Flashback Fridays blog

A Monument on Main


In 1921, George W. Mitchell established himself as G.W. Mitchell General Contractor by initially building residences for many notable San Antonio families. One of the earliest homes Mitchell completed was for Judge Winchester Kelso, Sr. at 2415 North Main Avenue. Judge Kelso lived in the house next door and had this home built for his son, Winchester Jr., and his new bride. Although the Kelsos only lived there for a brief time, the house would stand as an iconic landmark of San Antonio for many years to come.

In 1930, two young, resourceful sisters, Virginia Berry and Nannie Randall opened a Mexican food-to-go shop across the street from the Kelso residence. In spite of the Great Depression, their food business flourished and Berry & Randall were able to purchase the original Kelso residence from its current owner, converting the home into a full-service restaurant. In 1932, La Fonda on Main formally opened and for many years the family lived above the restaurant in the second story.

To this day La Fonda on Main stands at the oldest Mexican restaurant in San Antonio that has been enjoyed by both local residents and visitors alike. Moreover, La Fonda has been visited by many of history’s most celebrated people and celebrities. Several famous officers in World War II have dined there including General Eisenhower, MacArthur and Hill. American Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson have enjoyed La Fonda’s delicious cuisine. Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Yul Brenner, Veronica Lake, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, among many other stars, have also visited this historic restaurant.

Most importantly, over the past 82 years, La Fonda has become an iconic restaurant and dining tradition for many San Antonio families. Similarly, over G.W. Mitchell Construction’s 93 years of business, footprints of San Antonio’s history lie within many of Mitchell’s buildings and continue to take on new form and meaning, enriching the heritage and culture of our great city.

Sitting on the Dock of the Bay


It’s summer time again and we hope that all of you are enjoying this traditional time with family and friends. In commemoration of the summer season, we offer this Flashback Friday which will take us on a little journey down memory lane towards the great Texas Coast.

Port Aransas, Texas, also known as “Mustang Island”, has developed from a small port and fishing village into a booming tourist attraction for many travelers who desire a trip to the Gulf Coast. Although the island was originally inhabited by the Karankawa Indians and several Spanish explorers reached its coast, the first recorded permanent settler in Port Aransas was Captain Robert Mercer of Lancaster, England. He established a sheep and cattle ranch known as El Mar Rancho in the mid 1850’s. Herds of wild horses “mustangs” traipsed over the rangelands of the island when Mercer first settled there. Also in the 1850s, a regular steamship service route for cargo and passengers was established between New Orleans and Mustang Island. As the pass became more commonly traveled, local pilots were needed to guide the ships safely across. For this, permanent settlements were required to house the pilots, including docks, a lighthouse, storage, jetties, and a general store. In the early 20th century, tarpon fishing began to attract tourists from across America to Port Aransas. In fact, in 1937 President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Port Aransas and while Congress was debating his Judiciary Reorganization Bill ’37, he fished for tarpon. Prior to the “Port A” moniker, the town was also known as “Ropesville” and then “Tarpon”.

Today, Port Aransas is revered as a popular fishing, beach, and resort destination, with summer populations swelling to over 60,000 visitors. Due to the ever increasing demand for vacation homes, in 2006 G.W. Mitchell Construction was contracted to build a beautiful, new condominium project overlooking the main harbor in Port Aransas. This 90,000 square foot, three-level condominium complex was built with eighteen high-end units, an inviting pool overlooking the harbor and an outdoor entertainment area for residents. Due to its coastal location and susceptibility to hurricanes, the foundation and structural design included over 200 Auger Cast Drilled Piers that were placed 50 feet deep under a cast in place concrete column system and a steel reinforced Concrete Hollow Core Plank System for the upper level floors. This sturdy structure, designed by Paul Casseb AIA and Jaster Quintanilla Engineering , was constructed to withstand 200mph winds and a 13 foot tide surge, in accordance with the latest hurricane resistant criteria. The result is a strikingly beautiful complex, enjoyed by owners and visitors alike, that will literally stand the test of time.

From such humble beginnings, Port Aransas has grown into an iconic Texas landmark and attraction. From the footprints of the original Tarpon village, to the tasteful addition of beautiful, upscale condominium developments like The Harbour’s and the ever expanding dining options and amenities, one can enjoy all that the new glamourized version of Port Aransas has to offer as well as reminisce on the memories of childhood days spent vacationing there. With its inviting beaches and enticing opportunities to fish the local waters for redfish or trout, it is no wonder that Port Aransas continues to lure us back time and again.

Terrell Hills Municipal Complex- A New Beginning For A Historic Neighborhood.


