LCRA History 1

The plant was built in 1926 as a hydroelectric facility sited to take advantage of the Comal River canal excavated in the 1800s alongside Landa Park Drive. It was converted to pulverized lignite coal and in 1927 and was the largest power plant west of the Mississippi, providing power to New Braunfels and San Antonio and to virtually every power grid then existing east of the Rockies. The building survived several floods and droughts as well as the first energy crisis of the 1970s before it was closed down for good in 1973.

Submitted photo


A New Braunfels landmark as important to this city’s skyline as New York’s Empire State Building and visible for miles around at night is about to get a new look in the wake of a City Council vote this week.

The management of the former Comal/LCRA power plant at Landa Street and Landa Park Drive sought permits from the city Monday night to change the iconic LCRA sign on its roof to one eponymous with the name of the project — The Landmark — a mixed-use residential community that includes an on-site pool, garden-style and rehabbed high-rise Industrial Age urban loft apartments with a panoramic South Texas view, a spa, fitness center and other amenities — all built out of what was once the largest power plant west of the Mississippi River and once the largest pulverized coal power plant in the world.

It was closed in 1973 and sat as an idle eyesore for three decades as LCRA decided whether to demolish it or try to recycle it into something spectacular.

A seasonal tourist hotel was considered, but plans fell through because with the huge up-front costs of over $30 million, it wouldn’t be financially viable.

Along came Austin architect Larry Peel who had a vision of preserving a historic landmark — the building is on the National Register of Historic Places — and creating an upscale community inside. To defray the costs of creating 100 or so apartments nestled around the walls and four soaring atriums in the old building, New Braunfels permitted Peel to build an additional 178 garden-style apartments in buildings spread across the 23-acre site, which is bermed to reduce the impact of the nearby electric substation.

“It’s basically a building built inside a building,” Peel told the city and the Chamber of Commerce in 2002.

Property manager Jerry Turner and Greg Burkette of San Antonio-based Southwest Signs made the presentation to Council Monday evening explaining that they were looking to upgrade the look and perhaps draw a little more attention to the 12-story building believed to be the tallest in the city. 

They sought approval of two concepts as part of a conditional use permit — the one to change the sign on the roof of the building and one to combine a total of three permitted “monument” style masonry signs into one larger sign of 268 square feet on the corner of the property to help make it and its combined residential, retail and business uses more prominent at ground level. 

In the end, Council would agree on a 5-2 vote (with Mayor Barron Casteel and Mayor Pro Tem Wayne Peters casting the “nay” votes) to allow the change to the roof sign, but met the applicants in the middle on the monument signs in a compromise brokered by District 2 Councilman Justin Meadows, approving a sign of up to 200 square feet instead of the 144 square feet allowed under the sign ordinance in exchange for the applicant agreeing not to erect other signs on the property allowed under the sign ordinance.

The existing 6-foot letters on the rooftop, which do not now conform to the city’s sign ordinance are grandfathered in as pre-existing, just as are those at nearby Wurstfest. The new sign would be increased in height by 6 inches and because the proposed sign has more letters, it will be necessarily longer than the 52-foot length of the LCRA sign — but only just because the letters on the new sign will be much closer together.

Turner told Council the hope was that the new signage would help invite people into the community and help Landmark Lofts advertise itself and what it has to offer to change any possible perceptions that it is merely an apartment complex.

“For this great community asset to live up to its potential and Mr. Peel’s vision, we need to brand it a way that will be attractive to retail, office or a top-tier restaurant,” Turner said. “To attract a quality commercial tenant, we need to have the signage there.”

Peel had been unable to attract the kind of retail or commercial tenants who were part of the original high-end, multi-use concept for the building, Turner said, in part because of its location, which wasn’t close to other retail and its low commercial traffic volume.

Signage that highlighted the property’s uniqueness and multi-uses would help, Turner believes.

The monument sign would feature on its top tier the building’s THE LANDMARK logo just as it would appear on the roof. The second line, in stylized script, would say, “It’s About Lifestyle,” and the bottom line would read:  OFFICE • RETAIL • RESIDENTIAL.

District 3 Councilman Ron Reaves expressed concern about changing the roof sign, asking if the building’s historic designation would be affected, and was assured that it would not because that sign, erected by LCRA, did not date back to the days it was built and known as the Comal Power Plant.

And while the LCRA sign will be coming off the roof, it will not be leaving the property.

