Flashback Fridays blog

Cutting Edge Construction at Southwest Research Institute

In 1947 Thomas Baker Slick Jr. founded the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) in South Texas. As an adventurer, philanthropist, and oilman he recruited scientists and engineers from across the nation with one goal – seek revolutionary advancements through advanced science and applied technology. Today that spirit lives on at Southwest Research Institute, however, it took more than a ranch and a brilliant team to turn this dream into reality.

 

Between the years of 1947 and 1967, Slick recruited Harold Vagtborg as the first president to lead his team of scientists and engineers at the original 1,200-acre ranch outside San Antonio. In the first five years they went from 64 projects to 600! They gained national notoriety for automotive testing, environmental research, and radio direction finding.

As Southwest Institute Research continued to be a pioneer in scientific advancements, it began to set standards in microencapsulation, space research, oil and gas, ocean engineering, and materials research. By the 1980’s, the institute had developed new research and safety standards for emissions, fire, and air pollution, as well as expanding into new areas such as aviation systems, automation, artificial intelligence, and manufacturing. In 1982, G.W. Mitchell joined the momentum by providing an extension of the library. Melvin Mitchell acted as project manager.

By the 1990’s it was time to expand the campus and G.W. Mitchell was ready for the challenge. In 1995, we provided a small addition to a specialized testing facility known as building 75, designed by architect Lawrence Wilson. Bill Mitchell was the project manager. In addition to this expansion, we also tripled building 171 designed by McCall & Associates. The project included multiple labs, administration offices, and conferences rooms. Due to extensive mechanical and electrical systems, this project was very complex and required extensive coordination to integrate properly with the architectural features of the building. Additionally, while completing 171, we completed several small projects on the property.

In recent history, the Southwest Research Institute gained international attention under current president Adam L. Hamilton for leading NASA missions including New Horizons missions to Pluto, Juno mission to Jupiter, Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission, and Interstellar Boundary Explore (IBEX).

Decades of Building Trinity University

With a history like ours, it’s easy to boast decade-long relationships in San Antonio. A particular relationship that holds dear to our hearts is the one we have with Trinity University. What many might not know, the current campus is actually the third location for the university.

The original campus opened in 1869 in Techuacana, near Mexia, Texas. In less than 20 years, there was discussion of expansion or moving the campus because of quick growth. In 1902, the university moved to Waxahachie where it remained for nearly 40 years. Then, in February of 1942, the Synod of Texas accepted an invitation from the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce to move to The Alamo City.

This is where you might think the moving ends, but Trinity was actually located off Woodlawn Avenue for 10 years before settling on the current campus we’ve grown to love. Because of the quick growth, Trinity obtained a new site of more than 100 acres and made plans for its newest campus, in the location we know today. This campus would be called the “hilltop” campus due to the hills of limestone.

This is the time when our stories meet. Construction on the campus began in 1950 and opened in 1952 but some of the buildings were not complete. Since the women’s dormitory had not been completed, female students stayed in the men’s dormitory which housed 60 students. Between 1950 and 1959 G.W. helped complete, construct, and expand the men’s and women’s dormitories, student union, music building, and tennis courts. In the 1960’s we returned to construct the refectory and baseball field, which seats 1,000. Later we were asked to construct the popular Laurie Auditorium.

With decades of building for Trinity, a deep bond and understanding of the campus had grown. When we were tasked with Laurie Auditorium, we knew this was also a special way to pay tribute to James Woodin Laurie, the first president of the hilltop campus. It was under his leadership that 40 major buildings were added to the Trinity campus.

The Laurie Auditorium seats 2,700 and has wide views of the entire venue. It is also one of the largest non-faculty buildings on campus. Laurie Auditorium hosts commencement ceremonies, the Trinity Distinguished Lecture Series, jazz concerts, and has welcomed artists such as Patti LaBelle, B.B. King, and Duran Duran. Second generation Melvin and Bob Mitchell were Project Managers spearheading the construction efforts on the auditorium. Melvin handled phase one, the structural phase, of the project while Bob was in charge of phase two, the finish out.

 

Since then, G.W. Mitchell Construction has continued to expand the campus, constructing several projects such as the Ruth Taylor Theater, and work in both the arts and the athletic departments. Go Tigers!

Castle Hills 1st Baptist Church Sanctuary

Today we’re taking it back, way back to 1979. Many of those who have worked closely with us know that faith is a cornerstone within the Mitchell family. It is always an honor to build a church and other religious facilities. One project that we are fond of is the Castle Hills 1st Baptist Church Sanctuary.

