Saturday, September 21, 2013

Apartment One

Apartment One is ready for its very first resident!  Might you be the one?
We're very proud of what we've created- we have a 600 sf apartment with a brand new kitchen and bath, all new appliances, washer and dryer and dishwasher included. A block from the Hays Street Bridge, 1/2 mile to the Riverwalk , very close to downtown in an up-and-coming historic district.  $950./mo. Garage/storage space is available just below the apartment for $50./mo. 
Click on the slideshow in the right sidebar to see photos of Apartment One.
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Friday, July 5, 2013

Progress report

Okay.  Things are moving along again.  We had a rather dormant spring in terms of progress at WSC. The gallery was super busy, tax time took too much attention, and we went to Istanbul for 10 days in April, effectively avoiding the craziness of San Antonio's annual party frenzy. (Our gallery is in the epicenter of four days of Fiesta insanity. It's organized by the San Antonio Conservation Society which makes most of its budget during those four days, and as a recipient of one of their amazing grants, we do NOT begrudge them the lost days at the gallery.)

In any case, the only real progress for weeks and weeks was the scraping and painting of the exterior of the main building.  Coming home from the gallery and finding another 100 square feet of bright white primer had replaced the ancient and peeling (mostly gone) paint... was fabulous!  Three sides (the more public sides) are primed and the fourth is in progress. We are less and less an eyesore, and more and more a thing of beauty!

But things are picking up speed now and a couple of interior walls downstairs that didn't go up to the ceiling have been demolished and replaced with complete ones and are mostly dry walled already.  We've framed in a restroom for the school which can also be a second bath for the eventual guest lodging behind.  Right now we're making decisions about air conditioning for the school.  Commercial all-in-one unit or residential unit/s. Either choice will require ducting that will interfere with the enjoyment of the architecture as it is.  So we're also considering massive ductless "mini-split"- but then what to do about getting air into the small bath?  It's a puzzle we haven't figured out yet, but will need to choose soon. This week? 

We tore out a lot of broken, nicotine-soaked drywall from walls and ceilings downstairs last year when we first got the property and now, slowly, it's being replaced.  So exciting to see fresh surfaces on top of all that wood. The building was built at a time when the walls were completely covered with wood on both sides and then fabric scrim was tacked on and wallpaper then glued on top of the fabric. Somewhere in the '30s or '40s drywall was added on top of the wallpaper without removing the door and window trim, so the trim's effect was buried a bit.  It's going to be nice to see the trim on top of the wall surfaces.  The guesthouse has long leaf pine floors and the school/former grocery store has oak floors, put down over the pine. When we replaced the walls mentioned above, we moved one of them about 5 feet toward the guesthouse, making the open school area a perfect rectangle- 30' x 40',  with the kitchenette/break room and the new bath adding another 10' x 27'. 
We thought we knew where the projection screen was going to go, but once we looked at the new wall from the school side, we knew we didn't even need a screen:  The ceiling is 11 feet high and the wall is about 19 feet wide. Excellent.

For the 4th of July, we hung our new flag out and sat on the porch after a good dinner and enjoyed the cooling breeze with friends, then walked around the corner to the Hays Street Bridge and watched the fireworks from what's got to be the best vantage point in the city. We happened upon some of our favorite neighbors on the way and on the bridge. When the fireworks big finale was over and everyone had applauded, a train blew its whistle as it went under the bridge.  We walked back around the corner to WSC.  Idyllic, truly.  I rode my bicycle to work this morning.  We've been at Whistle Stop Corner for a year and five months now.   We love the place today and are excited about the years to come.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Lights Are On & Somebody's Home!

Last weekend our first resident moved in. It's so darned cool to look across the courtyard and see lights on behind those mini blinds!  I don't mind telling you that we had a few meltdowns during our push to complete the details of the apartment before the deadline. One night we worked until 4:30 a.m. trying to get the last outlet cover on and the last window trim painted.  The truth is, we still have work to do on the front door and a few sundry details, but we feel very good about our progress. By the way... that's the Tower Of The Americas in the right upper corner of the photo. We love that we can see it from home. We'll be able to watch the New Year's Eve fireworks from our new balcony!

There are two more apartments to complete - the last push to hang doors and install trim begins tomorrow.  We have some good help who think they can be done by January 12, if not before. It will be WONDERFUL to have two more residents and to see ALL the lights on!
Monday, December 17
Big News:   We applied for a San Antonio Conservation Society Grant in early September and knew the possibility of receiving it was a long shot. 
Guess What????
We were notified two weeks ago that we received it!  The SACS will reimburse us for the leveling of the main building- a significant chunk from our budget, I assure you. Thank you San Antonio Conservation Society!
The contractor we chose got busy right away, so we now have lots of holes surrounding the building. We're looking forward to the doors and cupboards closing correctly and losing the feeling of walking uphill or downhill as we cross a room.

Do you see the sidewalk in the picture behind us?  That sidewalk is another of the happy coincidences/miracles we keep experiencing. The city had approved the replacing of the sidewalks/driveway entrances on both sides of one of the streets that makes our Corner and we got to watch the transformation of two blocks going from pretty awful to pretty wonderful. The city workers couldn't have been nicer and the engineer in charge brainstormed a solution that allows us to design and build an accessible entry where there wasn't room for one before. That beautiful sidewalk is covered with dirt piles at the moment, from the holes the levelers are making around the building, but we can envision the beautiful result.

