NEW BRAUNFELS — If the R.B. Richter family could visit downtown New Braunfels, they might recognize their two early 1900s buildings, even though colorful fresh paint covers the old brick.
But inside, the family would take a swift trip to the 21st century.
Nestled together at 148 and 168 W. San Antonio St., the two Richter buildings have been recycled into functioning high-tech destinations and complete digital environments.
One, identified by its “1910” stone sign above, is the home of a handful of New Braunfels businesses. The second, marked “1920,” is the renovated Richter Center for community activities.
Both buildings are monuments to the idea that renovation of older structures is not only economically, environmentally and aesthetically sensible, but the “green” trend of the future.
The developer behind these projects, as well as Seekatz Opera House across the street, is Ron Snider, an entrepreneur who grew up in inner-city Indianapolis, Ind., and traces his love of old buildings to those years.
“These are antiques,” said Snider, giving a tour of the two Richter buildings recently. “They’re irreplaceable.”
Snider’s passion is the acquisition and remodeling of old structures, with a definite commercial intention of making them profitable and beautiful.
He and his family came to New Braunfels in 1982 and “fell in love” with the city. More than that, he realized the value of the town’s traditional structures and condemned the heartless practice of razing an architectural heritage.
In the 1990s, with buying and remodeling partner Darrell Sollberger, Snider acquired first the 1910 building, then the 1920 structure.
“Ron had a vision,” Sollberger said. “It took me about a year and a half to see it.”
Today, the 1920 building is the site of the Richter Center, a multipurpose community space, including conference rooms and catering kitchen, and the studio home of NB.com. One of the first groups to use it was New Braunfels Art League, located across the street, which is presenting a show of league members’ art through Feb. 2, 2011.
When remodeling the structures, Snider and Sollberger found a few surprises. After the plaster was removed in a stairwell from what was once the outside wall of the 1910 building, workers discovered the familiar script of the red Coca-Cola logo, long ago painted on the wall, and the word “refreshing.” The sign was restored and runs up the stairway wall to the second floor of the 1920 building.
Also in the 1920 building, workers found moisture leaks and had to rip out the wall board that hid the original brick. Snider decided he liked the look, and visitors today can touch the original clay brick that dates from a time “when there was still dirt on the roads out there,” Sollberger said.
From old newspapers found in the remodeling of the 1920 building, Snider estimates that it was last occupied in 1974.
Originally, the 1920 structure, built by Richter at that time, was the side yard of the 1910 building. A balcony overlooked the space, which at various times was used for lawn bowling, showing silent movies and as a play place for children.
The new building was designed as a medical arts center, and the small rooms once were rented to men in those professions. Today, those offices are part of a building that has the ability to teleconference anywhere in the world.
In the remodeling, wherever possible, the original East Texas yellow pine wooden floors were preserved.
“We did a light sanding and put down oil,” Sollberger said.
The original iron support columns were saved and run in a line from front to back in the spacious 3,000-square-foot first floor. Still in place outside on the curbs, built in 1897, are the iron anchors that held rings to which horses were tied.
The 1910 building, once the R.B. Richter drug store, features a small stained-glass transom window facing West San Antonio Street, a series of wrought-iron balconies and a narrow glass door on one of those balconies. The upper floor, where the Richter family once lived above their shop, is now a private residence. The ground floor is the site for more business, including RE/MAX River Cities, which is new in town.
Many old buildings, Snider said, are still standing because of quality workmanship — masonry construction, a raised site and good soil structure.
“They would never build on sand or a river bottom.” The Richter walls are 16 inches thick.
Also, the buildings feature high-tech “zoned heating,” a throwback to the past that, he said, is more efficient.
Snider is contemptuous of modern box-like buildings that lack style, are designed to be speedily functional and look the same. He puts his money on the past, even though city regulations and construction costs can complicate a project.
“Carbon-copy development increases the value of old buildings,” he said.
In New Braunfels, there are a lot of buildings that haven’t been redone, Snider said. Those old structures “are still a great buy.”