The Red Berry Estate is an 85-acre East San Antonio treasure, but the landmark has been under attack and District 2 City Councilman Cruz Shaw promises help is on the way.
On Saturday night, a massive fire left an abandoned caretaker home on the property nothing but smoking cinders and a pile of twisted roofing metal. A ruling on the cause of the fire has not been made but the house had been without utility service for years, so the cause is suspicious.
This is just the latest incident since the city took ownership of the property in 2012.
In 2015, two people were charged with burglarizing the mansion and stealing virtually all of the valuable antiques inside. Much of the property was eventually recovered.
In 2016, the KENS 5 I-Team found the mansion with open windows and evidence of transients on the property, along with illegal dumping.
Firefighters said that about one year ago, they responded to a call at the mansion for an odor of smoke and found an encampment of transients inside the mansion, cooking over an open fire in the building.
With the most recent blaze on Saturday night, by the time firefighters arrived, parts of the caretaker building were already in danger of collapse, so they fought the blaze defensively from the outside.
On Sunday, almost 24 hours after the fire, the gates to the property were still wide open, leaving the site open to the possibility of further damage.
After KENS 5 started asking questions, the city did padlock one entry gate to the place but there were still gaping holes in the cyclone fencing and the gate.
The city said that workers will be taking steps to secure the property.
“It’s sad, and so right now we're working with the fire department and they are investigating what occurred. That investigation is ongoing, so we're going to make sure that whatever happened, we can keep from happening again,” Councilman Shaw said. “We're going to step our game up. We're going to make sure that we protect our assets in our community.”
Recently, city council approved a public/private partnership that will bring more than 300 apartments and a new campus for the RK Group to the site.
Contract negotiations are underway now between those partners before work can get underway in earnest.
“There are a lot of positive things in our district and we don't want this to hinder movement forward,” Shaw said.
The Center City Development Office provided the following statement about Saturday’s fire and its aftermath:
“SAFD responded to a fire Saturday at a vacant, dilapidated, boarded-up structure on the south end of the Red Berry Estate property. The structure had been slated for demolition as part of redevelopment of the site. As soon as Center City Development and Operations was made aware of the issue, staff responded to ensure the site was appropriately secured. The City has both fire and security monitoring alarms systems at the Red Berry Mansion, and staff has secured accessible entry points to the 85-acre property. We will work with SAPD and our development team partners who have commenced due diligence work at the site to ensure it is secured at all times. The City anticipates construction at the site to commence in early 2018.”
Center City Development and Operations Director