Flashback Fridays blog

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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.

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Hoffmann & Hayman Coffee Co.: Rising and shining in tough times

Screen Shot 2017-01-26 at 9.36.46 AMG.W. Mitchell has always valued its relationships with the community and fellow San Antonio business partners. This community support has helped in countless ways through its history, but none quite like the Hoffman-Hayman Coffee Co. factory project in 1932, which jumpstarted G. W. Mitchell’s transition from residential housing to commercial buildings during the rough years of the Great Depression.

The Hoffman-Hayman Coffee Co. began with William R. Hoffman, who started a small coffee company under his name in San Antonio in 1899. Hoffman ran his company successfully for just over a decade until his death in 1912. His wife, Wilhelmina “Minnie” Menger continued her late husband’s legacy and brought in brothers Gustav and Rudolph Menger to help keep the company running. Later that same year, William R Hoffmann Coffee merged with Merchant Coffee, owned by W. E. Hayman, and Hoffman-Hayman Coffee Co. was born.

The company thrived over the next twenty years, and in 1914 filled the largest ever order for San Antonio coffee – a bulk purchase carried by eight wagons and sixteen horses to Ft. Sam Houston. Then, in 1917, the company doubled their production capacity when they bought out the Morrison Coffee Company and its assets. By 1922, just a year after G. W. Mitchell began operations, H & H Coffee was selling successfully across Southwest Texas and as far as Oklahoma and Kansas City.Hoffmann-Hayman_Coffee_Co_Postcard

Even as the economy crumbled and employment plummeted in the early 1930s, Hoffman-Hayman Coffee Co. continued to grow. Now selling teas, spices, cocoas and extracts in addition to a range of private label coffee, the company wanted to expand out of their original downtown San Antonio location. In 1932, G. W. Mitchell started construction on the new H&H Coffee Factory on Delaware street, where they would have easy railroad access for shipments. Designed by architects Morris, Wilson and Noonan and providing over 16,000 square feet of fireproofed production space, the factory was hailed as “one of the most modern plants in the state.” The massive building also boasted a giant Crystalvac jar replica on the roof, an advertisement for their highly prized Three Rivers Glass Co. reusable containers.

Screen Shot 2017-01-26 at 9.38.16 AMMore than just an expansion, this ambitious project aimed to encourage others to continue building despite the grim realities of the Great Depression. The Mengers specifically favored local vendors and suppliers, finding kindred spirits in G. W. Mitchell and ensuring the construction company’s survival despite a weakening housing market. Like Mitchell, the Mengers valued the local community that had brought them so much success and promised new jobs once construction was completed. On December 21st of 1932, H&H Coffee welcomed the community to an open house event at their new factory, with refreshments, live music, and a variety of product displays.

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The original building has undergone several renovations since its original construction, with significant additions to the second story in 1949 and 1955. In the mid-1960s, H&H Coffee Co was purchased as a division of Continental Coffee. The Delaware Street factory was listed for sale in 1972 and is currently being prepared as a historical site. The H&H Coffee Co. building, like the G.W. Mitchell, has withstood the test of time.

 

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George W. Mitchell: Building a Legacy

After graduating from Texas A&M in 1915 and serving as an officer in France during World War I, George W. Mitchell knew a thing or two about fortitude.

planGeorge used these strengths in 1921, leaving his job as a superintendent at Southern Steel to form his own construction company. G.W. Mitchell General Contractor started out small, building family homes in the Southside with the odd apartment complex and commercial project.
As time went on, the company grew its reputation by building homes for several prestigious San Antonio families, including a home for Judge Winchester Kelso’s son, which later came to house the famous La Fonda restaurant, and the Atkins Family Estate, what we all know as the McNay Art Museum. Around the same time, George’s company took a step beyond the residential market when it built its first school in Floresville, Texas.

