October 09, 2016 by: Ben Heimsath

In 1960’s a hundred year old complex near downtown San Antonio was in severe disrepair. The Urusline Order of nuns who operated a girl’s school on the property was moving away to a new campus. What would be next for the old buildings was unknown. Enter the Conservation Society who purchased most of the property in 1971 and facilitated the beginning of a multi-phased restoration program. A fledgling arts school was recruited to the campus. With support of many donors, both the building restoration and the arts school have proven to be amazing successes.


I’ve had opportunities to stop by the Southwest School of Art from time to time as I’ve visited San Antonio over many years. While the school has made great use of the old classrooms and dormitories for arts studios and offices, I’m most impressed with the reuse of the old chapel. The Southwest School of Art could have chopped this space up, or turned it into badly needed exhibit space. Instead, they found an adjacent building for their expansion and developed another more appropriate use for the chapel.


The preserved chapel is very successful as a formal event space. Accommodating mostly weddings and receptions, the majesty of the original worship space is preserved. The exposed stone walls, the stained glass windows, the intricate wood ceiling, the period lighting are all important features of the old worship space that work well for very special events held in the space.


And, of course, the preservation is still on-going. One item I’ve noticed that will need attention soon is the condition of the historic stained glass windows. Yes, they are still intact, but they ought to have some serious restoration work to make sure the structure of the glass is stable, the outside is appropriately protected, and the fading painted sections, especially the faces, should be restored. I’ve no doubt, when taken on by the leaders of the school, perhaps with continuing help by the Conservation Society and others, the work will be done well.


The former Ursuline Academy, now home to the Southwest School of Artis located at 1901 S. Alamo Street, San Antonio, Texas

Sacred Architecture/ Adaptive Re-use/ Liturgical Arts/ Historic Preservation/ Church Adaptive Reuse