In 1881, only four years after the first rail line was extended to San Antonio, the International and Great Northern Railroad (I&GN) opened a line in San Antonio on the historic cattle drive path known as the Chisholm Trail in a neighborhood called “Cattleman Square.” As a result, the community surrounding the station grew drastically, leading to an influx of real estate activity including a mix of new residential, commercial and industrial buildings, and making Cattelman Square the heart of the city’s commercial district. In fact, the first traffic light in the city of San Antonio was installed there. One of the most notable structures in Cattleman Square was the Heimann Building that was built in 1909 and designed by well-renowned San Antonio architect, Atlee B Ayres. Owned by local businessman, Silva Heimann, this unique building served as home to the I&GN Hotel and was located across the street from the railroad station. The I&GN Hotel was the first hotel in San Antonio to have a telephone and air conditioning. Despite its pedigree, the building was vacated in the 1970s when construction of a new interstate highway isolated the neighborhood from the rest of the city. Overrun by homeless by the late 1990’s, Cattleman Square district had become a blighted and depressed section of the city. Yet, one nonprofit organization saw this area as an opportunity to fulfill their mission.
AVANCE, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide education and social services to low-income parents and children, saw great potential in the Heimann Building to serve as their national headquarters. In March of 2003, G.W. Mitchell Construction began the renovation of the historic Heimann Building. Under the direction and guidance of the talented design team of Jorge Pena Architects, Mitchell was able to repair and restore much of the original building’s integrity and design from the early 1900’s. Rehabilitation work included installing new floors, ceilings and roof, in addition to repairing and repointing the exterior, reconstructing balconies and replicating original canopies with steel framing. The building is distinguished by its Mission Revival-style stucco exterior, exposed red brick trim and a Spanish-style red roof. It has an iron post-supported overhang with second and third floor New Orleans-style balconies with iron railings. By the spring of 2004, AVANCE opened their new headquarters and began to serve the community that was literally at their doorstep.
The positive impact of the Heimann Building`s new life goes beyond its restored structural beauty and timeless appeal. This timeless structure now gives AVANCE a place to grow and have a direct impact on the surrounding community, symbolizing hope and opportunity. Thanks to the collaborated vision of AVANCE and the project team of Jorge Pena and G.W. Mitchell who brought this building back to life, the successful restoration of the Heimann Building, as quoted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, “serves as the central catalytic force for the redevelopment of the Cattleman Square, a community that had long been ignored and neglected. ”