Flashback Fridays blog

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.”

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.


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.

South Texas Medical School


The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio began in 1959 when the Fifty-Sixth Texas Legislature authorized a medical school, originally named South Texas Medical School. After heated debate, a site on the periphery of the city rather than downtown was chosen. The Joe J. Nix Dairy Farm, which was a 100 acre wide expanse of grazing land, cattle pens, milking barns and silos to store cattle feed, was conveyed to the State of Texas to build a School of Medicine. In 1966, G.W. Mitchell & Sons was selected for construction of the school for $10, 038,739. The 450,000 square foot medical school building, designed by Phelps Dewees Simmons, was completed in 1968. In July of 1968, the South Texas Medical School was dedicated and opened their doors to its first class of 104 students. Today, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is one of the country’s leading health sciences universities, ranking in the top 3 percent of all institutions worldwide receiving federal funding. Although additional buildings have been added to the campus, the original medical school building built by G.W. Mitchell & Sons still serves as home to the university’s schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences and has produced approximately 28,000 graduates in less than half a decade.

A Catalyst for Change in Cattleman Square


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. ”


Alamo Heights United Methodist Church- A Spiritual Beacon on Basse Road


In the early fall of 1909, the Methodist Board of Church Extension paid $1,500 for a lot at 5101 Broadway with the intention of someday erecting a church there. At a request from several local ranching families, a tent was soon erected to offer worship and Sunday school in Alamo Heights. Reverend T.F. Sessions served as the first pastor of Alamo Heights United Methodist Church; however it wouldn’t be until July of 1910 that construction started on a wooden structure. From these humble beginnings, the church congregation grew alongside the surrounding neighborhood community. With demand for more space and additional functionality, the church continued to build and re-build their facility on Broadway until the early 1990’s.

In 1991, after conducting a capital campaign to once again enlarge the church campus only to be denied expansion by the City of Alamo Heights, the congregation voted overwhelmingly to move the location of the church to East Basse Road which was formerly part of San Antonio Portland Cement Company’s property. G.W. Mitchell Construction was commissioned to be the general contractor and in May of 1993 construction began of the new 87,000 square foot church complex. Mitchell worked very closely with both the church leaders and design team of Hesson Andrews Sotomayor Sprinkle Robey Architects from project inception to completion. The result is a timeless, elegant cathedral-like sanctuary with functional classroom and office space in both the east and west wings, a large fellowship hall and second worship area.

On September 18, 1994, the church held its first worship service on Basse Road. With over 100 years of history, Alamo Heights United Methodist Church now stands as an iconic landmark of San Antonio as well as a spiritual beacon for the community. Its magnificent workmanship and architecture of the structure itself is a beautiful representation of the inspirational and impactful work the church continuously does for their congregation and the city of San Antonio.

Trivia Question- Does the Alamo have a basement?


In recognition of San Antonio’s Fiesta festivities and the celebration of our city’s heritage and culture, we wanted to highlight one of G.W. Mitchell’s most historic projects completed in their 93 years of business. The Alamo’s history is widely known and memorialized by the legendary battle that took place on March 6, 1836 where roughly 200 Texian defenders made their last stand defending the mission. The following month, on April 21st, Texas won the battle of San Jacinto and thus, put an end to the Texas Revolution. During the eighteen-minute San Jacinto battle, Texian forces defeated the Mexican troops, captured Santa Anna and achieved independence to the cries of “Remember the Alamo!” As the centennial of the battle approached in 1936, the entire Alamo complex was renovated, expanded and converted into a park-like setting as a memorial to those who died. A Centennial Museum was built just behind the Alamo church, and soon found use as a gift shop. Proceeds from the current Alamo Gift Shop still support daily operations.

In 1992, The Daughters of the Republic commissioned G.W. Mitchell Construction to excavate and create an 8,000 square foot basement below the 60-year old Sales Museum on the sacred grounds of the Shrine of Texas Liberty. Additionally, a tunnel was dug out beneath the grounds of the Alamo to connect the new basement storage area to vendor access on Houston Street. Along with remaining open to the public during construction, this project called for several other unusual factors that had to be considered and accommodated for such a highly sensitive and historic sight. Archeologists remained on site throughout the duration of construction to monitor any historical artifacts that were uncovered during excavation. Additionally, the filming of James A. Michener’s Texas, a 1994 ABC miniseries, coincided with the basement project which added drastic complications and delays to construction. Lastly, with no staging area available for construction materials, they had to be moved directly to and from Houston Street as needed. Consequently, to attain access to Houston Street, Mitchell was forced to cautiously dismantle part of the existing historical north exterior wall, numbering each individual stone so that they were then able to rebuild the wall and ensure that each stone was put back in its original place at the conclusion of the project.