Wednesday, December 19
Julian- Leveling Contractor
Another cool thing about renovating property in a historical district is the opportunity to apply for a freeze on the property tax rate for ten years in consideration of investing a certain percentage of the original property value on the renovation.  Whistle Stop Corner just had its approval for this tax abatement and we are happy and grateful for that break over the next few years.

Every day is a learning experience. We've learned a lot about how to do things and as much about how NOT to do things.  But we've come to know how surely we can count on each other and how good it feels to build your dreams, and to build them together.

Thank you for your interest in our progress!  We wish you a happy, love-filled Holiday Season.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Whistle Stop Corner Apartment building SHINES!

Early March...
 We're happy-dancing right now!   Just to give you some contrast, above is the apartment building a few months ago. At that time, we'd removed the old screens, unboarded some doors and cleared some things from inside. You can see the metal roof- sound, but rusty and sad.

Yesterday, a very nimble, sure-footed man gave the building a beautiful new hat: aluminum roof coating. It was fascinating to watch it go on.

The roof getting its new, shiny silver coating!

Right after I took this photo I ran over and held his ladder, whether he wanted me to or not!

Applying the silver to the front roof. You can also see the fence we replaced toward the back.
Can't wait to connect the buildings with the front fence... all in good time.
We keep going to the window and staring. So beautiful.

Picture with red door (and minus recycle bin)
The main building will get its own shiny new hat in a day or so.  We'll have to take our time with the body paint on the main building, though.  The coffers are emptying out very fast, so the rental income will have to provide the means for that.  It's all good. Dancing on....!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Wonderful article about Whistle Stop Corner..

The article.   Our new neighborhood has gifted us with terrific new neighbors.  Bekah and Lewis McNeel live just around the corner from Whistle Stop. Bekah is a writer and Lewis an architect. We'd met Bekah only briefly at a Historic Homeowner's Fair last year. Before we'd properly met, we'd see Lewis zooming to and from work on his bicycle, using the Hays Street bicycle and pedestrian bridge a block away which connects our neighborhood to downtown. A month ago Bekah and Lewis invited six other new neighbors, Ugur and I among them, to a potluck at their home.  We left with six new friends!  Shortly afterward, Bekah asked if she might interview us for an article about Whistle Stop Corner. We were already trustful of her, so agreed.  The article, written for The Rivard Report, is SO GOOD!  That Bekah can write!  We think you might agree, if you'd like to read it here. There are some good photos of WSC included. (Side note: Isn't Bekah lovely?)
WSC Apartment building nearing completion
The exterior painting is done now, except we need to paint the doors candy apple red. We think the grey trim will really pop when the white blinds go in and, later, when the black-edged screens are built and installed.  The metal roof will be painted silver, which will top it off perfectly.
The central air units are installed and ON!  So we'll be finishing up the interior painting in comfort. August in Texas is wicked, wicked hot, did you know?  All the lighting fixtures and outlets and switches are in and functioning now, as of yesterday. The photo above is from just before the exterior lights went up, so we'll try to post a new one soon.
Karen McCauley's Gift
Karen McCauley is an excellent painter and teacher who is co-owner of the gallery next to ours in La Villita.  She's taken a brave and self-loving step to focus her teaching in San Antonio now and to close her studio in Pleasanton, south of San Antonio.  She offered Whistle Stop Corner's future art school all of her easels, drafting tables, chairs and beautiful flat files.   The picture above is from our adventure of fitting all of her equipment into a tiny U-Haul after the sun had set.  Thank you, Karen! We can't wait to use them- perhaps in a workshop Karen will teach at Whistle Stop Corner!

Further update: We love having hot water in the main building. It's true: a bath in a large claw foot tub is made MUCH better with hot water.  We also love having exterior lights and are putting in our security cameras this week.  Baby steps. We love our new neighborhood and we love our new neighbors. 

Everything we're experiencing tells us: Start living your dream now. The universe wants you to have what you want. Just start. The people, the circumstances, the little miracles arrive when you do. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Four and a half months of progress...

These last 20 weeks have been a blur. We've sorted, swept, tossed, inventoried, organized, mowed, scraped, pulled off a mountain of drywall and nails, filled a 6 ton dumpster with debris, and then a 4 ton dumpster... twice! We've drawn countless sketches in order to describe our thoughts, lifted more than we should have and walked funny afterward. We've breathed in more dust than we should have and coughed like crazy.  We've spent hours emptying a window of multiple ancient bird nests and there are a few more windows like that to go. There's so much work stretching out into our future that we try to celebrate each accomplishment.  Each tiny toehold up the mountain makes us smile with satisfaction, even though the mountain seems to grow as we go.  We're hanging on to our vision of Whistle Stop Corner in the face of the current chaos.