The Great Depression hit George’s business like everyone else’s. After almost decade of growth, housing and construction slowed. Scrounging for repair and housing work as far as West Texas, George fought hard to keep his business and family alive. To stay above water, he took on more commercial jobs. A large project with Hoffmann & Hayman Coffee Co. in 1932, hard work, and close relationships kept G.W. Mitchell afloat during the Second World War.gw-downtown

It was a close relationship with famous architect O’Neil Ford that kept G.W. Mitchell busy in the residential construction market from 1937 through the 70s. This collaboration yielded dozens of homes in Olmos Park and Terrell Hills.

George passed his knowledge and enduring spirit on to his three sons (George, Bob and Melvin) in the late 1940s when the firm was incorporated into G.W. Mitchell & Sons Inc. Together, George and his sons thrived through the 1950s to 1970s, taking on bigger and more prestigious projects such as La Villita Assembly Building and UT Health Science Center.
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The spirit of hard work and endurance that George brought to his company has left a lasting legacy, helping his children and grandchildren to survive economic hardships in the 1980s, the 2008 crash, and recent competitive entries into the San Antonio market. This persistent presence in the construction industry can be seen all over San Antonio from the Alamo and Hemisfair Arena to Laurie Auditorium at Trinity University and the UIW Mabee Library.

mitchell-16x20_1Today, a third generation manages the tradition of providing high-quality construction services with Melvin serving as Chairman of the Board, Bill Mitchell as President, Lane Mitchell as Vice President, Andy Mitchell as CFO. In the summer of 2012, a fourth generation Mitchell joined the team. Erin Mitchell Clementson is Director of Business Development, keeping the family tradition alive.

Strong community relationships, a powerful sense of optimism, and the undeniable fortitude George W. passed down to his family is what has kept G.W. Mitchell at the forefront of the construction industry for 95 years, making them key players in the development of Alamo City landscape.

 

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Fox Tech High School: The Kick Off Point for Changes in the Downtown Landscape

fox-tech-front-photoLast week the launch of the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project kicked off with a celebration at Louis W. Fox Tech High School, where ceremonies at the football stadium featured speakers and performances to mark the start of construction on the $175 million project.

Cited by historians as the location of the city’s original Spanish settlement, the creek’s natural appearance was largely obliterated decades ago when the concrete channel was installed to avert downtown flooding. But renewed interest in redeveloping the western part of downtown, from near Fox Tech to South Alamo Street, led to an intricate improvement plan to change the landscape of the area.

Slated for completion in time for San Antonio’s tri-centennial celebration in 2018, Phase One of the project spans from Fox Tech HS to Cesar Chavez Blvd. This made us here at G. W. Mitchell (GWM) a little nostalgic seeing as we built the high school in 1972.

In the Beginning

San Antonio’s first high school finally got a permanent home in 1882, when a three-story stone building was constructed on Acequia Street (later Main Avenue), opening in 1883. This school was called High School and Central Grammar until 1886 when it was consolidated with another neighboring school and became known as School No. 1. The city’s first secondary school officially became known as the San Antonio High School, but familiarly was referred to most often as simply “the high school” or “High School.”

Name Changes

The campus name changed after Brackenridge High School opened in 1917, and the original school was renamed after its location – Main Avenue and was to serve students located in the north side of town. Development to the north moved faster, and Main Avenue, the older facility, was showing signs of strain by the late 1920s. Thanks to a bond issue passed in 1929 before the stock market crash, SAISD was able to build the opulent new Thomas Jefferson High School on otherwise undeveloped land considered to be far northwest of the city.

Main Avenue subsequently was renamed and repositioned as San Antonio Vocational and Technical High School, often shortened to San Antonio Tech. This was largely the doing of Louis William Fox (1889-1978) who grabbed the old Main Avenue High School building and turned it into a vocational school. Fox, who served as principal of Tech, retired in 1949. In his honor, the school was renamed the Louis W. Fox Vocational and Technical School and received its last name change in early 1972, which is when GWM comes into play.

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During the 1972-1973 school year, Fox Tech students attended Brackenridge High School while the Main Ave. buildings were demolished and replaced by a $5 million academic complex. Bartlett Cocke was the architect on the project while Melvin Mitchell, our current Chairman of the Board and second generation leader of GWM leadership, oversaw the construction as the Project Manager.

