Moving the Fairmount Hotel, San Antonio

San Antonio a city on the move rich in beautiful natural resources rich in history a city with the perfect combination of the new and the old here in San Antonio people recognize the importance of preserving a heritage that has helped mold a charm and personality the unique to the world it's probably one of the few places where people would rally to save a building that have been vacant for years now you may wonder why in the world would anyone want to save let alone move a 1,650 ton brick building built back in 1906 it's one of the few examples of a building that's in the exact condition all of us is when it was built it's deteriorated but it's never been renovated substantially on the upper floors which provides us a real unique opportunity to go in and preserve that character Cheers all today very clear idea of what it was like to stay in a hotel in 1906 it was back in 1980 when the Fairmont looked like it was doomed for the bulldozers that is until one of the best organized conservation societies in the nation stepped in with an agreement from shopping-mall developers who owned the hotel they San Antonio Conservation Society bargained for enough time to move the historic building enter Virginia van Steinberg Tom Wright BK Johnson and a city government willing to help next came the Porsche for someone to move the Fairmont and somewhere to move it to the first question was answered when the firm of emmert International was called in the second when the city leased vacant property at the intersection of Nueva and Alamo Street to the Fairmont Hotel Company almost immediately work started on the largest move ever attempted on we are carrying his head wall rusty Gorman is part of a highly talented crew from Emmert international for almost two months prior to the move rusty has been getting the three million pound structure ready he explains that it takes precise calculations and just the right equipment to make it happen and with both elements on his side rusty says chances of an accident are virtually eliminated as it deserves a considerable amount of on our part but that's not to overshadow the logistics is simply moving a building of this size it's that's a challenging task but that's well defined and something that we've been through before man in February 1985 tests were conducted at the new site to ensure the foundation was firm shortly after heavy equipment moved in to begin the digging but on February 16th preparation at the new site came to a halt another part of San Antonio's history had been uncovered within 24 hours a University of Texas San Antonio archeological team and scores of volunteers were sifting through the dirt looking for artifacts realizing the importance developers delayed the project two weeks it's a delay that pays off as items dating back to 1836 and used in the Battle of the Alamo are found in fact they bayonets cannon and musket balls indicate this was the battle site of Santa Anna's army as they prepared for their attack on the animal for their patience and assistance in the dig developer is van Steinberg and right did not go unnoticed when evidence was found from the monitoring that more archaeological investigations would be needed mr. riot and mrs. van Steinberg cooperated fully by providing the additional budget and time in a project constrained already by rigid deadlines for the archaeologists to complete the on-site investigation and the date of recovery process meanwhile work was still progressing at the Fairmont by mid-march the building was separated from the foundation and steel supports were in place underneath dollies and Jack's used to lift the Fairmont were ready to do just that it's a process called shoring it requires a sophisticated a hydraulic system and no less than 800 thousand pounds of Timbers as moving day grows nearer the Fairmont is reinforced with steel beams and cables to ensure that it will hold together during the move and the route which it will travel is inspected additional support is added to the Market Street bridge everything checks out okay and the final go-ahead is given to move the Fairmont from Commerce Street on we then turned down market across the bridge and finally make the turn onto Alamo Street and proceed to its new home talking about it is one thing now it's time to really move Saturday March 30th well before dawn the streets around the hotel come alive representatives from dozens of city agencies gathered to plan strategy with the owners architects and the moving company CPS they've got a polar mode and water board for plate you all have the planning ready to go outside preparations have already begun as street lights that would ultimately be in the path of the fairmont are taken down metal plates weighing over a ton each are placed on the pavement to protect an underground water line with everything in order Emmert internationals rusty Gorman makes final preparations for getting the move underway let's just take a few minutes and get the sand by mid-afternoon a hundreds of spectators encircle the old hotel watching it like proud parents watch a baby take its first few steps police move the barricades back and even news photographers are cleared from the area finally at 3:02 Saturday afternoon the 79 year old hotel rolls no more than a foot or so a small dent in the project but enough to delight on lookers and as the Fairmont made its way on to Commerce Street there was praise for the people involved in saving a part of San Antonio's past well there's no question but the San Antonio is getting a lot of credit for its conservation activities across the country as a result of this project it's drawing a lot of attention to what we've known for a long time and that is that there's a very strong conservation ethic here by the end of Saturday the intersection that buoy and commerce was cleared and crews had begun to take timbers to the new location the end of the first long grueling day a day in which success was measured in inches Sunday March 31st how do you turn a three million pound three-story brick building obviously very slowly very gently and with precise maneuvering of the dollies which support the building well make the first pole from where they are because it'll only take about ten feet and it'll be around see you then you start pointing you're the first ones around you take that end truck off and bring it around to this side and look Brutus onto it and Brutus will pull from there from over here to help this corner get around but turn it they did and onto Market Street the Fairmont King with sunny skies and temperatures in the 90s people by the thousands lined Market Street to watch it roll what do you think of all the excitement today it was worth