Beacon Hill Neighborhood (orange) was platted, along with its neighbor Alta Vista (light blue), in the early years of the 20th century as many people moved north from downtown to higher ground (hence the names that suggest height) to escape the floodwaters of the San Antonio River. The area is characterized by well-constructed bungalows and appealing cottages as well as Italianate and four-square two-storied homes. Beacon Hill is a magnet for artists and art enthusiasts who appreciate the neighborhood’s many architectural treasures. This community has also served as a model for inclusive city planning with its walkable and vibrant neighborhoods and business and arts districts. It was the second neighborhood in San Antonio to achieve a Neighborhood Conservation District (NCD) designation.
This year, we rue the loss of Beacon Hill Presbyterian Church, at 1101 W. Woodlawn Avenue, which for more than 20 years provided studio space to dozens of artists and musicians alike, including painter Sally Lewis, who was instrumental in helping Bihl Haus develop the Studio Tour. We miss Sally a lot and hope to see her back on the tour soon.
The spirit of the building, once marked by a palette-shaped sign that proclaimed “Art Happens Here,” continues, however, in the new studios and galleries, like Nite Lite, K23 and Magic Mirrors Boutique that have opened recently in the 700 block of Fred Road. Owned by artist Rolando Briseño, this one-story commercial building was designed in 1927 by architects Ellis F. Albaugh Jr. (1903-1976) and Henry J. Steinbomer (1902-1964). The Spanish Colonial Revival structure was designed to house six retail spaces, each with an arched entrance flanked by spiraling Solomonic cast-stone columns. Colored tiles cover the exterior wall beneath the store windows and decorative lights adorn the roof. In 2013 artists Briseño and Ángel Rodríguez-Díaz were successful in getting this building and the one at the triangular intersection of Michigan, French and Fredericksburg re-zoned as Historically Significant. At the time of construction, this stretch of Fredericksburg Road was experiencing the beginning of a boom in retail business development. Known as Uptown, the area was considered a highly desirable business location. Adjacent to the triangular park is French & Michigan Gallery, which just recently won a city zoning skirmish to operate as a contemporary gallery.
The Beacon Hill Neighborhood is also noteworthy for several works of public art. Danville Chadbourne’s Mysterious Conjunction – The Great Myth of Transformation, a 12-foot tall bronze, cast-concrete, and stone sculpture—nestles in the pocket park at the intersection of Fredericksburg Road, Michigan Avenue and French Place in the Liz Davies Green Space. It is topped with a bronze piece that looks like an inverted star inspired by sculptural remnants in near-by San Pedro Park. Beneath the bronze element are three cylindrical tinted concrete blocks. The bottom cylindrical piece is composed of local limestone and red stone that the artist collected from his father’s farm on the Brazos River near Bryan-College Station. Another work by Chadbourne, Desire at the Risk of Mimicry, has found a home in the 800 block of Magnolia in Beacon Hill.
The focal point for the Midtown on Blanco business corridor is the singular Beacon, by Ángel Rodríguez-Díaz. This distinctive component, which is the locus of the roundabout, identifies the crossroad between Blanco Road and Fulton Street. Its design draws a physical and spiritual link between Beacon Hill, the name of the neighborhood in which it is located, and its two most predominant architectural styles: Art Deco and Arts and Crafts. These styles are symbolically represented by two main components: a sunburst and an obelisk. The sunburst, the most popular of all Art Deco motifs, stands for its life-giving force and revitalization to an old inner-city business corridor. It is defined by a geometric pattern on the brick pavement in the characteristic yellow ochre and rusty red colors of the Southwest. It measures approximately 30 feet in diameter. The 28-foot-tall obelisk, a symbolic quadrangular vertical sun ray made of steel, serves as a sundial during the day. At the same time, with its perforated design on all sides and illuminated from within, it becomes a luminaria, a beacon at night.
The Beacon Hill-Alta Vista area is also home to a group of new murals, the product of former Councilman Diego Bernal’s “District 1 Murals Program” in partnership with local businesses and artists. The program, developed to abate tagging, actively revitalizes and civically engages local communities to support public art and artists. The new murals are located at: 1727 Blanco Road, by Nik Tijerina aka Soup; 1201 W. Elsemere Place at Capitol, by Henry Cantu; and 1353 W. French Place at French by Stacey Chavez and Carlos Lopez, a.k.a. Cien.
Taking their cue from The Beacon, new businesses are beginning to open along the Blanco corridor that feature a variety of arts and crafts. Most notably, 5-year-old Clamp Light Studios and Gallery, a co-op of visual artists, moved from Fred Road in the fall to a new studio space adjacent to The Junction, which had a soft opening during the 2014 tour. It is an excellent example of how participation in the annual On & Off Fred Studio Tour can have a significant impact on local businesses.
Beacon Hill is a neighborhood that fosters a sense of community, healthy living and eco-friendly habits. In 2008, with the help of a grant from Greenspaces Alliance, a community garden was developed on a plot of previously vacant city land. With lots of volunteer labor and love, the southeast corner of Gramercy and Capitol is now a vibrant garden that includes fresh produce, a butterfly garden, native plants, and a wildflower and native grasses meadow. In 2009 students from UTSA’s School of Architecture designed and built a shade pavilion as their class project. The pavilion’s roof system was designed to allow rain harvesting, providing the garden with nature’s best water. Its success was followed by development of Beacon Hill’s long awaited Linear Park. The first phase of the park (from Gramercy and Capitol to Lynwood between Michigan and Grant) was completed in 2013, an awesome addition to the neighborhood. It includes the Gramercy Play Park at Capitol and a basketball court at Michigan and Elsmere. Trails connect the pocket parks with benches, picnic tables and grills along the way. And don’t forget to check out the cable box murals painted by local students along Grant between Fulton and Mulberry south of Woodlawn, and on Aganier between Magnolia and Rosewood.
Beacon Hill Venues & Artists
- Sandra Y. Sanchez-Arispe
- Ernesto Olivo
- French & Michigan Gallery
- Rolando Briseño
- Nite Lite
- Jenelle Esparza
- Jump-Start Performance Co
- David Zamora-Casas
- Ángel Rodriguez-Diaz
- K23 Gallery
- The Uptown Studio
- Magic Mirrors Boutique, Gallery & Gifts
- Michelle Love
- Oscar’s Custom Ironworks
- Rudy Garza
- Richard De La O
- Adán Hernández