Local residents Dr. Kellen Kee McIntyre and her husband, Eric Lane, set their eyes on a hidden treasure found on the lot of a salvage yard.
McIntyre, an architecture historian, saw the potential in the vandalized and run down white stone, German-style masonry home.
Bihl Haus Arts, a non-profit organization and renovated art studio located at 2803 Fredericksburg Road, operates year-round as a gallery and provides activities to seniors in the area.
Located in west central San Antonio, the building sits on the premises of newly built senior living apartments. The organization improves the lives of the community through art by featuring local artists in the surrounding neighborhoods and offering free classes to seniors in San Antonio.
The organization offers five to six art shows a year produced by individual artists; other shows include dance performances, poetry readings and social commentary.
The interior is made up of 20-foot high ceilings with wooden beams running across. Windows bring in natural light from all sides of the building. Floors are made of wooden planks dating back over 100 years and white painted walls are decorated with art from several artists hanging in different mediums.
Built in 1920 by George David Bihl, Bihl Haus Arts went through several owners until it reached the hands of McIntyre, the organization’s executive director.
The last owner had a salvage yard with the Bihl Haus structure sitting on the property. The metal building was eventually torn down, but Bihl Haus remained.
“They peeled this metal envelope off the building, kind of like you open a can of sardines, and out popped this building,” McIntyre said.
After the salvage yard was torn down, Bihl Haus was surrounded by vacant space and left to the elements. It became run down, vandalized with shattered windows and covered in graffiti. McIntyre saw the building and said, “We fell in love… I knew it was historically significant.”
Aileen Bihl-Locklar, daughter of George David Bihl, said stones for the Bihl Haus were taken from the Old Saint Mary’s Church in 1870, who had taken the stones from the fence around the Alamo.
“The stones had come from a barricade that the American military built around the Alamo,” McIntyre said. “The stones have been through two or three uses.”
McIntyre, worked with Brian Potashnik, owner of Southwest Housing, Inc., and proposed the idea of creating housing for senior citizens in the neighborhood, eventually building Primrose at Monticello Park Senior Apartments.
There are maximum allowable household income limitations and the building can house up to 248 seniors who do not need to be artists themselves to become residents. . With the cooperation of both private interests and local public interests, they were able to provide an art space for the community.
Bihl Haus founded On and Off Fredericksburg Road Studio Tour 10 years ago, to help artists who lived in the neighborhood have a place to showcase their work.
Developed with the help of several artists, the On and Off Studio Tour has expanded past the walls of Bihl Haus and into the surrounding community.
Local businesses in the area also participate in the tour. It includes pop-up galleries along Fredericksburg Road and the Deco District.
The tour, open only on the third weekend of February every year, hosts three full days of local artists displaying their paintings, sculptures, photographs and much more.
Artists age range from 20 to 70 years of age.
“It’s really a wonderful, diverse array of art,” McIntyre said. “And our artists are also very diverse. They come from very different backgrounds.”
As a service to the residents, Bihl Haus Arts founded GO! Arts, the Golden Opportunity Arts Program, which offers weekly classes set up for painting, crafting, creative writing and yoga.
Seniors who take part are known as ‘Goldens’ and all classes are free to Primrose residents. Started in 2007, it has expanded to 18 sites around the city, teaching 40 classes a week to more than 400 seniors around the city.
Along with offering free classes to the seniors, they also offer the opportunity to volunteer as docents.
“The people that are docents are so cooperative and so willing to help,” co-chair of the docent committee, Yolanda Leal, 77, said.
As a requirement to volunteer as a docent, the seniors must take part in one of the classes. Primrose resident, Adela Vergara, 69, enjoys the classes as well as volunteering.
“You stay away from everything, your problems, your pain,” Vergara said. “ You enjoy everything. When you start, you don’t want to stop.”
“We appreciate what they are doing for us,” Vergara said in reference to what Bihl Haus Arts has done for the community.
Yolanda Leal shared a similar sentiment: “Bihl Haus offers me the opportunity to do a lot of things that I love to do.”