By Cheryl Van Tuyl Jividen :: Photography by Siggi Ragnar
Marvin and Viola Schwarz would surely be delighted to see what became of the homestead they purchased in Boerne in the mid-40’s.
Their descendants most certainly are and so is the man who assembled a team to advance a vision; to look past the challenges and honor the Schwarz homestead and heritage. Through phenomenal renovation an amazing multi-use project has been created; a testament to the beautiful merging of then and now, old and new, historic and modern.
When Great Homes builder Robert Thornton and his business partner Travis Roberson toured the property in the spring of 2014 it had been through much; overlooked in the weakened economy, damaged by termites and an unfortunate location in a flood plain and yet it was special in so many ways. Ray Schwarz, one of three sons who inherited their childhood home from their parent’s Marvin and Viola Schwarz’s estate, told them his colorful memories full of chickens, goats, gardens and the goodness of farm life and fun. Robert recalls, “He spoke with pride about his great-grandfather Ottmar Von Behr being one of the first settlers of Sisterdale, Texas, of his extended family, and hiding in the tunnel beneath the San Antonio & Aransas Pass train tracks as the cars rolled by overhead each evening…all part of small town Boerne in days gone by.”
The homestead was clearly memorable to anyone who’d ever been to the Boerne Post Office, he says. “The little house, its swooping rock walls, white shingle siding, red corrugated metal roof and small barn (believed to date back to the 1870’s although the builder-of-record is unknown). The home wasn’t on the Historic District list, but it was classic Boerne – and in great need of attention.” And thus the idea took root. “We weren’t actively looking for a new office site or commercial venture, but recognized the increasing demand for office space and we quickly conjured the vision of a small business center, rightfully named Schwarz Homestead. The vision would start with a fully restored Schwarz House (leased by Fresh Urban Flowers), would include a Garage/Mechanic Shop (new offices of Great Homes) and Hay Barn (future office space). The property is bordered by the former SA & AP railway (now the Old #9 Walking Trail), sits just across from Post Office and two doors east of Mary’s Tacos(!), all three of which are tremendous assets.” It was a project Robert couldn’t resist.
Along the way much was learned and loved. “Restoring the Schwarz House was an indescribably wonderful experience. In the course of unveiling the structural frame we discovered signs of multi-generational additions. It appears that the structure was first a very small two door, two room dwelling with a cedar shake roof. Somewhere along the line the front porch was added, then indoor kitchen, bathroom, second bedroom, and eventually a mud room and den.”
No walk in the park, the road to completion was quite the journey. “Every day held challenges, but each included new discovery and an opportunity to reclaim a beam, board or fixture used to construct the home through the years. As materials were removed they were inspected, evaluated, cleaned and stored for future use. In the final analysis some 75 percent or more of the house was pulled-down, then reconstructed, reclaiming and repurposing as much of the original materials as possible.” The home offered many ways to be reborn through reuse during the project. Reclaimed long leaf pine 2 x 6 floor joists became new front porch rafters, reclaimed red metal from the roof became siding, reclaimed front doors became interior barn-sliders, reclaimed ammo-crate wall sheathing became a floating cloud ceiling, and reclaimed roof decking became soffits and decorative treatments. Original windows and screens were repaired and remain in use, and the original cedar shake roof (which had been covered with red-painted corrugated metal) was exposed to be on full display from within the space. The porch was completely dismantled and re-constructed in the course of restoration. The open-tail rafters were repurposed from the floor joists of the original dwelling, and decked with 1 x 6 long leaf planks salvaged from various parts of the house. The stone columns remained intact, and the team replicated the original tapered wood columns in the course of restoration with cementitious HardiPlank® siding. If you look closely, you’ll see a remnant and a wink to the past. “A hint of red porch paint remains, reminding of a day when horse and buggy likely traversed the graveled path known as Blanco Street.”
Now fully restored, the original home is structurally sound, encapsulated with foam insulation, and equipped with high-efficient heat pump air conditioning and LED lighting. The 1,200 square feet fully transformed into an amazing business space enveloped in the heady scents from Fresh Urban Flowers.
Just to the right of the home sits another original building too significant to ignore — an old, wooden barn-like structure, open to the street on one end. “We’re not certain when the outbuilding was constructed, but theories abound. Marvin and Viola Schwarz used it as their carport, but the brick chimney reveals that it once housed a wood stove, driving our belief that the old barn was once a detached kitchen, if not living quarters, dating back to the 1870’s. In the course of restoration we poured a concrete footing (colorized for antiquity), lifted the structure, trimmed the deteriorated wood and sheet metal and relocated it atop the concrete footing. Consider it expensive yard art, although it does play home to our Schwarz Homestead hens, Viola and Sweet Pea.”