On Wednesday, March 27th, 2013 the newly renovated and expanded City of Terrell Hills Municipal Complex was dedicated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The project team included G.W. Mitchell Construction as General Contractor, Robert Hanley as the owner representative/project consultant, and was based on the innovative design of O’neill, Conrad, Oppelt (OCO) Architects and John Grable.

In 1919, Dr. Fredrick Terrell sold a 22.5 acre tract of Terrell Farm to a group of San Antonio businessmen, who formed the Terrell Hills Community. This group, led by Dr. Terrell, established basic services in the area such as electricity, water main and gas lines. Over the next 20 years, Terrell Hills was incorporated as a town and elected its first mayor in 1939. The City was established in 1957 and with it, a 1920’s building that had served as a firehouse was purchased to become City Hall. Fast forwarding to today, Terrell Hills is a flourishing community that is home to over 5,000 residents in about 1900 households.

With only one previous renovation to City Hall over 50 years ago, there was an ever growing need for an updated facility and additional space for the staff. In August of 2011, plans were finalized and construction began to take place on the renovation of the 5,200 square foot existing complex and the addition of approximately 10,000 square feet. The project consisted of remodeling the existing Municipal Building and Fire Department into the new Police Department and Fire Personnel Sleeping Quarters, as well as constructing a new Fire Department Building, City Council Chambers and Municipal Offices. The design of the new facility was in keeping with the architecture of the original structure, which still stands at the front of the complex. Not only did this expansion and renovation bring physical improvements to City Hall but it allowed for greatly needed technological enhancements as well as several energy efficient features. Despite many difficulties with the renovation of the original structure, Mitchell and the rest of the project team were able to complete the facility under budget. This new City Hall Complex for Terrell Hills will prominently stand and continue to serve its citizens for well over another 50 years.

Alamo Heights High School: Here’s to Our Blue and Gold


In honor of the motto, “school’s out for summer”, let’s take a trip down memory lane to one of the oldest school districts in San Antonio, Alamo Heights Independent School District, and G.W. Mitchell’s construction project of Alamo Heights High School.

Alamo Heights ISD can trace their history back to 1909 where a two-room wooden frame building on Townsend Avenue was built as the first school. In 1912, a new school building of masonry was constructed on the site that is now Cambridge Elementary School. In 1923, just one year after a high school building was added to the growing campus, the Alamo Heights system became an independent school district of 300 students. While the hub of activity for Alamo Heights students centered at Cambridge, the district expanded into the neighboring community at the former cement plant near Jones-Maltsberger Road, called “Cementville.”

In 1937, a 21-acre tract of land at Broadway and E. Castano was purchased with plans for a new high school to be erected on that land and in 1938, the present football stadium was built on the new grounds. To meet the growth demands of the school district following World War II, design for the new high school was made by Bartlett Cocke Associates and G.W. Mitchell Construction was hired to build the school for $836,587 (which would be valued today at over $12 million). Construction began in 1949 and a little over a year later, the building was completed and welcomed its first class of high school students in the fall of 1950.

Today, the original school building continues to serve as the academic home to over 1500 students and 115 faculty. The school’s motto, “Here’s to our Blue and Gold, Long May it Wave, Over our Dear Old School, Colors Never Fade”, rings true to the workmanship and sustainability of Mitchell’s construction of Alamo Heights High School over 63 years ago.

Lifting San Antonio Construction to New Heights


Another milestone for G.W. Mitchell Construction, as well as San Antonio, occurred in 1962 when the M&S Tower was built. This 108,000 square foot, eight story medical building was constructed for the Baptist Memorial Hospital System. The building was innovatively designed by Bartlett Cocke & Associates and contracted to be built for $1.7 million.

M&S Tower was one of many multi-story construction projects taking place during this time of growth in the city. However, what makes this project unique is that it was the first construction site in San Antonio to make use of a tower crane. Since locally no one had knowledge of, or experience in, tower cranes, the Mitchell team traveled to Houston to get advice and training from a contractor in that area. The experience proved to be invaluable to G.W. Mitchell Construction, enhancing their techniques and taking their construction capabilities to an unprecedented level. The project was successfully completed in October of 1963 and thus, Mitchell ushered in a new era of tower crane construction in San Antonio.

Tower cranes are now a common site around our thriving city and have become an integral part of the construction process, giving the best combination of height and lifting capacity for construction of tall buildings. To this day, the Mitchell team continues to make use of the tower crane on many of their job sites around the city. Thanks to their innovative approach and performance, G.W. Mitchell Construction pioneered the tower crane technique for the city and helped revolutionize San Antonio’s construction industry for years to come.