In 95 years, G.W. Mitchell has seen many changes in San Antonio. A company rich with history, we value the importance of improvements like the San Pedro Creek project and can’t wait for the changes in the area to come to fruition – even if it does mean changes are inevitable for projects like Fox Tech we built decades ago.

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Becoming the McNay

In 1927, just six years after its founding, G.W. Mitchell General Contractor was commissioned to build a 24-room Spanish Colonial Revival house designed by San Antonio architects Atlee and Robert Ayres for owner Dr. Donald T. Atkinson and his wife, Marion McNay, for $131,657. At her death in 1950, Marion McNay left more than 700 works of art, along with her house, surrounding 23 acres, and an endowment to establish the first museum of modern art in Texas. In 1954, the McNay opened its doors to the public. Seven additions to the original McNay house between 1970 and 1994 included galleries to exhibit the museum’s constantly growing collection, space to store and frame works of art, and an auditorium for programs and special events yet the original building of the Atkinson Residence is still intact 85 years later. Today, this iconic San Antonio house stands at the core of the McNay Art Museum.

 

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Alamo Cement Quarry: A San Antonio Landmark Past and Present

 

A true Texas landmark, now a premiere destination for shopping, dining and entertainment, the Alamo Quarry was once home to the Alamo Cement Plant owned by San Antonio Portland Cement Company who helped build Texas for more than 100 years. In construction of the Texas state Capitol and the Driskill Hotel, as well as many other buildings in the state, cement from this plant was used. Originally known as “Cementville”, in 1940 the San Antonio Portland Cement Company commissioned G.W. Mitchell Contractors to build the cement silos for the plant for $34,968. This project sparked a nearly 40 year relationship between San Antonio Portland Cement Co. and G.W. Mitchell Construction. From 1954 through 1977 consecutively, Mitchell, with the assistance of Willard E. Simpson Company engineers, worked on countless construction projects in both building and renovating most of the plant’s facilities including the clinker shed, conveyer system, power plants and power house, mills, rock crusher, bulk loader and pallet warehouse. With the exception of the smoke stacks, the majority of the cement plant was built and maintained by G.W. Mitchell over those 37 years.

In the 1980s, the cement company moved to a location north of the city, leaving behind the plant and selling the land to developers. When it came time to redesign the area, architects and engineers incorporated many of original structures into the new layout. The Cementville Headquarters are now restaurants; the old plant, clinker shed and smokestacks have become the Quarry Market; and the rock pit is now the Quarry Golf Course. Today, the Alamo Quarry is a perfect mixture of historical and contemporary architecture.

Text with Alamo Cement Quarry 2 picture: G.W. Mitchell Contractor’s “Alamo Cement Crew”: Superintendent Louis Ham (far right) and his iron workers

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HemisFair Arena

 

In 1968, the domed, 10,070 seat HemisFair arena was constructed as part of San Antonio’s World Fair- a six month international exposition celebrating the 250th anniversary of the city’s founding. In 1973, a group of local San Antonio businessmen came together and purchased the Dallas ABA team, the Chaparrals. The team was renamed the San Antonio Spurs and played their first game at the HemisFair Arena on October 10, 1973 losing to the San Diego Conquistadors in front of 5,879 fans. As Spurs games began regularly selling out, the city was faced with a challenge of how to accommodate the ever growing base of loyal fans. By 1976, the Spurs franchise was such a success that it officially became a part of the NBA. One of the conditions of this merger was that there needed to be additional seating for spectators. As a result, in 1977 the San Antonio City Council approved over $4 million in funds to raise the roof of the HemisFair Arena with plans to allow the building to accommodate over 6,000 more seats. G.W. Mitchell Construction, with the design of Noonan, Krocker & Dockery, was commissioned for the challenging task and began construction in April of ’77.