Sitting at the back of the property, salvaged seconds red clay D’Hanis building blocks, poured concrete lintels and sills herald the Mechanic Shop, all new construction designed to look original. Housing in the north pod are the Great Homes offices and in south pod are five lease-space offices occupied by Dave Morris Design, ADKF Certified Public Accountants, Lane & Countryman Attorney’s and Lawing Financial.
In the center is a shared reception area, conference room, kitchen and copy room. Most interior finishes were determined on-the-fly by the collaborative efforts of designer and Great Homes consultant Melissa Haberstroh, Travis Roberson, Dave Morris and Thornton. Thoughtful consideration of repurposing the reclaimed steel pipes and 2 x 12 wood bleacher seats from the Kendall County Fairgrounds play a prominent role in identifying spaces and pulling off the “garage/shop” effect. Elevated steel bar grates provide out-of-the-way file box storage, identify spaces and create a ceiling over the desks of the construction team. Unevenly spaced long leaf slats line the ceilings throughout to create interest without losing the primitive nature of a garage. These long leaf slats were pulled from a flood damaged home undergoing insurance reclamation and had been in storage for six years awaiting a new purpose. The reception area and conference room floors are of beautiful reclaimed long leaf pine planks, and the flooring throughout each flanking pod is of Kemiko Stone Tone stained and waxed concrete.
All the wood references proved perfect foil for the decorative treatments, in particular, the crown jewel of the conference room. “We’re especially proud of our conference table designed by Melissa Haberstroh that seats eight with a long leaf pine top by Rob Blount of TGW Hardwoods, leg post members leftover from one of our jobs in Cordillera, and steel frame and boots fabricated by Drew Berlin of DFabco Welding. The reclaimed long leaf top materials came from the Joske’s Department Store in downtown San Antonio.”
Balancing the warm wood, are injections of metal. “We fabricated the sliding doors with wooden frames, wrapped with common galvanized sheet metal, aged with muriatic acid and suspended on a common barn door track from our local Tractor Supply Store. The chest was a decommissioned Air Force Base cabinet sourced at Dallas Market that fits our garage/shop motif wonderfully.” Similar strategies outfit the chic kitchen with shelves crafted from more bleacher seats suspended with KeeKlamp pipe and fittings. The cabinetry was supplied by Chaparral Cabinetry, suspended above the floor for affect, with a rustic cherry countertop fabricated of leftover flooring from a Cordillera project. The ceilings are reclaimed long leaf pine and cool green metal lockers serve as the pantry.
Truly collaborative, Thornton cites Dave Morris for the stellar development of plans. “The beauty of the Mechanic Shop design is in its simplicity. Simple lines, historically correct materials and big panels of glass intended to emulate overhead garage door openings. These big windows look out to the Old #9 route so inhabitants can enjoy the wildflower embankment and daily parade of kids on bikes, families strolling babies, pet walkers and joggers.”
While there may be awards and professional acknowledgement for the work, its real reward is apparent to Thornton who says, “We can’t tell you how many friends, former clients, Boerne locals and curious parties have stopped by to tour and express their appreciation for our preservation of this small part of Boerne – and for that there’s truly no substitution.” The impact of the Schwarz Homestead reclamation for Robert and Ray Schwarz and their immediate and extended family has been personally rewarding to Thornton, but it’s really mutual. “I expressed in complete honesty that it’s been a labor of love, and the most rewarding experience of my career. It couldn’t have happened without the collaborative group effort and I, too, am grateful for everyone who played a part,” Thornton says. “I have been blessed to be surrounded by a great team of diligent and creative individuals who thrive on improving the quality of our product, and doing so with God-glorifying integrity and purpose,” he says of Great Homes. “Our sweet-spot is acting as an integral member of the design team, which (Lord willing) endears us to the client, familiarizes us with the land and provides insight to the clients’ needs and desires. We hope to avoid descriptive adjectives of our ‘style,’ and instead expect our creative hand and collective wisdom to be used to accentuate, but not drive or overpower.”
Most appropriate for Great Homes celebrating 25 years in Boerne this year is the next project, the third and final Schwarz Homestead building, the Hay Barn. “We expect it’ll be another fantastic and creative addition.”
Since 1991, Robert S. Thornton, LP and his team at Great Homes has taken pride in labeling themselves a “boutique” builder. That is, each project is specifically designed to suit the needs of the client and is very site specific. Their creations are always pure custom homes, with a team fully engaged in the design process from start to finish. Visit their website at www.rsthornton.com or call 830.249.3646.