Project deserves to be built — somewhere else

The bulldozers came last week for part of the old Lamar school property. Boy did it hurt to watch. Is anyone else hoping that SOMETHING will save the rest of this piece of history from suffering the same fate?

Our town has such incredible charm. Part of that is the river and geography, but an equal part is our history and the great architecture that reflects what we once were. Count me among those who feel we should fiercely protect that architecture, and that history, and by extension, our irreplaceable singlefamily neighborhoods. We are charming because of all these features, and faceless big-box apartments threaten what makes us “US.”

Lamar School was state-of-the art wonderful when it was built in 1951. Current tastes of course consider it somewhat of an eyesore. But since the eyesore part is fixable, let’s dig a little deeper. First, Lamar no longer belongs to SMCISD. It was sold in recent years to developers whose stated intentions involve 4-5 stories of apartments, retail, offices, and a giant parking garage. When their bulldozers come back for the rest of the school, personally, I think it will signal the beginning of the end of the Historic District. That fragile area, laced with streets that are essentially old narrow buggy trails, simply can’t support the proposed dense overload of people, cars and concrete.

Next, we now know two important things that no one realized four years ago. One is, Lamar was almost certainly THE FIRST desegregated high school in Texas! After the landmark Supreme Court desegregation ruling in 1955, while other towns were hesitating and even resisting, San Marcos happily and without a single hiccup, combined its two high schools. That says volumes about who we are. Also, Lamar was built on the site of the historic (1868) Coronal Institute, which greatly influenced early San Marcos development. Now it emerges that when Coronal was sold to SMCISD in 1925, its Methodist Church owners clearly stipulated that the site should forever be used for educational purposes.

Fair enough. Education has long been both a San Marcos hallmark and its biggest industry. So why not celebrate that? This acreage would make such an amazing learning center, landmark museum, children’s museum, West End public park, art garden, civic auditorium, affordable historic cottages for newly recruited teachers, community rose garden, school system headquarters or adjunct services.....any or all or more than the above, beautifully designed to be the crown jewel of the historic district. Visit Savannah some time and see how it all elegantly revolves around its central squares. But APARTMENTS, RETAIL, and PARKING GARAGE? Talk about paving paradise to put up a parking lot. Why oh why?

Remember that the hearts of three National Register historic districts lie within “spitting distance” of Lamar. This is a small town. Ever seen Rainey Street in Austin? While it admirably repurposes vintage houses, what if instead of being right next to Interstate 35, Rainey Street had gotten a foothold within two short blocks of Austin’s most beloved and photographed residential district. How long do you think resident families would put up with noise, grime, crowding, and disrespect... before they bail, leaving parking lots, bars and restaurants, and other mixed commercial where there used to be exquisitely cared-for vintage treasures? Can we really afford to take that risk?

The Woods fiasco should teach us that once granted permissions, out of town developers are prone to doing what most benefits themselves. They needn’t have any real regard for those who will be stuck with the fallout once they’ve collected, sold out, and moved on. I’m a serious capitalist, but there are times when the public good trumps the private making of money, and this is one of them.

Long-term, we all benefit if this town retains every ounce of its remaining flavor, charm, and beauty. Can we please pull together and compensate these fellows for their good-faith purchase of land that should never be used for their announced purpose? They have a nice vision as apartments go, and that vision deserves creating. Somewhere else!

Lamar needs to belong to San Marcos again.

Cathy Dillon is a resident of San Marcos

San Marcos Daily Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666