There are many beautiful historic buildings throughout downtown San Antonio. Many have more history than we realize! One of those is The Milam Building located at 115 E. Travis in the heart of the city’s business district. Villa Finale’s staff had the honor of receiving a personal tour from Sam Trevino and Diane Coliz who are part of the building’s staff.
Built in 1928 and designed by architect George Willis, The Milam was not only the tallest brick and concrete-reinforced structure in the United States when it was built, it was also the first air-conditioned commercial high-rise in the world (21 stories). It was named after Colonel Ben Milam who led 300 volunteers into San Antonio in December 1835 in an attempt to take it from the Mexican army. According to our guide Sam Trevino, the building was a hub of activity after it opened. Businesses were found on the ground level, including a barbershop and the Milam Drugstore & Diner (that closed its doors in 2011), and other shops, including a bridal boutique on the basement level. People from all over the city and tourists would come into the building to get away from the heat and wonder at The Milam’s engineering feat.
The original air conditioning engineer, Willis Carrier, designed a system that steadily delivered just over 300 tons of cooling capacity to all the businesses on the ground and basement levels plus the 750 offices throughout the building. The temperature throughout was kept at 80 degrees in the summer with 55 percent humidity and in the winter 70 degrees with 45 percent humidity. Although the system has been updated twice, in 1945 and 1989, one can still see the original footprint in the mechanical room located at the basement level. The basement level also contains an area which the Milam staff would like to one day connect to the River Walk located adjacent to this part of the structure. Of course, being a historic building, much planning and working with the Historic Design Review Commission is needed to accomplish this construction.
In addition to the milestone in climate control achieved at The Milam, visitors could also marvel at the beautifully hand-carved wood in the lobby which displays a lot of the charm found in business structures in Chicago and New York. The allure of the lobby is carried through to its elevators and mail-carrying system which can still be seen and remains in use. One of the highlights of our tour was seeing the incredible view of San Antonio from the roof-top … simply amazing!
Today, The Milam remains a commercial structure – we were told the building is at 72 percent occupancy – it also hosts special events, pop-up shops, art exhibitions and charitable events like the Texas Special Olympics “Over the Edge” event where donors can rappel down the side of the building beginning at the 22nd floor! (See a video of the event by clicking here.) Guests are always welcome to visit Lula’s Mexican Cafe (which opened in the summer of 2011 at the original site of the Milam Drugstore & Diner), tour the building, ask about hosting a special event or rent office space with 24-hour access. While modern office buildings may have amenities not found in historic structures, none can compare to the charm and nostalgia found at places like The Milam! Next time you’re in downtown San Antonio, walk into the building and experience it for yourself!
A special thanks to Sam Trevino of Milam maintenance and Diane Coliz of Red Star Property Management, Inc. for their hospitality! For information about rental space within The Milam, visit www.themilambuilding.com or www.redstarproperties.com. (Photos by Orlando Cortinas)