Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Wedgwood

  Northside of building on left, with partial west side visible on right. Note the two balconies of the large apartment (looking northwest) created in the 1990's remodeling of the 11th floor. photo made October 2018
For many years The Wedgwood apartment building was known as a moderate priced, fashionable residence for senior citizens. The blue, brown, and beige "Y" shaped building located in the City of Castle Hills was a familiar landmark on the northside of San Antonio.  I never went in the building, but knew people that lived there and they considered it to be very pleasant.

In December 2014 fire broke out on the third floor and five seniors lost their lives; a sixth would die later of natural causes. The other 250 or so residents were displaced due to major smoke damage; the building was closed after substantional internal demolition took place. The cause of the fire was never determined; however, the building had been completed prior to current fire codes and the only fire sprinklers were in the basement.

Second and third floor windows boarded up after the fire. East side of building.  September 2018. 
Dallas architect Walter W. Ahlschlager designed both the San Antonio Wedgwood and its Dallas twin, also named The Wedgwood, with plans that never materialized for a third building in Houston. The almost identical buildings were designed in what is described as "midcentury interpretation of the International Style".  The Dallas Wedgwood is now known as The View at Kessler Park and has been renovated.  Contruction of the Castle Hills Wedgwood began in early 1964 with T.C. Bateson as general contractor and a projected cost of $4.5 million; it would open to residents in October 1965.

Described as a “city within a city,” the Wedgwood  was a new concept in apartment living.  It featured a restaurant, grocery, drugstore, insurance office, clinic, beauty salon and barber shop, dry cleaners, dress shop, and stockbroker’s office. The Wedgwood was a
 “complete residential apartment building that puts the dweller above the skyline and provides him with wonderful scenic views, in luxurious comfort and convenience.” San Antonio Light, October 2, 1965, special section. 
The complex also featured a 49,000 gallon swimming pool, gardens, a lighted waterfall and a putting green.  A spacious parking lot surrounded the complex.

Early stages of renovation. 
Note smoke damage on left of building.
September 2018
Renovation in progress with gutting of building.
February 2019

It is interesting to note that the building's almost 8 acres of land was originally part of a 320-acre tract awarded to Jethro R. Bancroft for his service during the Texas Revolution.  The land was divided and sold many times over the years.  Post World War II saw the movement of Baby Boomers northward and the area was rapidly developing.  Concerned citizens incorporated their community and formed the City of Castle Hills in 1951. Continued development of the city's highway infrastructure encouraged the construction of homes and businesses in this area in addition to newly fashionable high-rise apartment homes such as The Wedgwood.

East side of building. Note the lettering imprint on the left of building
and rock garden entryway visible lower right. 
February 2019
In 2016 the property was sold and the new owner, Pat Bernaki, is currently renovating the building using State and Federal tax credits made possible after the Wedgwood was accepted into the National Register of Historic Places in early 2017.  An article in the San Antonio Express News on August 23, 2018 states that he intends to offer moderately priced senior housing at prices similar to those before the fire. 

After the tragic fire the State Legislature passed a law that requires Bexar County high-rise buildings with elderly or disabled people comprising a majority of residents to be retrofitted with sprinklers by 2027.  In addition to retrofitting the building with the required sprinker system Bernaki is also working with City officials to determine what went wrong at the Wedgwood and additional ways to add safety to the building. Expected re-opening is late 2019.

A glimpse of the remains of the garden/walking path area visible from a nearby parking lot.

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