Turner said Landmark Lofts and the Sophienburg Museum and Archives are making plans to collaborate on a display inside the building in which the sign, installed on a wall, would provide the centerpiece of a historic museum first envisioned by Peel and described to the Herald-Zeitung in 2002.

Peters said he had concerns about allowing the monument size to exceed the city’s regulations

“I will not support this because I would like to see this sign on the corner to be reduced in size, to that allowed by the sign ordinance,” Peters said, wondering what the impact on the applicant would be if the sign was reduced to the 144 square feet allowed by the regulations. Casteel agreed.

“I cannot support any sign that’s larger than the ordinance allows,” Casteel said.

Burkette, whose company designed both signs, was nonplussed by the position of Peters and Casteel.

He noted that the sign was being penalized by the ordinance for its best features — the use of blank space he said shouldn’t even be considered when considering the size of the sign and the stylish decorative edges designed to tie the sign into the building’s historic brick appearance.

Meadows, the District 2 Councilman sought to assuage Burkette’s sense of hurt.

“I agree it’s an attractive sign, but our signs have to be consistent across the community,” Meadows said. “Would a sign with 24-inch letters (instead of 27-inch) make that much of a difference? Would it make that much difference if the sign (approved by Council) was 30 percent smaller than what you’re requesting?”

Turner and Burkette seemed reluctant.

“For us to attract a top-tier restaurant from San Antonio or Austin, we have to have the signage there,” Turner said, perhaps for the third time emphasizing a prospective high-rolling tenant needs to feel invited to be there to make the kind of necessary investment.

“The have to see and share our vision that this is where you want to be in New Braunfels, he said.

Peters wasn’t willing to budge and ultimately he would vote against the proposal. Casteel, also not willing to support the size of the sign out of concerns it could dominate the entrance to Landa Park, asked Turner and Burkette if they could accept an approval for a 200-square-foot sign as a way of avoiding going through the process of coming back.

In the end, the pair were really left with little choice because it was clear that the approval would not be forthcoming for a 268-square-foot sign.

“Amen,” Burkette said. 

About the building

Peel and his Larry Peel Company is famed for environmentally friendly projects that often upcycle existing structures and combine them with modern, state-of-the-industry features. He is also famed and well-respected for his collaborative workstyle in which he invites input and works with environmentalists to create one-of-a-kind communities. He has won numerous awards and worked with organizations that include The Nature Conservancy. Locally, his projects include communities like the Bee Cave located in the Barton Creek greenbelt in West Austin, Waters Edge and Village Park on the South Fork of the San Gabriel River in Georgetown, Purgatory Creek in San Marcos and many, many others in a career that goes back to the 1970s.

Peel and his investors built the New Braunfels project a decade ago in a local architectural white elephant that was well on its way to becoming an albatross at a cost of more than $20 million — after the Lower Colorado River Authority spent another $12 million gutting the plant and remediating various hazardous materials found inside and on the site. An important part of the funding came from tax credits Peel was able to secure for keeping the building’s historic appearance, including an apparent hodgepodge of creaky old steel-framed windows he would build apartments around to preserve the “look” of the building, including some windows that remained from the World War II era that were blacked out so the building couldn’t be seen at night should Axis bombers show up over South Texas.

The plant was built in 1926 as a hydroelectric facility sited to take advantage of the Comal River canal excavated in the 1800s alongside Landa Park Drive. It was converted to pulverized lignite coal and in 1927 with its four boilers that soared 120 feet to the roof was the largest power plant west of the Mississippi, providing power to New Braunfels and San Antonio and to virtually every power grid then existing east of the Rockies. The building was designed to be doubled to eight boilers by adding on to the rear of the facility, but that never happened.

During the 1930s Great Depression, the plant participated in the Rural Electrification Agency’s efforts to get electricity out into the country’s most rural areas and farms.

During World War II, the plant was pressed into nonstop, 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week full power operation to help power the war effort, and the War Department ordered its windows blacked out to prevent the leakage of light that could help an enemy locate and damage or destroy an asset vital to the military industrial complex.

The building survived several floods and droughts as well as the first energy crisis of the 1970s before it was closed down for good in 1973.

For more information on The Landmark, go to

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(1) comment


I would highly recommend screen board signs for the purpose of this new project. This is because the sign needs to be seen from miles away and dynamic and colorful screen board signs can fulfill that task. They are attractive in the sense that they are lighted up so they are easy to catch the attention of passers-by even from miles away. They could also be used to serve other purposes like providing information and such by using only one sign.

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