The Ursuline Academy
300 Augusta STREET
Restoration of the Old Ursuline Academy and Convent is on of San Antonio’s triumphs in historic preservation. The original two-story building was constructed in 1851 for the Roman Catholic missionary nuns of the Ursuline Order sent to open a school for girls in frontier San Antonio. Builder/architect Jules Poinsard chose a construction method known as pise de terre, or rammed earth, which involved packing an earthen mix between wooden forms that were raised as walls grew taller. Limestone blocks were used for the five adjoining post-Civil War buildings, detailed with Gothic and Renaissance Revival elements, including a chapel attributed to Francois Giraud. In 1961 the school moved to a suburban site and the vacant, decaying downtown campus was sold. It became the target of a flurry of plans for razing and new development. A five-alarm midwinter fire in 1967 destroyed a four-story 1912 classroom wing, but all older buildings were saved. Purchase of key parcels and heroic efforts by the San Antonio Conservation Society resulted in a 1971 move by the Southwest Craft Center into some of the buildings. Renovation and restoration began in 1975 under Martin & Ortega and has continued since 1977 under Ford, Powell & Carson. Ownership of the historic campus was consolidated in 1981 by the Craft Center, which evolved into the Southwest School of Art and Craft and uses the buildings for classrooms, studios and offices and for a museum, sales gallery and lunchtime restaurant. In 1998 the campus expanded into former commercial space across Navarro Street. The school’s endowment is benefitted by the private, independently operated Club Giraud, housed in the Ursuline’s former stone stables and laundry buildings beside the San Antonio Riverwalk.
‘San Antonio Architecture, Traditions and Visions’, AIA San Antonio, 2007