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San Antonio's Ruby City and Pearl Brewery

During a recent weekend getaway to San Antonio, I was surprised to discover a plethora of first-rate restaurants, charming neighborhoods and restored/ repurposed historic buildings. Unlike in Houston, historic preservation is given more consideration lending the city its unique character and charm for future generations to enjoy.

With a population of 1.4 million, San Antonio is the 7th largest city in the United States and the second largest city in Texas, having surpassed Dallas in population in 2010. The city encompasses 504 square miles and has 28 historic districts. In 2015 the five San Antonio Missions were assigned as World Heritage Sites by the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO. This is one of only 24 such designations in the U.S and the first World Heritage Site in Texas.

Chief among the many enjoyable experiences I had during my short three-day stay, was a visit to Ruby City and The Pearl Brewery District.

Ruby City

photo credit: Hadia Mawlawi

Ruby City, which opened on October 13, 2019, is the modest sized museum conceived and developed by the Linda Pace Foundation. The structure started as a recurring dream that Linda would sketch until eventually handing it over to Sir David Adjaye, O.B.E, the British architect who turned her crimson-hued dream into a reality. Sadly, Linda didn't live to see her dream come to fruition as she died in 2007 at age 62.

Linda Pace was an artist, heiress to the Pace Picante salsa fortune, and ambitious patron of the arts in 1990s San Antonio. She is also the daughter of Margaret Bosshardt whose family once owned the Pearl Brewery. In 1993 she founded Artpace, a contemporary art "laboratory" and nonprofit residency program to support regional, national and international artists.

She formed her foundation in 2003 guided by her belief that contemporary art is essential to a thriving and dynamic society.

In 2007, a month prior to Linda's passing, architect David Adjaye made a site-visit to San Antonio. He toured the San Antonio missions and became enamored with the quality of light through the colonnades, and the idea of a walkable circuit as a meditative tool. Ruby City is his first Texas commission although he is best known in America for his design of the Smithsonian's Museum of African American History and Culture. Ruby City is dubbed the Red Jewel of Texas, a reference to the upper part of the exterior which is made of a red-colored precast concrete embedded with multi-hued crushed glass.

Adjaye describes the $16 million Ruby City as a "Monolithic Treasure Box", ' like an old pueblo house, you don't have a lot of big aperture' to adapt to the hot climate.

The museum is 14,472 square feet and houses Pace's 900-piece art collection, as well as her own art. Many of the pieces are large scale and immersive works, like the room devoted to Isaac Julien's multi-channel video work " Western Union Small Boats" (2007).

photo credit: Hadia Mawlawi- Abramovic's and Do Ho Suh's pieces (see below)

Upon entering the building, visitor's follow a path that leads up from the narrow first floor reception and into a bright second story of angled ceilings and high panoramic windows. It's a breathtaking space, small but carefully curated with a range of eye-catching pieces by local as well as internationally renowned artists. The current exhibition "Waking Dreams" has been on display since its opening in 2019 , with a rehang scheduled for September 2022.

Many pieces caught my attention, including the iron sculpture "Chair for Man and His Spirit" (1993) by Marina Abramovic and Do Ho Suh's "Hub, 3rd Floor, Union Wharf, 23 Wenlock Road, London N17ST, U.K" (2016), which visitors can walk through (see photo above).

Cornelia Parker's Heart of Darkness (2004) and Margarita Cabrera's The Craft of Resistance (2008) are equally compelling in their scale and detail.

photo credit: Hadia Mawlawi: Cornelia Parker's Heart of Darkness (2004)

photo credit: Hadia Mawlawi: Margarita Cabrera's The Craft of Resistance (2008)- Includes 2500 monarch butterflies made out of copper

Visitors leave the gallery space through a narrow staircase that takes them back down to the reception,

photo credit: Hadia Mawlawi

and then out to the patio where they encounter Nancy Rubin's large installation "5,000 lbs. of Sonny's Airplane Parts, Linda's Place and 550 lbs. of Tire-Wire" (1997). The piece is made out of airplane parts, tire-wire and was originally commissioned by Artpace.

photo credit: Hadia Mawlawi- Exterior view showing Nancy Rubin's installation

Adjacent to the museum is a one-acre green space, Chris Park, dedicated to the memory of Linda's son, Chris who died in 1997 at the age of 24 from drug overdose. The park was designed by Teresita Fernandez and opened to the public in 2005. The park also houses an auxilliary gallery and studio. A moving feature is the installation of lights recessed in concrete walk that from above, at night, resembles the constellation of stars the night Chris was born.

photo credit: Hadia Mawlawi- Wednesday's Child conceived by Teresita Hernandez & Linda Pace

Ruby City is a short walk from the King William historic district, Guenther House and the Blue Star Complex. You can enjoy a morning or afternoon strolling in the neighborhood, exploring the historic homes lining the streets, and refuel your energy with a stop at any of the charming restaurants that dot the area. One visually striking restaurant we passed on the way is X Camp outpost Co. I wish we had time to check it out.

The Pearl Brewery

The Pearl Brewery was developed in 1883 and was first known as the City Brewery. In 1887, the brewery found the product that would become its signature brew: Pearl Beer. A new brewhouse was constructed in 1894 and soon became symbolic of San Antonio industry. By 1916, it was the largest brewery in Texas bottling up to 110,000 barrels a year. The brewery overcame many challenges thanks to the business acumen of Emma Koehler, the wife of the manager/ president of the company, Otto Koehler, including pivoting the business during the Prohibition (1920-1933) when it bottled soft drinks, performed dry-cleaning, opened an auto-repair shop and changed its name to The Alamo Foods Company.

It operated as a brewery from 1883-2002 when the 22-acre site was purchased by Silver Ventures, a private equity firm led by Linda Pace's former husband, Christopher (Kit) Goldsbury. He began to convert the site into a mixed-use development that included retail, restaurants, the Emma Hotel (opened in 2015) and the Culinary Institute of America, which opened in 2010, and is the institute's third U.S campus.

photo credit: Hadia Mawlawi

I visited The Pearl on a Sunday in March. It was a sunny, crisp spring day and the central plaza was brimming with activity. There was the bi-weekly Farmer's Market selling all sorts of ware including specialty foods, artisanal craft and local produce. Passers-by were sipping coffee, the beautifully restored buildings creating a solid architectural boundary around which community gathering and interactions could occur. My husband and I were spoilt for choice when it came time to eat. The Pearl has a diverse selection of eateries to choose from depending on your taste and budget. You will not leave hungry but you will leave wanting to return and bring friends and enjoy the possibility for new encounters and fresh discoveries.

photo credit: Hadia Mawlawi

Here's a list of retailers at The Pearl.

photo credit: Hadia Mawlawi

It's always a good thing when you leave a place when there is still plenty more to see. That's how I feel about San Antonio. Next time, I want to visit all five missions (I only managed to see Mission San Jose, also known as The Queen of the Missions) and Confluence Park designed by Lake|Flato architects, Matsys and Rialto Studios, and make more time to walk the expanded river walk that is now 15.2 miles in length, extending beyond the crowded portion of the downtown section.

Stay Tuned and I hope you are encouraged to book yourself a weekend stay in San Antonio! Just don't go during the sweltering summer months.

Further reading:

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