Preserving an Oasis

by Ashley Festa

Large oak trees line the drive up to a historic home. There are often deer lounging in the grass on the front lawn. Although it's not far from busy Fredericksburg Road, it seems like a sanctuary miles from the bustling city.

Inside the house, a classic wooden staircase leads up to the second floor and the attic. OnDenman estate
the second floor balcony, an iron railing overlooks a perfect view to downtown San Antonio.

On Nov. 16, UIW purchased nearly eight acres of land from the city of San Antonio. The land was part of the estate of the late Gilbert Denman Jr., who died in 2004. The remainder of the estate includes land the city plans to develop into a park, with the university handling the maintenance and the opening and closing of the park.

On the property purchased by the university are a historic two-story building where the Denman family lived as well as several other buildings and storage facilities. Also included in the purchase are 1.19 acres across the street from the Denman property, which the university acquired to protect the scenic view of downtown San Antonio as seen from the second-story balcony of the Denman home.

According to UIW President Dr. Louis J. Agnese Jr., the university chose to buy the property because of its proximity to UIW's Northwest Center, which offers extended studies classes and will be home to the school's future School of Optometry. Because the property will be a retreat and meeting facility, the location near the thriving Medical Center also made the acquisition attractive to the university.

UIW has big plans for its new purchase.

"The vision is for it to be a retreat center for students and other groups to get closer to nature and God," Agnese said.

Cynthia Escamilla, legal counsel for the university, said UIW plans to build a 15,000-square-foot meeting facility on the property, along with a 50-unit sleeping facility complex, which can be used for overnight retreats.

The city has plans to build a 200-car parking lot adjacent to the UIW property.

Faculty, staff and students can use the facilities, and any
religious-based retreat will be welcome.

"Activites that support the Mission of UIW," Escamilla said, will be held at the estate. "We're really hoping students use it," she said.

The renovations have begun, but Steve Heying, UIW director of facilities management and the person overseeing the restoration of the estate, is unsure of the expected completion date.

As for the physical plans, Escamilla said the first step for the main house is restoration and rehabilitation because the university intends to keep the historic feel to the property. She said UIW instead plans to simply restore the building to its original beauty. "Structurally it's not going to change."

It would be a beautiful location for a wedding, and luckily, the historic home will be available for such events according to Agnese. It's also the perfect place for reflective and rejuvenating retreats for many different organizations.

A task force made up of university faculty and administrators will be discussing other potential uses for the property, Agnese said.

To start the restoration, the main building will be power washed and then painted inside and out. Some wallpaper will be replaced, and the wood floors will be sanded and refinished

Denmen estateRenovations will be more extensive for the library, which is a separate structure near the main building. Walls must be moved in order to create the meeting space as planned for the building. Another building on the other side of the property, where the site's spiritual director will live, needs extensive updating and modernizing, Heying said. The structure is
solid, but new carpeting, cabinets and other renovations are necessary.

Sr. Alice Holden, a tai chi instructor at the Village at Incarnate Word, will be the spiritual director in residence at the property. She will coordinate all spiritual activities at the facility.

As for the rest of the property, UIW is developing a plan for the development of the park. The university's architect is working with the city of San Antonio to coordinate the building of the parking lot and trails on the property.

"It has to be a joint venture" with the city, Heying said.

UIW will submit the plan to the city for approval, and the city is expected to consider the plans at its April city council meeting. After the plan has been approved, the city will release funds to UIW for the park development.

Adding to the historic and park-like atmosphere of the location, the city will be installing a Korean pavilion donated by Gwangju, South Korea, a sister city of San Antonio. "It fits very nicely with the retreat center," Agnese said.

"It will be a place of prayer where people in the community can gather," Escamilla said.