By February 1993, the project was completed under budget and before the scheduled completion date. The following year, this project was the 1994 local and state award winner in the AGC Outstanding Construction Awards Contest. G.W. Mitchell Construction takes pride and is honored to have been included in such an important preservation project that serves as the heart of Texas history.

Viva Fiesta and Remember the Alamo!


Reshaping the River Walk: Crockett Street Redevelopment


At the direction of four different owners and based on the innovative design of three renowned architects (Overland Partners, Kell Munoz Wigodsky Inc., and Jack Peterson), G. W. Mitchell Construction was commissioned to complete a highly complex street and River Walk renovation along the 200 block of West Crocket Street. The scope of the project was to remove and replace the existing street with an elevated road to create river level shell space that would give three consecutive buildings direct access to the San Antonio River Walk. The project also included handicap access, the addition of large planters and the complete replacement of the south bank wall and walkway of the River Walk.

In September of 2000, G.W. Mitchell Construction began carefully dismantling the historic Hugman wall as well as the demolition and excavation of the existing 200 block of West Crockett Street down to river level. While the street was being excavated, G.W. Mitchell was also completely reconstructing 225 feet of the historic River Walk. The existing riverbank wall was badly deteriorated and several of the Hugman River Walk panels had failed or uplifted. As part of their efforts to correct these deficiencies, Mitchell employed skilled craftsmen to meticulously reconstruct these historic elements to match the original.

One of the largest challenges Mitchell faced in this project involved temporarily damming the river in order to replace the river bank wall. A coffer dam was constructed by the Mitchell team allowing boat traffic and the river to flow uninterrupted on one side while the River Walk was being constructed on the other side. All of this work had to be synchronized with the annual draining of the river in January 2001 in order for the coffer dam to be removed while the river was down. Despite numerous changes in the river draining schedule, the wall was completed ahead of time and the dam was completely removed during the twenty-four hour period while the river level was reduced to one foot. Once the river wall was complete, a solid foundation was established for the River Walk. New concrete panels were poured to match the originals, and the Hugman panels removed during demolition were reinstalled to create a seamless historic walk.

To further improve accessibility, a unique elevator and clock tower was installed. This distinguishing feature was recognized by the local A.I.A. chapter as an “Exemplary Urban Revitalization Effort.” Throughout construction, irreplaceable elements of the existing area, including the massive Cypress trees and historic structures, were carefully preserved and further enhanced by the new elements and configurations of the space. The project was successfully completed while maintaining the historic and aesthetic value of this section of the San Antonio River. The completion was celebrated with a ribbon cutting ceremony on December 3, 2001 with three former Mayors and the current Mayor in attendance. This project has taken a dormant, underutilized section of downtown San Antonio and given it the life it much needed to become a significant part of the success of the San Antonio River Walk.

Memories on Broadway


“Over 65 years ago, Bob Luby had a dream: To develop a chain of cafeterias that would provide good food, good service and reasonable prices.” This dream was as a result of his upbringing. Since the time Bob was born, his father, Harry Luby, had owned and operated the New England Dairy Lunch Cafeteria in Springfield, Missouri. Eventually, Harry’s small cafeteria business grew to include restaurants in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. As a result from growing up in the business and developing a passion for it, Bob was determined to build upon his father’s principles and work ethic with his own new ideas. In 1947, Bob Luby with his partner, Charles R. Johnston, opened the first Luby’s Cafeteria in the basement of a building in downtown San Antonio. At the time, skeptics thought it to be an extremely risky endeavor due to downtown San Antonio often being deserted at night, and many people doubted that servicemen home from the war would stand in line for anything again. The cynics were wrong – the 180 seat cafeteria was consistently packed for both lunch and dinner. And so the tradition of, and adoration for, Luby’s Cafeteria by local San Antonians began. Within the same year of the first cafeteria’s opening, G.W. Mitchell Construction was commissioned to build the second location of Luby’s Cafeteria on Broadway in the heart of Alamo Heights. To the tune of a little over $71,000, Mitchell built a two-story mixed use building with the cafeteria on the first floor and office space above on the second floor. Luby’s second location opened for business in April of 1948 and quickly became a neighborhood and city-wide favorite. The second floor office space housed the company’s headquarters from 1948 to 1981, at which time the company outgrew the space. In April of 2000, after 52 years of business in this location, Luby’s on Broadway served their last Lou Ann platters to customers but the building still remained a local landmark. Although this Luby’s location has been closed now for 14 years, this iconic structure on Broadway holds many fond memories to devoted “Lubians” who dined there for generations. To this day, this unique building stands in fully functional use and currently is home to a popular steakhouse and sushi restaurant, Osaka. Through Luby’s strong imprint on the hearts and stomachs of its loyal patrons and G.W. Mitchell’s lasting footprint on the buildings in San Antonio, they both hold true to the same motto of being a “family tradition, serving the community”.