Castle Hills 1st Baptist Church, now known as Castle Hills Church was founded in 1953 and over the decades has seen periods of great growth. During Jack Taylor’s and George Harris’ tenure, the congregation quickly grew during the 70’s and there was a need for expansion. G.W. Mitchell was commissioned, with architects Bartlett Cocke & Associates, to work on the Castle Hills Church Sanctuary. We began working on the project in 1978 and finished in 1979. This four-story building is home to a 1,200 seat auditorium that also includes a basement level choir room cut straight into limestone. Not to mention the Baptist Fan auditorium design with incredible acoustics and sight lines.

This project had a very complex layout. Both Lane and Bill Mitchell contributed to the Castle Hills project at the ground level. Bill recalls being in college working as a laborer digging ditches for grade beams and using a #90 jackhammer. He mentions how this was a great motivator to finish school and get his degree at Texas A&M (Gig ‘Em!). A memorable takeaway for Bill was when he was introduced to the now widely-known “breakfast taco.” Since Taco Cabana was not around in the late ‘70’s, he remembers his fellow laborers bringing tacos with homemade tortillas. If he had only known how popular they’d become in the future, he might have taken a different path.

Lane Mitchell’s first job was with Mitchell Equipment, a separate company at the time, washing concrete pumps and keeping them clean for only $2.00 an hour! He recalls both he and Bill wanted to come home and work over Christmas break. They earned the job of painting the lattice boom on a conventional truck crane parked at the Castle Hills Church. As Texas weather has it, there was a cold front and the weather stayed well below freezing while Lane and Bill painted. Lucky for them the paint was oil-based so it didn’t freeze but it felt like smearing tar onto ice. Once done, the crane had a new layer of black paint and looked wonderful.


Lane remembers how the Castle Hills Church project had a very complex layout. Superintendent, Larry Carlile, had the architect come and walk him through all levels that needed to coordinate with each other. This was a lesson that has stayed with G.W. Mitchell over the years, to maintain consistent and open communications. They began with the sanctuary which was laid out in a Baptist Fan pattern with steps on both sides working their way to the balcony level. The choir loft was duplicated below the platform area so that the rehearsal area matched the layout of the sanctuary. Lane notes that the ceiling beams were isolated concrete and were high above the ground floor with plenty of span across the room. When the project was complete, they had a very functional and modern church sanctuary.

All in all, G.W. Mitchell Construction is honored to have been a part of several projects throughout the Castle Hills Church’s vibrant history including the Faith Building remodel, the Victory Building, a gymnasium and the new steeple all while enjoying both the work and breakfast tacos.

Building a Legacy in Aggieland

Since our inception, we have always believed in providing our children with the best education possible, which is why we take pride in every educational facility we work on. In honor of the new school year, we’re revisiting a project near and dear to our hearts, the Harrington Education Center at Texas A&M University.

It all begins with our founder, George W. Mitchell who attended Texas A&M University. He then went on to serve as a U.S Army Officer in France. In 1921 he came to San Antonio and quickly established himself as a contractor.  It was in the 1940’s that his sons joined him to expand the company. They continued to thrive and took on more prestigious projects, including the Harrington Educational Center.

 

This project was particularly special as it was built in honor of Marion Thomas Harrington (class of 1922). and because many of the Mitchell family members also attended Texas A&M. From George W. Mitchell to all three sons, too many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, we bleed maroon and white!

Dr. Harrington was the first Aggie to serve as President of Texas A&M University from 1950-1953. He then went on to serve as Chancellor of the A&M System. During this time, he was elected once again to serve as President of Texas A&M University from 1957-1959.

With such a legacy left behind by Dr. Harrington, we knew that the Harrington Educational Center had to serve not only as a functional building but also as a tribute. G.W. Mitchell began construction in 1972 and the project was completed in 1973.

Today, the Harrington Education Center serves as an eight-story administration building with an outdoor skywalk connecting the Harrington Education Center to the Harrington Education Classroom building. For the Aggies out there, we hope you have many fond memories of this building and for the newcomers, best of luck to you and Gig ‘Em!

Buying More Time for CPS Headquarters

CPS Energy has been in the news quite a bit lately concerning their new headquarters in the old AT&T Building downtown. Did you know that G.W. Mitchell (GWM) helped CPS grow and expand in their current building, allowing them more time in their current headquarters?

In November of 1984, GWM began work on the challenging task – building an additional three stories to the existing seven story CPS building in a very tight space at 145 Navarro Street. Being located in the heart of downtown San Antonio, there was no laydown area as the job was constrained on all four sides by Villita Street, Navarro Street, the River Walk and the Tower Life parking garage. The job required the construction and design team, including 3D/I Architecture, to work very closely and creatively with the owner, city and subcontractors to complete the project. In total, the addition was a 61,000 square feet expansion of an operating office building.

