San Antonio Architecture: The Foundation of a 300-year-old City
Texas Independence Day is March 2nd. This week FSG Around the Nation & Around the Corner focuses on the city of San Antonio, where the oldest FSG branch resides.
The History of San Antonio
San Antonio is one of the most evocative cities in Texas. Its history as a settlement of European explorers, conquerors, and missionaries goes back to the 17th Century. Almost from the beginning, it proved to be one of the most important sites in what would become Spanish North America.
Originally built to support its famous missions to the native people of the region, the town of San Antonio was officially colonized in 1718. It became Texas’ first civil settlement in 1731, under the flag of Spain.
The town prospered in the sparsely-populated province known on Spanish maps as Provincia de Los Tejas. It became the largest European settlement in Tejas and continued to serve as one of the region’s strategic centerpieces after Mexican authority replaced Spanish rule.
San Antonio made its irrevocable mark on American (and world) history in late February and March of 1836. Angered by the suspension of the Mexican Constitution under General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, many “Texians” took up arms to fight for a new country: their own.
At the epic “Battle of the Alamo“, the Mexican Army won the battle and almost 300 Texians lost their lives.
On March 2, 1836, Texas officially declared independence from Mexico and created the “Republic of Texas.”
The ringing cries of “Remember the Alamo” would soon afterward be carried to the “Battle of San Jacinto” in April of 1836 where the Texians defeated the Mexican Army, ending the rebellion.
In the centuries since that struggle, San Antonio has continued to grow and change, but it has never lost its place at the very heart of all things “Texas”.
Now, just after the city celebrated its 300th birthday in 2018, it is one of the most populous metropolises in the state. Its culture, history, food, and spirit continue to reflect — and create — the culture, history, food, and spirit of this state.
San Antonio’s Architecture
Ask most Americans (and certainly most Texans) to name the most famous building in San Antonio, and you won’t be surprised by the answer: the Alamo. Its iconic chapel is one of the most recognizable symbols of any state in the union. It is the most well-known buildings in the world.
Other notable places in San Antonio known for their unique architecture are:
- The Aztec Theater
- Bexar County Courthouse
- Emil Elmendorf House
- Cathedral of San Fernando
- First National Bank of San Antonio
- Fort Sam Houston Post Chapel
- Jose Antonio Navarro House Complex
Here are three of our favorite San Antonio structures, new and old…
Tower of the Americas
In 1968, San Antonio hosted the World’s Fair. Named “HemisFair ‘68”, the event showcased this most Texan of towns as nothing less than a world-class city. To celebrate the occasion, planners and developers came together to create an iconic architectural landmark: an enormous observation tower located in the midst of the fair.
Eventually named “Tower of the Americas” in a contest, the 750-foot skyscraper boasted a rotating “top house.” This constantly-spinning observation deck offered panoramic views of San Antonio, as well as a restaurant.
To construct the tower, a 550-foot central pillar of concrete was poured and molded. While this was rising into the sky, the multi-story top house was built at ground level, then hoisted to the top. A precarious situation arose when some of the cables used to raise the top house snapped during the ascent, leaving the structure leaning against its concrete pillar. To solve the problem, pipes intended for an oil field were brought in to finish elevating the top house to its proper perch. Talk about a Texas solution!
For almost 30 years, the Tower of the Americas remained the tallest observation tower in the United States, until the Stratosphere tower went up in Las Vegas in the mid-1990s. Nevertheless, the Tower of the Americas remains a major tourist destination in San Antonio.
While the lighting and technology in the Tower have been upgraded over the years, the Tower still has the same iconic feel that visitors enjoyed at the 1968 World’s Fair.
The tower’s place in the city’s culture is perhaps even more important than its status as an architecturally-striking structure. No less than three major San Antonio radio stations blast their FM signals from a massive antenna atop the rotating top house.
The Fairmount Hotel
Originally opened in 1906, the Fairmount Hotel was immediately noteworthy for its palatial luxury and unique style. However, it would have to wait the better part of 80 years before it made a name for itself in a very unorthodox way.
In 1984, the old hotel was in limbo. Developers were clamoring for the prime real estate it sat upon, wishing to tear down the venerable lodging to make way for modern shopping and hotels. But San Antonio knows the significance of its history, and the city decided to help the owners maintain the building by moving it.
You read that right. Over the course of several days in April 1984, the entire building — all 3.2 million pounds of stone, brick, and mortar — was placed on a series of massive rollers. Then, slowly but surely, the old hotel started to move. By the time it reached its new home some six blocks away, over $1 million had been spent on the project.
Now, the Fairmount resides next to La Villita National Historic District. It sits less than half a mile from the Alamo and is within sight of the old HemisFair park — where the Tower of the Americas stands watch.
The Pyramid Building
North of downtown San Antonio, one of the city’s most unique office structures attracts the eyes of drivers on the nearby 410 loop. The Pyramid building is a modern business building with architectural flair — and a style to match.
Surfaced in golden limestone from a Texas quarry, the Pyramid uses a step-like pattern to give its sloping slides form and functionality. However, the structure was very much a relic of its era, built as it was more than 40 years ago. That’s why, recently, the building’s owners turned to FSG for needed upgrades, as well as a completely new look.
Experts from FSG’s San Antonio team enjoyed transforming the Pyramid. Using the latest in LED technology, our lighting professionals created a system that generates over $60,000 in energy and maintenance savings, while also adding more than $1 million in real property value. Beyond the numbers, though, the retrofit by FSG also made the Pyramid stand out the way it deserved.
Outdoor RGB lights were installed and wired into control systems that allow the owners to paint the building in stunning shades and patterns. Vivid greens, bright blues, stunning reds, and every color combination in between can be seen on the building’s terraced outer walls every night.
Because of the savings incurred by high-efficiency, long-lasting LED technology, the entire project was scheduled to be paid back in just over three years. The lifetime of the technology, combined with FSG’s ongoing support, will keep the Pyramid a vital part of San Antonio’s architectural heritage for decades to come.
FSG Calls San Antonio “Home”
Whether we’re helping breathe new life into an architectural landmark such as the Pyramid, or putting new signage on the AT&T Center, or working with any of the thousands of customers we serve in the Greater San Antonio area, FSG is proud to be a part of this city.
Our doors first opened here in 1982, marking San Antonio as the birthplace of our commercial lighting expertise and experience. With hundreds of employees gathered from all over the metropolitan region, FSG San Antonio is proud of our history, and proud of our place in helping maintain — and create — the culture of this town.
For those in the San Antonio area who need an expert partner to help with lighting, electrical, signage, or technology challenges, give us a call today at (512) 615-6615. You can also find us online at FSG San Antonio.
FSG San Antonio has helped to build and sustain this great city for many years, and we look forward to what the next 40 years will bring.
Here are just a few of the projects that FSG San Antonio has enjoyed over the years:
- Bexar County Jail
- San Antonio Museum of Art
- Bexar County Municipal Buildings
- City of San Antonio Police Academy
- City of San Antonio HQ and Substations
- City of San Antonio Fire Stations
- Trinity University
- San Antonio Water Systems
- Northeast ISD
- San Antonio ISD
- Harlendale ISD
- Northside ISD
- Southwest ISD
- San Antonio Children’s Museum
- San Antonio Parks and Rec
- Alamo Dome
- San Antonio Convention Center
- ATT Center
- Children’s Methodist Hospital
- South Park Mall
- Texas Military Institute
- Muy Hamburgers
- Credit Human