San Benito works to restore historic bank building

SAN BENITO — The sprawling Spanish-style building stands like a monument to the city’s prominence during the first half of the 20th century.

For 108 years, the San Benito Bank & Trust building’s gold dome has glittered over tall grand arches from the corner of Sam Houston Boulevard and Robertson Street.

For years, the two-story building constructed in 1911, has stood vacant next to rows of empty storefronts.

Now, a developer is considering restoring the building back it to its original condition.

“They’re looking to renovate the building to capture its original historic architectural design,” Bernard Rodriguez, the city’s planning director, said yesterday.

At City Hall, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa is withholding the developer’s name as the city continues negotiations.

“City administration hasn’t received a proposal from the buyer at this time,” De La Rosa stated. “However, we are having friendly development discussions with the developer.”

The prospective plans for the building remain unclear, city spokeswoman Martha McClain said.

Rodriguez believes the building’s restoration would help the city push its plans to revitalize the downtown area.

“It’s a catalyst to generate more development and renovation of our downtown,” Rodriguez said.

Revitalization plans

Two weeks after opening her new shop, Angie Rodriguez is counting on the building’s restoration to drive merchants to spruce up their storefronts.

“We’re trying to see what we can do to the façade,” Angie Rodriguez, wife of former City Commissioner Esteban Rodriguez, said yesterday.

Late last year, she helped launch Vintique Village, an organization which rallies area businesses to hold street-side markets aimed at drawing visitors downtown.

“We’re hoping the market will help economic development by bringing in people — shoppers and vendors to spend the day here,” the owner of Main Street Boutique, 201B on North Sam Houston, said.

Now, the group is planning to hold its next market featuring handmade crafts, antiques, food and live music in March, she said.

“We’re trying to reach out to the downtown as a whole,” she said. “We’re trying to attract business to open.”

Historic project

The old building’s restoration would become the downtown area’s most ambitious renovation project in decades.

“For downtown San Benito, the former San Benito Bank & Trust building holds a tremendous amount of historical value and its renovation will prepare for future development of our downtown,” Bernard Rodriguez said.

Now, the developer is inspecting the building to determine the scope of work required to renovate it, he said.

“They want to see what type of work will be required to bring the building up to code — for example, electrical wiring, plumbing and mechanical redesign of the building,” he said.

Vaults of history

The iconic building helps tell much of the city’s story.

“The old San Benito Bank & Trust Co. building holds a truly significant place in the hearts of many local residents,” De La Rosa stated.

In 1911, brothers Scott and Alba Heywood built the Spanish colonial revival building at 198 S. Sam Houston.

Soon, its vaults would hold riches spawned from the area’s legacy as Cameron County’s agricultural center.

“The compelling architectural beauty of the structure, its legacy of helping individuals and businesses succeed and flourish in this community, the involvement its leaders provided over the years, and the memories it created, make it a truly special landmark in San Benito,” De La Rosa stated.

Treasure chest

High along its roofline, the building’s magnificent dome rises over the downtown area.

“That dome is gold-gilded,” Wayne Powell, president of the San Benito Historical Society, said.

On its second floor, the bank set up its offices.

By 1914, the second floor housed the San Benito library.

In 1980, the Texas Historical Commission placed a historical marker on the building.

In recent years, the building changed hands.

By 1998, Coastal Bancorp had purchased the bank.

Then, Coastal sold the bank to Hibernia, Powell said.

Later, Capital One purchased the bank before closing the building years ago.