GW Mitchell bid the project but was actually selected by CPS to do the work because of their logistics plan, not because of the bid. A tower crane had to be erected in one lane of Villita Street and the tower crane base had to avoid hitting live sewer and water mains. All deliveries were scheduled on a “just on time” basis as there was no room to lay down the structural steel, brick, etc. The brick and cast stone façade were selected and manufactured to closely match the existing brick and cast stone materials and were installed using San Antonio subcontractors.

The original CPS Headquarters building was built right here in the heart of San Antonio in 1942, and since then CPS Energy has serviced over 800,000 electricity customers and over 300,000 natural gas customers in Bexar County and portions of its seven surrounding counties.

As CPS is a large contributor to the San Antonio area, we at GWM are glad that we could give back over 30 years ago and contribute three additional stories to its headquarters. Despite the challenges at hand, and weather delays due to the snow storm in January of 1985, GWM finished the project exactly one year after it began just in time for the holidays.

CPS just received a set guaranteed maximum price of $150 million to build their new headquarters at what is now the AT&T building off McCullough and Avenue B. With a rich history on Navarro Street, the utility company is looking ahead to building a bright future at their new home.

Building a Relationship with Architect O’Neil Ford

As you know, G.W. Mitchell Construction (GWM) recently moved. As busy and hectic as it was, we still had fun reminiscing about our hard work over the last 97 years. For instance, we found a letter from a famous architect, O’Neil Ford’s office, stating gratitude to the team for their countless hours of hard work and dedication during the La Villita Assembly Hall build in 1958. The letter specifically states his appreciation for the relationships developed throughout the project.

GWM’s relationship with Ford all began in 1937 when Mr. & Mrs. T. Frank Murchison commissioned him to design their residence. Ford contracted our founder G.W. to build the $36,000 home (equal to $660,000 in 2018). The project went so well that the interior decorator, Earl Hart Miller, sent a letter praising the collaboration and G.W.’s tireless dedication to the project.

Ford was known for many projects around Texas, projects like the Denton Convention Center, several projects at Trinity University, Saint Mary’s Hall campus, and the Tower of the Americas. His firm’s specialty designs were for higher education buildings, as he designed projects on twenty university campuses. However, in addition to higher education, the firm has had specialty practices in residential, planning and urban, theatre, historic preservation and interior design. Shortly before his death, he completed a design in Kerrville for the building of the Museum of Western Art.

The now-famous La Villita Historic Arts Village is an art community downtown that connects to the River Walk and houses a number of art galleries, souvenir shops, restaurants and La Villita Assembly Hall. One of the most distinguishing features of the Assembly Hall is the roof, suspended on 200 Bethlehem steel strand assemblies attached to an outer ring, 132 feet in diameter, and a 40-foot inner ring, designed to resemble the bullring, typical in historical Mexican villages.

This type of roof construction is not only one of the first in the nation but also first of its kind in Texas. It eliminates the need for any columns allowing unobstructed views to all parts of the hall, a truly beautiful site. Can you believe the construction team lifted the roof with a single World War I Liberty truck and an A-frame pulley system?!

In the fall of 1958, in the book O’Neil FordArchitect by Mary Carolyn Hollers George, Ford described the construction of the La Villita assembly building:

“What a beautiful thing is that roof structure on the Public Service Building. Everyone in town is excited about it – never have I seen such fine steel fabrication – such marvelous accuracy – and so quickly erected by G. W. Mitchell with his old, World War I Liberty truck!

Amazing, complex of mechanical equipment….Henry Groteus is foreman – enthusiastic and resourceful. Job looks good – great credit to Nic Salas (the project architect). He’s done wonderfully as architectural supervisor.”

The La Villita Assembly Hall project led to 17 more projects at Trinity University that spanned from 1950-1970. Not entirely, but certainly a big part of this expansion was thanks to architect Ford and his great work and appreciation of GWM.

 

Moving Through the Years

Moving-01It’s finally moving day and we are movin’ on up! Literally! After more than 60 years in the Mirano Building, we are headed to the third floor of the newly improved 86|TEN Building located at 8610 Broadway. This building was actually Lane Mitchell’s first project in 1982!

 

Since we love a good flashback, we felt it only fitting to take a look back at our various locations throughout our 96 years. First, our founder, G.W. Mitchell, conducted business from his home office located on Stratford Court just south of downtown, where he worked building homes and apartment buildings. In 1925, as business picked up and the projects became more commercial, it made sense to move downtown to the Builder’s Exchange Building located on Pecan Street where we remained for 30 years. During that time, we completed the Atkins residence, which is now the McNay Art Museum, several projects at Trinity University, the San Antonio Airport and the cement silos at what is now the Quarry.

