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West Sixth Street’s Iron Bear faces demolition 

Thursday, March 24, 2022 by James Christenson

The Iron Bear, an LGBTQ-friendly bar “for bears, by bears” that is open to all, is facing the prospect of relocating. A permit to demolish the bar’s West Sixth location is currently being reviewed by the city.

The demolition permit sparked debate over the building’s architectural character, historic significance and community value during February’s Historic Landmark Commission meeting.

“We’re losing all of our warehouses downtown – the warehouses where people gather, people of all sorts. The gay and lesbian community kept downtown alive when it was dying, and kept it alive in the warehouse districts,” Commissioner Kevin Koch said. “Although I think this particular building doesn’t have much of a chance to (be preserved), I think that everyone needs to hear the importance of these gathering places.”

The Iron Bear has been at 301 W. Sixth St. since February 2020. Before that, the bar had operated out of 121 W. Eighth St. for nearly nine years, but was ultimately not offered a renewal on that lease. Now it may have to find a new home again. 

The Drenner Group’s Leah Bojo represented the building’s owner, Sixth & Lavaca 2018 LP, at the hearing to determine whether the demolition permit would move forward or whether the city would push for historic zoning instead. Despite the owner’s opposition to historic zoning, preservation staff recommended historic zoning based on the building’s architecture and historic associations.

The warehouse at the corner of West Sixth and Lavaca was constructed around 1919. Some of the past businesses that have occupied the building include a series of ice cream companies in the 1920s; Capital Seed House from 1939-1959; and Lindsay Auto Electric from 1937-1959. 

Bojo disputed the idea that the building should become a historic landmark due to its historical associations and architecture. She pointed to a large awning that once wrapped around the building, noting that its absence in the present day was an indication that the exterior of the building was “considerably different” than it had been in the past. She also pointed out new openings, painted brick and changes to the building’s windows.

“It’s not rare, nor is it from a significant architect, builder or artisan,” Bojo argued. “It does not possess value as a particularly fine or unique example of a utilitarian or vernacular structure, and it’s not one of a kind.”

She told the commission that the Texas Lottery Commission building is a better example of the building’s design. That building, which is in a national and local historic district, is located on the corner of East Sixth and Red River streets.

Ace Villanueva, a patron of the bar, asked for more time to get the word out about the possible demolition so people could come up with a community solution for preserving the bar. 

“I feel like our community deserves a little more time to gather and to counsel,” he said. “Because I don’t feel like right now they’re made aware of such an important decisionsomething that could definitely affect us as a community.”

Historic Landmark commissioners voted to postpone the case and reopen the public hearing at the commission’s next meeting on March 28.

“We are choking downtown to death with towers, and we are at a tipping point,” said Koch, who made the motion to postpone the case. “I think something has to be done about it, and people need an opportunity to speak about it.”

Elizabeth Pagano contributed to this report.

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