The 1893 Finck Cigar Company Building, a local San Antonio historic landmark, was demolished on an early Sunday morning last February under cover of darkness. The building’s owners and the demolition contractor had not filed for a demolition permit, knowing that they would be fined only a small fraction of the building’s worth for their secretive weekend destruction. A great building was lost, but the resulting furor caused the Texas State Legislature to pass the state’s most far- reaching preservation legislation to date.
San Antonio has long been a city noted for its strong preservation ethic. Under the leadership of the San Antonio Conservation Society, the City Historic Preservation Office, the Historic Review Board, and ardent preservation-minded neighborhood organizations building after building has been saved.
Following the Finck demolition Mayor Lila Cockrell called for a complete investigation. The demolition became an issue in the next mayor’s race, helping to elect propreservation Nelson Wolff. The Historic Review Board passed a resolution asking the city council to ban the city from conducting business with the perpetrators. Little could be done under local ordinances, however, to adequately punish those who hired the demolition contractor.
State Senator Frank Tejeda of San Antonio began immediately to write legislation that would deter such acts in the future. State Representative Frank Madia of San Antonio soon joined Tejeda. Senate Bill 923 was introduced by Tejeda. The bill requires owners of historic structures—so designated by local, state, or federal standards—to follow community procedures if they propose to damage the landmark in any way. If the structure is located beyond city limits, owners must receive permission from the Texas Historical Commission, the state preservation office.
Those not securing the required permits would be required to reconstruct the structure or to make just compensation to the city or to the Texas Historical Commission of an amount equal to the value of the structure.
The bill met with little resistance and sped through the legislative process under the leadership of the Preservation Texas Alliance and the San Antonio Conservation Society. When S.B. 923 was signed into law by Governor Ann Richards, Senator Tejeda said: “This is a very strong piece of legislation that was long needed. It’s important to preserve and protect those historic structures for the benefit of our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren. Walking through places where people lived, where people met, where business was conducted can bring history to life.”
Such a progressive change in the protective powers of preservation ordinances could face serious court challenges. Thus local landmark commissions, nonprofit preservation organizations, and the state’s 254 county-appointed historical commissions have much to do.
First, every designated property must have the designation filed with the deed records at the county courthouse before enforcement can be accomplished. With more than 20,000 properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places, more than 3,000 state-designated Recorded Texas Historic Landmarks, and hundreds more locally designated by the forty cities that have historic overlay zoning the task seems almost overwhelming. It will be interesting to see how many states follow Texas’s lead and introduce similar legislation.
For a copy of the Texas statute, contact Stan Graves, Architecture Department, Texas Historical Commission, P.O. Box 12276, Austin, Texas 78711.
Publication Date: January/February 1992#ForumJournal#Legal