Monticello Park

Monticello Park (violet), designated a historic district in 1995, was once a dairy farm owned by George Calvert who parceled it out to developers in the 1920s. The neighborhood bustled into the 1940s as merchants and professionals moved into the area.

Monticello Park is bounded by Fredericksburg Road on the east and Wilson on the west. The neighborhood runs from the historic George Bihl house, now Bihl Haus Arts, south to Donaldson. The Bihl house was built in 1920 by real estate developer and cattleman George Bihl. It is the last remaining original stone residence on Fredericksburg Road inside Loop 410. The building experienced a varied history as a private residence, restaurant, an antiques shop, and finally an auto auction. By early 1990 it had deteriorated into a graffiti-covered eye-sore, the only structure remaining on a 12-acre plot coveted by various developers. Finally, in 2003, Dallas-based Southwest Housing, headed by Brian Potashnik, purchased the property and vowed to preserve the historic structure, especially after the discovery that it had been built with stones that originally came from a barricade built by the American military around the Alamo. Today, the ADA-accessible building boasts 110-yearold wide-plank pine floors, flexible modern gallery lighting, and a 20-foot-high ceiling supported by enormous wooden trussed beams. The restoration superbly retains the distinguishing exterior qualities of the original structure.

Dreambench and table at Bihl Haus Arts designed by Dale Jenssen. Photo by Eric Lane.
Terracotta and fiberglass sculptures at Bihl Haus Arts designed by Prasanta Mukherjee. Photo by Eric Lane.

Just outside the building are three public art projects commissioned by Bihl Haus. The handmade mosaic and terracotta tiles that cover them were executed by the Goldens (we never use the term ‘seniors’) in collaboration with middle school students from two local after-school programs under the direction of Roland Mazuca at Askew and Blue Star. Lead artist Dale Jenssen designed the Dreambench, a mosaic-encrusted 12-foot long sculpted bench enlivened by an undulating river that divides the surface into the four seasons. Fiberglass sculptor Prasanta Mukherjee, with the help of ceramicist Ella Mukherjee, his wife, both from India, designed the pair of twin pillars covered with 10-inch square terracotta reliefs surmounted by yin and yang-like fiber glass sculptures. Another public piece, James Hetherington’s Highway, the gift of Tony and Melissa Pearson, is sited at the entrance to Primrose at Monticello Senior Apartments, where Bihl Haus Arts is located. The sculpture, composed of recycled construction remnants from old city roads, celebrates the American blue-collar worker, the backbone of our society. It also commemorates Fredericksburg Road as part of the Old Spanish Trail Auto Highway.

The architectural jewel of the Monticello Park Neighborhood is undoubtedly Thomas Jefferson High School, sited on 33 acres known as ‘Spanish Acres,’ at the intersection of Wilson and Donaldson. The San Antonio Independent School District passed a bond in 1929 that included $1,500,000 for construction of the new school – the first million-dollar high school in the United States, what Life magazine would call “the most outstanding high school in America.” Max C. Fredericks, with Adams and Adams Architects, designed the school in the Spanish Colonial Revival Style.

Traces of Moorish and Aztec motifs permeate its design. The ornamental relief sculptures found throughout the school were cast by Hannibal Pianta (b. Boccio- letto, Italy 1875; d. San Antonio 1937). Pianta, who arrived in the U.S. in 1892, would work in 28 states before settling in San Antonio in 1908. From their artificial stone casting studio at 300 Fredericksburg Road, Pianta, his three sons and 20 workers cast Waldine Tauch’s Commerce Street Bridge and decorated homes and office buildings all across Texas. In the shop they
molded and cast ornate concrete capitals, lawn furnishings, individual door and window surrounds, and other items. For larger projects, such as at schools like Thomas Jefferson as well as churches, theaters, fire stations, and offices, equipment was moved to fields near the site where sections were produced on location, arranged to dry, and hoisted into place. Some of his artwork can also be seen on homes in this area, including the Sultenfuss Home at 402 Donaldson, the Home for Rose at 102 Beal, the Pianta Home at 242 Cornell and the Plummer Home at 100 Gramercy.

Jefferson High School at Donaldson & Wilson. Photo by Eric Lane.

Construction on the high school began in the fall of 1930 and when completed in January of 1932 it was like no other school in the entire country. The interior of the school and a special hexagonal pond located in one of two interior patios are adorned with decorative tile in the Spanish motif created by Mr. Tony Lozano of Redondo Tile. The Auditorium has a capacity of 2,000 students. Its inclined floor leads to a sunken orchestra pit and an enclosed movie projection booth. A large proscenium arch crowns the auditorium stage. The school was the first to have its own gymnasium and its own ‘Heraldic Coat of Arms’ created by Max Fredrick. The crest, cast on all four sides of the silver domed tower, bears the motto In omni uno (all for one and one for all). The roof is made of red Spanish tile. Wrought iron balconies originally enlivened the windows.

In 1937, Jefferson became nationally known when it was chosen out of 1,500 schools as the most outstanding high school in America. 20th Century Fox filmed two movies on the Jefferson campus: High School in 1938 and the sequel Texas Girl in the following year. On March 14, 1938, Paramount Pictures began making a special newsreel of Jefferson as America’s most modern high school. Thomas Jefferson High School was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Monticello Park Venues & Artists