Because WSC is in a historical district, we're learning the process of working with the city to ensure that the buildings are restored in an historically appropriate way.  We did a happy dance to receive our Certificate of Appropriateness from the Office of Historic Preservation which authorized removing the dangerous balcony/porch roof and the biggest eyesore of the property.

Tar paper "bandage" where balcony was removed.
 Even though it means we'll have a tar paper "bandage" on the main building until the balcony is replaced, it was exciting to see it come down.  The view from the balcony will be spectacular- The Tower of The Americas and the Hays Street Bridge toward downtown, the north side of the WSC apartment building across our courtyard, and a grassy, tree-edged lot across the street.

Of the three buildings on the property, the apartment building has gotten the lion's share of attention so far.  It's been a beehive of activity- electricians rewiring the whole place from scratch, carpenters working their magic with new insulation and drywall, HVAC specialists installing central air units, plumbers running new lines, and painters scraping the last vestiges of very old paint from the wood siding, then caulking and priming. We can't wait to see the paint go on soon!  We hope the apartments will be ready to lease by early September.
New drywall going up.

Apartment building's new electrical service.

Preparation for paint!
The main building has the beginning of its new wiring, which has allowed us our refrigerator and a very large A/C window unit- life savers!  We also have two flushing toilets (Yea!) -one upstairs and one down.  Only two more to go.  Very soon to come- hot water!  That will be a red letter day, trust me.   Although cold water is not all that cold in central Texas, a bath in a deep clawfoot tub would be made all that much better with hot water.
We're loving the wood floors and high ceilings and the very close proximity to the gallery.
Primer changes everything.

Electrical inspection day- Approved!

We truly thought we'd be adding posts and photos MUCH more often, but instead it's been all we could do to work at Whistle Stop Corner, work at Nueva Street Gallery, and keep house and family functioning. We've come home, made dinner and collapsed each evening.  Thank you for being interested in our progress and process. We hope we can post more often in the weeks ahead.

Life is exciting as we're making this dream come true!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Big Ol' Bundle of Joy... Whistle Stop Corner is born!

Early 1930's photo of the future Whistle Stop Corner
1929 photo of the Red And White grocery store
Whistle Stop Corner- boarded up and waiting for resuscitation!
Today was the day we chose over five months ago for the closing of the purchase of our new property, and it felt like it would never arrive... but this morning we signed our names several times on several papers and drove away from the title company with the keys!  Actually, exactly six months ago, on August 2nd, 2011, we discovered the property.  We stopped the car in the middle of the street and both pointed at the front of this building and said, "That's IT!"  It took some sleuthing to find the owner of the building, but three days later we were inside with flashlights following the owner around and listening to stories of his grandparents, and later his parents, who ran the grocery store from the late 1920s until ten years ago when his father, then in his 90s, died. The store was boarded up at that time and had remained a sort of time capsule until today. 
Imagine with us: an event center created in the 1200 sf space that was the grocery store in the front of the main building.   Art workshops! Family reunions! Company meetings! Dances! Concerts!
Ok, we're pretty excited.
Two other buildings are on the property...
1. An apartment building with two one-bedroom apartments and one studio apartment on the top floor and eight one-car garages on the first floor, plus a laundry room and storage room. 
2. A two room, one story cottage between the two large buildings.
The apartment building, the cottage and a a bit of picket fence

Amazingly, electric service was restored to the apartment building today after ten dark years.  Of course, all the wiring will be replaced before we rent them to future tenants, but trust me, it was exciting to push the doorbell and hear a satisfying ding-dong inside the south apartment! A few light bulbs actually still worked after all these years. We had to take photos of the new electric meters with all zeros on their counters. (See below.)
Also, the water company installed a water meter that services all three buildings, but we're not so brave as to turn the valve to "ON".  We keep visualizing multiple fountains spraying from every old plumbing joint and every ancient faucet and tub and toilet connection.  Shudder.
Today we pulled vines off the back of the main building and cut vines and saplings and brush away from a picket fence.  Don't you find that cleaning something makes it yours?  Years of compost has accumulated at the base of the fence and covers the sidewalk. I think we need a snow shovel!
The back half of the main building, where the family lived for three generations in a two bedroom apartment behind the grocery store, we envision a guesthouse for artists attending art workshops, or for groups traveling together, or families connecting to explore San Antonio.  We see a dorm-style, upscale interior in a nostalgic wrapper. Are you seeing it?
Please also see: gleaming fresh new white paint, anthracite grey trim, and a silver roof.
So many days and dollars will need to be spent to bring these buildings back to life, but we're looking forward to the process.
Whistle Stop Corner is in the Historical District of Dignowity Hill, just adjacent to and just east of downtown San Antonio. We find ourselves part of a revival of the area happening right now. We've joined the very active neighborhood association and have met many enthusiastic, like-minded people. A micro-brewery and restaurant is planned for a block west of Whistle Stop Corner.  A block away is the new Hays Street Bridge, a pedestrian and bicycle bridge that goes up and over the railroad tracks two blocks west of us and connects us with downtown. We're very close to the Riverwalk, the San Antonio Museum of Art, Sunset Station, the Alamo and... Nueva Street Gallery.
The adventure begins.............
All zeros on our new electric meters
Brand new water meter- not yet turned on.