This unique project involved cutting loose the roof structure entirely and raising it to provide a new seating deck. With more than 38 jacks, Mitchell lifted the 2,260 ton roof the 33 feet needed to accommodate the additional seats. The lifting of the arena roof occurred over a four day period at a rate of 2.5 feet per hour. During the course of construction, the City of San Antonio required numerous shut downs and remobilizations to accommodate various functions- including concerts and the ongoing Spurs ’77-’78 basketball season. All of discontinuous work caused a serious hardship to the sequencing of the project. However, despite these interruptions, the arena was completed on time allowing for an increased capacity of over 16,000 to attend events by the summer of 1978. The unusual nature of the project and Mitchell’s ability to complete it on time earned the Texas Building Branch-AGC Outstanding Construction Award in 1980.

For 22 years, HemisFair Arena would serve as the city’s main venue for big scale entertainment; including serving as home to the Spurs first 20 seasons, often referred to as the “nosiest arena in the NBA”. Demolished in 1995 to expand the Convention Center, the HemisFair Arena played a significant part in the history of the Spurs franchise as well as the city of San Antonio. “I don’t know how to phrase it, but San Antonio wasn’t a city then,” said Denver Nuggets coach George Karl, who played with the Spurs in the ’70s. “It was a town, a big town, and the Arena got to be like a party. It was the thing to do. It was a celebration of San Antonio nightlife at a basketball game.”

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La Villita Assembly Building- Over 50 Years of Celebrating San Antonio

 

In 1958, G.W. Mitchell Contractors began construction on one of the most uniquely designed buildings in San Antonio, La Villita Assembly Building. At the time in San Antonio, there was a desperate need for a convention and events facility. The City Public Service board, who owned the site, wanted a building design that would complement the style of the restoration of adjacent La Villita, a small Mexican village of the 1700s. Designed by the renowned architects, O’Neil Ford & Associates , this two-level, 25,000 square foot circular building with an inverted dome roof is simple in detail yet characterized by its circular shape, color and texture. One of the most distinguishing features of the building 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. One of the first in the nation and the first of its kind in Texas, this type of roof construction eliminates the need for any columns allowing unobstructed views to all parts of the hall. When viewed from the air, the suspension-type roof gives the facade of a circular shaped arena. The building’s circular design was chosen to resemble the bull ring, so typical of historical Mexican villages. To complete the historic ties, six large emblems representing the seals of the six nations whose flags flew over Texas are displayed on the outside of the building. The designs of these emblems were hand crafted in ceramics by Lynn Ford, brother of the architect. The cost for G.W. Mitchell to build the assembly building in 1958 was $654,740. La Villita Assembly Building opened its doors to the public in May of 1959 bringing the City of San Antonio together by serving as the home of thousands of civic and nonprofit events over the past 55 years.

 

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Laurie Auditorium: An amphitheater at the heart of Trinity University and San Antonio

 

Completed in 1971, the James W. and Dorothy A. Laurie Auditorium was the first building on Trinity’s campus large enough to accommodate the entire faculty and student body in a single setting. The theatre was named for the 14th president of Trinity University, James Laurie, who was responsible for drastically increasing Trinity’s endowment. This in turn allowed the university to construct a new, modern campus on what was a former limestone quarry, deeming it the “University on the Hill”. Designed by O’Neil Ford and Bartlett Cocke architects, G.W. Mitchell Construction began construction of the parking garage in 1968 and the auditorium in 1970 for a combined cost of $3,277,285. This project marked the 16th construction job completed by G.W. Mitchell Construction on Trinity’s campus. The superintendent on the job, Freeman Oates, had previously worked on the Atkinson Residence (which today is the McNay Art Institute- our first “flashback friday”) 42 years earlier as a laborer for G.W. Mitchell.

Today, Laurie Auditorium is a unique venue that plays an important role in both campus life and the life of San Antonio. The amphitheater design and wide stage allow for unobstructed views throughout the hall. The largest on-campus facility, Laurie Auditorium seats 2,700. As the center of the cultural and social life of Trinity University, Laurie Auditorium also provides San Antonio with an important venue for the continued growth of its entertainment industry. At Laurie Auditorium, one will find regular performances by the San Antonio Symphony, shows by the Arts San Antonio organization, appearances by popular political and social speakers, and as well as more contemporary performances, with appearances from popular performers or concerts by the latest musical artists and bands.