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Southwest School of Art (Ursuline Academy and Convent)
The oldest institutional buildings in the city, the former academy and convent of the Ursuline nuns survive as an island of serenity in the heart of the city. Situated between the chapel and the museum, the first building in the complex was a two-story rectangular building built of pise de terre, or “rammed earth,” with its walls covered by caliche, a natural form of calcium carbonate found in Central and western Texas. It is the largest building in Texas using these materials. The deep galleries are a response to the harsh summers and may have been inspired by the Ursulines's similarly detailed, first (destroyed) convent in New Orleans, from which several of the founding nuns came to San Antonio in 1851.
The first expansion of the complex was the academic building of 1851, a two-story rectangular structure with a hipped roof and two-story galleries gracing its south and east facades. Also erected in the 1850s, on the southwestern corner of the complex, was a one-and-a-half-story square house built of local stone with a gabled roof and one-story porches extending along the west and north facades. In 1920, the house was converted into a laundry facility.
Begun in 1867, the north-facing two-story masonry dormitory is a rectangle with an angled blockade to the west and two-story galleries on its east and north sides. The hipped roof is pierced by small clipped dormer windows, and rising above the central ridge of the northern facade is a square weatherboard clock tower with a base composed of heavy wood framing. When the dormitory was completed in 1879, the clock tower became the most prominent feature of the building complex.
Built between 1867 and 1870, the limestone Gothic Revival Academy Chapel was connected to the north end of the dormitory. The interior of the chapel is divided into a public section entered from Augusta Street, and the upper level galleries that were reserved for the nuns. Separated from St. Mary's Street by a high stone wall, the easternmost building of the complex is a two-story rectangular building of 1872, initially designed as a residence but used as a workshop. Facing the southwestern corner of the site, the Priest's House (1882) is a two-story rectangular building topped by a gabled roof.
In 1965 the complex was purchased by the San Antonio Conservation Society. Its adaptation for use as the Southwest Craft Center makes excellent use of the large-scale rooms, which are ideal for the display of works of art.
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