San Antonio Conservation Society

Does the San Antonio Conservation Society approve work on historic buildings?

No.  The Society is not a government entity but a private, non-profit membership organization.  The Society regularly advocates for the conservation of buildings, landscapes and cultural heritage.  It also offers awards and grants for preservation projects once a year. The City of San Antonio issues work permits and the City’s Office of Historic Preservation reviews and approves projects located in historic districts.

How Do I Find Out When My House was Built?

Many homeowners ask us if the building date found on is accurate. For historic homes, the date listed there is sometimes the date of an addition or repair date and not the date the home was built.  You can use city directories, which can be found in our library, to find the approximate date that a building was constructed. These books not only provide alphabetical listings for local residents and businesses each year, but also list local addresses alphabetically by street. Start with the earliest year that you know the building was there, check for that address in the city directory, and keep working your way back until you find the first year that the building isn’t listed (you may want to go back one more year, just to rule out a misprint). You can assume that the first year the building doesn’t appear (after working backwards) is the year that is was built. The names of the building’s occupants, which appear alongside the address, may also be of interest. Sometimes the occupant is identified as a homeowner or a tenant. We also have a collection of Sanborn fire insurance maps, which show your street and its buildings in plan as it was developed over time. For other building research sources, check the City’s Office of Historic Preservation tips here.

Where do I find original building plans and photos?

Original plans and photos are very difficult to find.  Plans reviewed at the time of construction generally no longer exist.  The records of some major San Antonio architects are located in the Alexander Archives at the University of Texas in Austin, or the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library.  The City Clerk maintains records of city projects.  The Conservation Society Library has a collection of building plans, historic photos, and Sanborn fire insurance maps.  See our Research Tips.

Where can I find help funding my preservation project?

The financial aid available to help with your project depends on many different factors, such as whether your property is income-producing and whether it is a local, state, or federal landmark. We offer competitive building grants once a year, with applications accepted from August through September. Check out our Help For Your House page for our grant information and information on assistance offered by the City, the State of Texas, and help from Federal Historic Tax Credits.

How do I find a contractor with historic preservation experience for my project?

Scott’s Historic Home Improvement Contractors List is a free site that provides information about various types of contractors used by local owners of historic homes. The list is sorted by type of contractor and reviews are provided by actual customers. You can also check our Help For Your House Page (link) for additional services offered by the City of San Antonio and for federal standards and technical briefs.

How do you get a San Antonio Conservation Society plaque on your building?

Every two years the San Antonio Conservation Society honors building preservation projects in and around San Antonio.  The plaque you have seen means that the building won a Conservation Society award in the past.  The Society has given out these awards for more than half a century!

Do you approve the Texas Historical Markers?

No.  Those are produced by the Texas Historical Commission, a state agency, which has a handy application guide.  There is an application process for buildings that meet certain criteria of significance.  The San Antonio Conservation Society does not approve or disapprove state or city landmarks, although we may support them during public hearings.

How does historic designation affect my property?

The City of San Antonio’s Office of Historic Preservation has a helpful guide to historic designation found here.  The San Antonio Conservation Society supports historic designation because it enhances the community, connects us to history, helps maintain property values and can offer significant tax incentives to owners who rehabilitate their property.

Is preserving a building more expensive than building new?

Generally, no.  Rehabilitating a historic building takes advantage of existing building materials and structural systems, although labor costs can be higher in rehabilitation.  Many rehabilitation projects run into “surprises” as work progresses and more of the building is revealed, so rehabilitation projects may take longer.  For commercial properties, preservation sometimes has a harder time getting financing, which is extended more easily to new construction.

If your house is a landmark, do you have to restore it to its original design?

No.  Every building changes over time, and you are never required to “bring something back” that does not exist anymore.

Should historic buildings be museums?

No!  Only a minuscule number of historic buildings should ever become museums.  We save historic buildings because of their history, their beauty, their irreplaceable craftsmanship, and their embodied energy.  99% of preservation is adapting historic buildings to modern use.

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