Here now, Past Lives, in which Curbed contributor Chris Berger explores what some of the country's most interesting residential buildings used to be before they became livable homes. Care to suggest a building with a fascinating past life? Do drop us a line.
Power plants aren't typically civic treasures—especially when they're built near a fragile natural resource—but that's exactly the case of the plant in New Braunfels, Texas. Located between San Antonio and Austin, New Braunfels is home to The Landmark, once the largest power station of its kind west of the Mississippi. The powerhouse's turbines stopped spinning decades ago, but it is now the centerpiece of a residential and commercial development that has reactivated a long-vacant tract of Texas suburbia.
Just before the Civil War, industrial structures, drawn to the hydroelectric potential of Comal Springs, sprouted like daisies, though none were as colossal as the Comal Power Plant. Opened in 1926, the eight-story building, constructed by the United Gas Improvement Company to power San Antonio, was, weirdly, not an eyesore. Though Comal Power Plant's brick, Classical Revival exterior disguised the turbulent machines inside, the effects of the machines could not be contained: the lignite coal-burning boilers puked so much fly ash that plants died at a nearby nursery. By the end of the decade, the facility doubled in size and switched over to natural gas. The station was crucial to the operation of area military training bases during World War II, but faltered with postwar energy needs, ultimately shuttering in 1973.
Over the next 20 years, rodents and birds moved in. Though it wasn't required, the LCRA met with New Braunfels officials in the mid-'90s to discuss the site's future. LCRA offered two options: demolition or rehabilitation. Seventy years after the Comal Power Plant dumped pollutants on its surroundings, locals wanted it saved, unable to think of a New Braunfels without those twin smokestacks.
Then came the revitalization slog. Because oil and PCBs tainted the grounds, and the structure maintained a suite of asbestos, lead paint, and pigeon poop, cleanup took half a decade and $12M. But what to make it? Some wanted an arts center, others a hotel. In the end, the approximately 30-acre property sold for $675K to a developer developer with his eyes on residences. Three years and $19.3M later, The Landmark began finding tenants.
Of the original structure, much was retained: the cavernous clubhouse, for example, still brags the turbine room's steel mechanisms and banks of windows. The 108 residences, which go for $800 to $2,900 a month, boast high ceilings, concrete floors, and historic steel, concrete and brick walls. Also on the property? Offices, a restaurant, and six vacation rentals, plus a fitness center and spa. Photos, below.
Photos via The Landmark
· All Past Lives columns [Curbed National]
· Landmark Lofts [official site]
· Defunct Comal Power Plant in New Braunfels Finds New Life as a Hotel. [Austin Chronicle]
· Comal Power Plant [Comal City Government official site]