Ruth Taylor Fine Arts Center


Trinity University’s Ruth Taylor Fine Arts Center began to take form in the mid-1950s thanks to a generous series of gifts from Trustee, Vernon F. Taylor. G.W. Mitchell Construction was commissioned for construction of the first building of the Center, the music building, in 1955. The new Fine Arts Center expanded over the next 10 years with the addition of two other buildings, an art building and a theater. All three facilities were named for Taylor’s wife, Ruth.

After 40 years of educating hundreds of young musicians, artists, and actors, the need for expanded and updated facilities became inevitable. In 1998, a gift from the late Arthur Stieren, a Trinity Trustee, and his wife, Jane, funded extensive renovation of the Ruth Taylor Theater building, including the Jane and Arthur Stieren Theater. G.W. Mitchell Construction was once again contracted for the project, 43 years after their original construction of the music building. This project encompassed a complete gut and remodel of the theater facility involving the removal of existing seating, control facilities, portions of the stage and selected classrooms around the theater area. The project had many complex improvements including: new tiered seating on two levels to accommodate 500 people, construction of a traditional stage front and excavating an orchestra pit out of solid rock inside the building, all new interior finishes, a professional sound system as well as computerized, moving lights, allowing students to train with the same equipment they will be using in their profession. The project was built on a very tight 8 month schedule with a major event scheduled upon completion. This project won the Texas Building Branch AGC project of the year in the $1.5 to $5 million category.

Over the span of almost half a century, the Ruth Taylor Fine Arts Center grew from one educational building to a cultural icon of the city of San Antonio. From the construction of the original music building to the completion of the Stieren Theater, Mitchell continued to leave a lasting mark on the Ruth Taylor Fine Arts Center.

Dreaming of a White Christmas


In November of 1984, G.W. Mitchell Construction began a highly complex project of adding on three stories to the existing seven-story City Public Service Headquarters building. Being located in the heart of downtown San Antonio, the construction and design team, including 3D/I Architecture, had to work very closely and creatively with the owner, city and subcontractors to complete the project with such a tight layout space. Despite the significant construction and logistical challenges, including some weather setbacks with the “great snow” in January of 1985, Mitchell was able to complete the project on time and had CPS into their new space by November of 1985. Our very own Miracle on Navarro Street!

‘Charging’ Into a New School Year


In light of the beginning of another school year, we wanted to highlight another of G.W. Mitchell Construction’s well known school projects, the construction of Winston Churchill High School.

By the early 1960’s, the ever growing city of San Antonio was bursting at its seams with residents continuing to settle further North, expanding the city limits. Residents began establishing several small municipalities landlocked within the city of San Antonio including Hill Country Village, Hollywood Park and Castle Hills. Consequently, the North East Independent School District’s two public high schools at the time had enrollment numbers that continued to increase beyond the schools’ capacities. In 1960, a bond was passed which allowed for construction of two new high schools in the NEISD. G.W. Mitchell Construction was commissioned five years later to build a brand new high school that would become one of the most well attended and revered public high schools in San Antonio.

In the spring of 1965, Mitchell began construction on the 135,000 square foot Winston Churchill High School for a contracted amount of $1.6 million. By the middle of the summer of ’66, the project was complete and the school was ready for its first students to attend classes. Since 1966, Churchill High School has continued to grow in size and excel academically. With a current enrollment of just under 3,000 students, the Churchill Chargers rank in the top 1% of all high schools in the country. Additionally, for the past nine years, every Churchill graduate has been accepted to college. The schools motto of “Never, never, never, never give up,” which was taken from a Winston Churchill quote, continues to ring true throughout the halls of this historic and well-renowned school.

Building San Antonio’s Medical Community


In January of 1978, G.W. Mitchell Construction was commissioned to build a new ground up 166-bed, 110,000 square foot hospital known as Southwest General Hospital. Not only was Mitchell able to complete the construction of the hospital 30 days prior to its original completion date but they also came in under budget. In August of 1979, the hospital celebrated its grand opening with keynote speaker Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez.

As a result of such a positive experience with the owners, in 1983, Mitchell was asked to negotiate with the hospital on a difficult, fast track addition and remodel that would add 60,00 square feet- fifty percent of the hospital’s original size. Again, Mitchell proved to be successful in this project finishing it within the completion date and budget.

Today, Southwest General Hospital has continued to provide high-quality healthcare for residents of southwest San Antonio for over 30 years and remains a vital source of healthcare for the Southside of San Antonio and the surrounding area. It is a 327-bed acute care hospital with specialties in Cardiology, General Surgery, Orthopedics, Rehabilitation, Women’s Health, Emergency Services, Physical Therapy, Wound Care, Hyperbaric Medicine, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatric Services. Southwest General has earned numerous distinctions for quality, including a Health Grades 5-star rating for maternity care seven years in a row, Health Grades 5-star rating in heart failure, sepsis, pneumonia and COPD.