San Antonio votes to demolish and replace iconic West Side dance studio

San Antonio votes to demolish iconic West Side dance studio

Rendering for the planned new Woodlawn Lake Recreation Center.
A rendering of the new Berta Almaguer Dance Studio. Courtesy/Douglas Architects

The Berta Almaguer Dance Studio is about to dance its last tango. The City of San Antonio will be demolishing the 1950s structure and replacing it with a new community center following a July 17 vote.

The West Side studio has taught generations of locals the art of dance against the backdrop of the scenic Woodlawn Lake, but on Wednesday, the city’s Historic and Design Review Commission unanimously voted to approve the city’s request to demolish the deteriorating structure so it can replace it with a bigger, more contemporary community center. 

The city will temporarily relocate its dance program to the Enrique Barrera Community Fitness Center, also on the West Side, before it opens in 2021. The city’s Office of Historic Preservation plans to take photos and collect historical documents regarding the old building before it gets razed.

The new building, according to the city, will have even more space for not only dance classes and help the studio to meet standards for hosting national dance competitions. The new center will have other spaces for neighborhood use and city business.

But the commission first heard several people plead their case for saving the original building or replacing it. City staff had determined the Almaguer building eligible for a potential historical landmark designation, which if approved, could have saved the structure.

Several audience members told HDRC that a larger, newer facility would benefit them and the community.

Melissa Douglas of Douglas Architects, the firm designing the planned recreation center, said wear and tear on the existing building’s foundation, plumbing, wiring, and other parts would make it hard and costly to preserve and repair it for the long term.

Neighbor Cheryl Perez agreed Berta Almaguer Dance Studio has had a positive history, but said the existing building “is woefully inadequate in its current state, everything from the crumbling foundation to the inoperable bathrooms.” Perez also pointed out the current structure does not meet federal accessibility requirements.

Current dance students such as Rose Acevedo, 15, called the studio a “home away from home.” But the building, she added, has many issues, including the broken bathrooms and a lack of proper space for changing clothes and storage.

“I understand the city’s dance program has been able to be successful over so many years using the same existing facility, but it is really time for a change,” Acevedo said.

Diana Rosa Almaguer Orellana said her grandmother, Berta Almaguer, would be disappointed to see the dance studio building’s present condition.

“She would be very sad to hear what I just heard. These kids deserve better,” she added.

Other meeting attendees called for incorporating the existing structure into the design for the new recreation center.

Patricia Seidenberger, a San Antonio Conservation Society board member, said the building’s overall condition seemed good and that the city should do a full structural analysis and prove economic hardship to demonstrate that demolition was the better thing to do. She also suggested the city build an addition to the current structure since there’s a public desire for more space.

Torrey Stanley Carleton, executive director of the American Institute of Architects San Antonio chapter, argued for preserving the building, which was originally designed as an open-air clubhouse for fishermen who frequented Woodlawn Lake.

“It sounds very much to me as though this structure deserves some care, love, and reimagination,” she added.

But HDRC agreed with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, which operates the dance studio, that saving and adding onto the present Almaguer would be a challenge.

“At some point, structures do tend to get to the end of their economic life,” said commission Vice Chairman Scott Carpenter.