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Changing Building Facades

May 19, 2017

During the mid-twentieth century, many property owners decided to update their older buildings to reflect the styles of the modern era. Victorian detailing was removed to simplify the design. Companies began producing prefabricated metal panels for installation over the exteriors of nineteenth century facades to give them the appearance of an entirely new building.  By the late 1970s, there was a noticeable increase in awareness and appreciation for historic structures. Aided by favorable tax treatments for rehabilitation, owners began restoring the same structures that had been altered in previous decades.

In observance of National Preservation Month, we call attention to the value of archival photographs in the restoration process. Often, the original architectural drawings are no longer available. Photographs document the appearance of missing elements and provide a record of the changes to a structure. Our collections contain a large number of architectural portraits by professionals, some taken shortly after the building was completed. But also of value are photographs taken of other subjects, such as a parade with the building in the background.

National Bank of Commerce, north side of Main Plaza at Soledad Street. Photograph by A.S. Masterson, circa 1928. (General Photograph Collection, MS 362: 101-0148)

National Bank of Commerce transformed into a modern building by the addition of aluminum and porcelain coverings in 1961 by new owner and occupant, San Antonio Savings Association (SASA). Photograph circa 1962. (Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, MS 355: Z-2217-C-02)

Original bricks of the National Bank of Commerce Building are revealed after removal of the façade by a subsequent owner who hoped to restore the former appearance of the building. But the bricks had been severely damaged by the addition of the metal facings, necessitating replacement with modern bricks. Photograph by Daryl Engle, circa 1982. (General Photograph Collection, MS 362: 107-1680)

Kirkpatrick Building, 123 Alamo Plaza. Photograph taken during Labor Day Parade, 1893. (General Photograph Collection, MS 362: 086-0401)

Kirkpatrick Building with modern metal covering over the brick façade. Photograph November 1957. (Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, MS 355: Z-1599-7954)

George Maverick Building, designed by Alfred Giles, on southwest corner of St. Mary’s and Houston Street. Photograph, by S.W. Masterson, circa 1930, shows only slight alterations to the 1899 building. (General Photograph Collection, MS 362: 092-0011)

George Maverick Building after owners removed the bay windows and concealed the brick walls with stucco. Photograph circa 1940. (Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, MS 355: Z-2126-A-35)

George Maverick Building with a metal slipcover over the entire second floor. Photographed during Stock Show Parade, February 1963. In 2001, the covering was removed and original façade restored.  (Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, MS 355: Z-2126-A-35)

Dullnig Building, designed by James Murphy and built about 1883, East Commerce Street, between Alamo and Losoya Streets. Photograph circa 1910. (Harvey Belgin Photograph Collection, MS 353: B-13-C-1)

Dullnig Building with stucco covering the brick walls and minus towers, but retaining the original cornice. Photograph 1940. (Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, MS 355: Z-2126.001-3-5)

Dullnig Building with Victorian façade minimized by painting the walls and adding a modern parapet, with space for advertising. Photograph early 1970s. (General Photograph Collection, MS 362: 107-1337)

Crockett Block, designed by Alfred Giles, 317-323 Alamo Plaza. Photograph, circa 1940, shows only slight alterations to the 1882-83 group of buildings with common façade and cornice. (General Photograph Collection, MS 362: 083-0480)

Crockett Block with various false fronts, though retaining the original cornice. Photograph May 1967. (Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection, MS 355: Z-0066-B-00632)

Crockett Block after restoration of the façade. Photograph, by Daryl Engle, circa 1985. (General Photograph Collection, MS 362: 107-1861)


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