coming from Milwaukee to see it but we happen to be here and this is very interesting I think it's nice I live here I think it's nice good for joinin billion absolutely in the conservation society what do you think about all this excitement hoping to get across the Market Street bridge before sundown Terry Emirates crew works feverishly but as the lavel trucks used as ballast and the wishes which do the pulling in along there are still final preparations being made under the bridge then word that in order to be extra safe the fairmont will not cross until monday allowing a few more hours of work on the bridge rather than a setback the crew views it as a welcome break in the incredibly hectic schedule working out for three weeks night after night until seven o'clock eight o'clock getting up at five o'clock in the morning 4:30 so to get a couple hours off is just great looking back on the day pete Friesen says they have accomplished a great deal and a good night's sleep will make them ready for tomorrow which may prove to be the most intense day of the move but for now it's time to relax as the crew and others involved celebrate the project at a Fiesta style block party San Antonio style Monday April 1st early morning on the third day of the move of the fairmont hotel the hotel just in the background on Market Street about to be pulled over the Market Street bridge Terry Emmert of the hammered International has been checking under the bridge this morning making certain that the last of the shoring is in place and that the bridge will withstand the weight of the building we expect that move should be getting underway in a short time and once the hotel is over the bridge and it's an easy pull down to the south alamo street corner and then of course the slow negotiation of that corner on the final turn the Market Street bridge over the famed San Antonio Riverwalk was never intended to carry weight of this type but today it will make engineering history the hotel is pulled to the edge of the bridge and the trucks are moved forward so that the building will spend as little time as possible actually on the bridge underneath the bridge the city's safety inspector has wedged a glass bottle if it breaks it means the bridge is giving way but within minutes the excitement of Emirates crew indicates there is no problem not giving anything across it goes hurtling one of the biggest obstacles a feat that ends in celebration you're all over the bridge I've got to have your reaction pigeons were roosting while the building was rolling over the bridge said nearest didn't even move that was our last test the pigeons jumped off we were all diving in the water over the bridge safely I was standing under the bridge when they went over it I loved it it was a beautiful sight a beautiful view but the work for Monday has just begun there is another turn to make and it is the most difficult turn of the journey when I come I keep sweeping the curb but see I'm gonna supposed to be coming my schedule color comes called for me to come right in through here through the arc thousands of people still lined the route and it seems some have become more than just casual observers and that crane starts winch it and all those cables just transfer the way from each one of those trucks and pulls the whole thing to straight and they go I guess maybe about ten feet at a time yeah and then they'll move the trucks forward in the crane this morning it started right there at the Hilton and it's made at this point system everyone rallies behind the Fairmont wishing it good luck and everyone agrees they've never seen anything quite like this oh I think it's great very I'm enjoying looking it's pretty something I'm paying something like we've never seen before something I'll never see again his father country show you something late in the day the turn on to South Alamos Street is complete and the Fairmont is now into the homestretch somewhat behind schedule like the two before it today has been long yet highly successful Tuesday April 2nd with much of the hardest work behind them today is spent moving the Fairmont the rest of the way down south Alamo Street and parking it in front of the new site materials for the new foundation are still being brought in it is apparent the project will remain slightly behind the original schedule Wednesday April 3rd come wednesday Emmert internationals crew begins adjusting the dollies for the turning and backing of the Fairmont onto its new foundation it's another tedious and extremely difficult step toward the hotel's new address 401 South Alamo Street Thursday April 4th by late Thursday the Fairmont had moved its last inch there were no huge crowds no party just a handful of satisfied and tired people who since early 1985 had been working relentlessly to see that project successfully completed but it's just the end of the story for some of the people for others it's just beginning as renovation of the historic building gets underway and by 1986 the Fairmont will take on a new look new yes but still adhering to the concept of Van Steinberg right and Johnson that the building must retain the charm of the turn-of-the-century original Fairmont Hotel it's that tradition of preserving the best of the old that has given San Antonio its world uniqueness

17 thoughts on “Moving the Fairmount Hotel, San Antonio

  1. "We're gonna take Bikini Bottom, AND PUSH IT SONEWHERE ELSE!" Lol, but really an incredible piece of SA history!


  3. What a great video. I never knew that hotel was moved. You can feel the sense of pride from the accomplishment of this colosal task completed here in the great city of San Antonio. Thank you for sharing this video with me Heather.

  4. I was there for the Saturday and Sunday. It is a sight that I will never forget. I was telling a co-worker about it and found this video. Thanks for posting it.

  5. I produced this short film in the mid 80's and never dreamed that a copy of it still existed! Bob Guthrie, the narrator, was the voice of San Antonio back then and we used 8mm film cameras for the time lapse. My apologies about the music, it's pretty cheesy.

  6. Stayed in this beautiful place for a few days in 1991 NOV. Had no idea it was moved and restored. Still have fond memories of my short visit. I was visiting from New York. Thanks for the post

  7. I was on the first corner when it turned. I watched a styrofoam coffee cup on a beam that never fell off. 🙂

  8. Absolutely incredible. Thank you for finding this video and sharing it. I just returned from my first visit to San Antonio when I heard the incredible story of the hotel. This is living proof that we (in America) have the capacity to save anything.

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