures since its founding in 1924, did not respond to an interview request.

According to the Office of Historic Preservation’s webpage, “landmark designation protects the unique character of the City's historic resources. Landmark designation does not affect the use of a property. Land use is regulated by Zoning. Designation does, however, affect the aesthetics of any exterior changes made to landmarks or properties within local historic districts through implementation of a design review process.”

If the project is approved by the HDRC, it will not require City Council approval, because it's a "private demolition," OHP spokeswoman Ximena Copa-Wiggins said. Demolition may begin once the project’s zoning and permit requirements are met.

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Currently, to receive a landmark designation, properties and structures must meet at least three of 16 criteria listed in the City of San Antonio’s Unified Development Code. Some criteria include: if the location is the site of a historically significant event, it’s connection to a person of historical significance and if the structure includes “distinguishing characteristics of an architectural style valuable for the study of a period, type, method of construction, or use of indigenous materials.”

In the ’80s, designations did not include specific details regarding which criteria landmarks met, Copa-Wiggins said. The survey results, which Copa-Wiggins quoted from, highlighted the significance of the property’s “stone/caliche structures,” but did not include details about what makes the building a local landmark.

El Mirador opened in 1968, and was moved to its current location on South St. Mary's Street in 1978, according to Express-News archives. Hill, who owns Esquire Tavern, bought the restaurant from Diana and Julian Treviño in 2014, before ultimately selling it to Wong four years later.

Previously published
» Rosario’s appears destined for former El Mirador location, sign says
» Rosario’s owner Lisa Wong purchases El Mirador

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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