A House Restored

On the very spot where Ben Milam issued his well-known challenge, “Who will go with old Ben Milam into San Antonio?” Where Winston Churchill’s own mother and other dignitaries visited. And in the home of a woman who gave us the Battle of Flowers parade, the city’s first free library, the Art League and Symphony …

History will be made once again as Providence Catholic School, 1215 N. St. Mary’s Street, officially dedicates the Najim Campus Center – Drought House, Thursday, May 13.

One of only a few such historic homes from its era in this part of downtown still remaining, the home of Henry and Ethel Drought was built by Atlee B. Ayres in 1901, and has served as the centerpiece of the Providence campus since the Congregation of Divine Providence purchased the property in 1950.  

With the addition of three middle-school grades at Providence in recent years, and the subsequent expanding student population, the $1.8 million Drought House project began in 2005 to capitalize on the vacant space, and restore the original beauty of the home while adapting it for use as a Campus Center.

The grand entry and main floor, which features an ornate staircase, two imported-tile hearths, original wood floors, leaded bay windows and soaring ceilings, will serve as a special event space, available by appointment to the Providence community and general public. A catering kitchen and accessible restrooms update the 3,000-square-foot level. The second floor of the Center has been converted into a state-of-the-art Library and Learning Resource Center for use by the school’s 350 students and faculty. The third floor will house advancement and admissions offices and staff, relieving space in the main building for classrooms. An elevator provides access between all three floors.

For all who step on to the historic property along the banks of the San Antonio River, the Drought House is a focal point and landmark, making it hard to imagine the home falling to the fate of a wrecking ball and demolition crew. Yet, nearly 14 years ago, that was its destiny.

The restoration and renovation was made possible by a $1 million grant from the Harvey E. Najim Foundation, as well as generous gifts from James and Estela Avery (‘70), the San Antonio Conservation Society, The Scanlan Foundation, The Strake Foundation, and many other alumni and friends of Providence.

Last month, the project was recognized by the San Antonio Downtown Alliance with a BEST Award in the category of Adaptive Use – Work in Progress.

Work on restoration of the house is under the direction of historical architectural consultant Lloyd W. Jary, FAIA, CSI, and contractor Bill Cox of Construction Specialties. The principal of Providence Catholic is Sister Antoinette Billeaud, CDP.

The Dedication and Ribbon-Cutting ceremony begins at 10 a.m. on the campus. The House will be available for tours following the ceremony, and by appointment after the event (210-224-6651).


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