Moving-Thru-The-years

 

As downtown became more congested and San Antonio started to expand away from downtown, GWM wanted something more convenient for clients to be able to come to the office. George scoured the town for locations and found the perfect spot on St. Mary’s Street. In 1955, GWM built the ‘Mirano Building’, named after Mitchell, Randol, and Noonan who partnered together to build the building. We called Mirano home for 62 years. Over those six decades, we worked on projects ranging from the Witte Museum, the San Antonio Zoo, and the University of Texas Medical School to the Alamo Sales Museum, Clear Channel Communications Headquarters and Data Center, Alamo Heights United Methodist Church, The Maverick Apartments, and Vista Corporate Center.

We are very excited about this new chapter at our new location, but want you to know that while our location may be changing, our commitment to client satisfaction, completing projects on–time and in-budget will hold true no matter where we call home.

 

Make sure you update our address:
G.W. Mitchell Construction
8610 Broadway Suite 310
San Antonio, TX 78217

A Star-Studded Project: Working for Patrick Swayze

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 10.44.53 AMG.W. Mitchell has had its fair share of encounters with local stars over the years, from San Antonio’s oldest Mexican restaurant to its most beloved art museum. Beyond our proud history of high-profile historical and commercial works, G. W. Mitchell also once had a very special honor: a job requested and paid for by the late Patrick Swayze himself.

As any Riverwalk tour guide can tell you, San Antonio landscapes have featured in a number of notable films over the years including Hollywood hits such as Miss Congeniality (2000), Spy Kids (2001), and small portions in the original Ghost Busters (1984). In 1993 Patrick Swayze’s Father Hood also benefitted from our city’s sights.

Fans of Father Hood may recognize the Downtown US Post Office on Houston street in a small portion of the movie. As fate would have it, this part was set to be recorded during G. W. Mitchell’s addition of the Alamo Sales Museum basement, which required work both on-site and on Houston street to meet the project’s unique needs. At the time of the movie crew’s arrival, G. W. Mitchell’s team was in peak demolition on the Alamo Sales Museum and surroundingAlamoMuseum Front WIP Cropped areas, disrupting filming.

Concerned about the noise and dust from the equipment, Swayze approached the construction team and asked if they could shut down for a time while the film crew caught their shot. Stan Motz, Superintendent for this job, worried about the pace of the project and explained that shutting down would bring up costs substantially. After some thought, Swayze came up with a unique solution: if Motz could give him an estimate, Swayze himself would pay to offset the additional coIMG_1905sts during filming.

With the approval of the Daughters’ of the Republic of Texas (the project owner), the plan worked, and both the Father Hood and Alamo Sales Museum basement were completed by 1993.

Despite many challenges, the Alamo basement construction project finished under budget and ahead of schedule. Though many parts of this job and its needs were unique, none were as memorable as the paid job it earned G. W. Mitchell with Hollywood star Patrick Swayze.

Changing the game at the Piggly Wiggly

A pioneer in its time, Piggly Wiggly changed the face of grocery shopping in early 20th century America. Founded in Memphis, Tennessee in 1916 by Clarence Saunders, Piggly Wiggly was the first American grocery store to provide full self-service shopping. While most competitors still relied on clerk and counter services, telephone orders and home deliveries, Saunders made the bold decision to instead offer registers, open displays and woven handbaskets for customers to select their own products. By cutting out the full-service industry staples of the time, Saunders was able to more efficiently serve grocery shoppers, saving time and money for all. For its trendsetting success, Piggly Wiggly also became one of the first grocery stores to franchise nationally, and quickly spread across the US.

In 1920, Piggly Wiggly opened five stores in what is now known as San Antonio’s downtown area. Over the next decade, “the Pig” expanded rapidly within the city, eventually opening over 40 stores. In 1927, the chain contracted growing local builder G. W. Mitchell to construct a Piggly Wiggly storefront on the corner of West French Place and Fredericksburg Road, in a growing business district near San Antonio’s Pedro Creek. This project was one of G. W. Mitchell’s earliest forays from housing into retail construction, a move which would later help them to weather the Great Depression.

The G. W. Mitchell’s Piggly Wiggly, a large white corner building with a smart terracotta roof, was an icon of its time. Housing Saunder’s revolutionary cold storage cases and aisles of both fresh produce and dry goods, the store drew daily shoppers buying in small batches. This location would later become part of what is now known as Alta Vista, a central San Antonio neighborhood home to San Pedro Creek and other central San Antonio landmarks. The store remained open and thriving with its green coupons and local charitable contributions until the 1970s when the rise of grocery stores with larger parking lots and selections began to push out smaller chains like the Pig. By 1980, Pigs across Texas were shutting their doors, and in 2011 the last Piggly Wiggly locations in the state were closed.

While Piggly Wiggly may no longer have a presence in San Antonio, its iconic buildings still stand. Many are under consideration for historic preservation, and the G. W. Mitchell project can still be seen standing on the corner of West French Place and Fredericksburg Road.