VAF 2020 Annual Meeting 

May 6 - 9, 2020
San Antonio, Texas

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Conference Schedule Registration Information

VAF 2020 Annual Meeting

May 6- 9, 2020
San Antonio, Texas

Brent Fortenberry, Ken Hafertepe, Clifton Ellis

Join us for the Vernacular Architecture Forum’s 41st Annual Conference in San Antonio! Come explore the successive and

overlapping built peripheries of San Antonio's core. 

Wednesday Reception, Keynote, and Awards

The conference is headquartered at El Tropicano Hotel on the San Antonio Riverwalk. The conference opens on Wednesday, May 6th, with a late-afternoon reception, keynote address, and awards ceremony held at the Southwestern School of Art.  Please note that the reception starts at 4:30 and plan your travel accordingly.


Thursday Field Tours

Thursday’s three bus tours map the diverse architectural legacies of the landscape around San Antonio over three centuries, legacies which are often as varied as their changing historical narratives.

The Texas Hill Country


While San Antonio is a remarkable hybrid of cultures, the Texas Hill Country contains one of the highest concentrations of German Texan buildings and cultural landscapes anywhere in the state. You will see not only the expected fachwerk houses brought from the fatherland but also log houses given a particular Hill Country twist. You will also see stone dwellings which are neither purely German nor Texan but a remarkable melding of the two cultures. The day will start with a visit to Comfort, Texas, which features a block of nineteenth-century commercial and residential buildings, including several by Alfred Giles of San Antonio. In Fredericksburg we will examine  dwellings of log, fachwerk, and stone. Our next stop will be Stonewall, for the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, which preserves a farm complex with buildings ranging from the late 1860s to the 1910s, and the Junction School, part of the LBJ National Historical Park, and Trinity Lutheran Church. Our day will conclude with dinner at the Luckenbach, Texas dance hall – without, alas, Willie and Waylon – one of the most iconic structures in Texas.


The Eastern Tour


The counties to the east of San Antonio had a much higher concentration of people from the United States, both Anglo-American planters and the African-American slaves that they owned. This tour will visit two sites of Texas slavery, the McClure-Brachas house and Whitehall, the Polley plantation. One shows a hybrid of Creole and Anglo-American forms, while the other is a stone central passage house with a surviving log kitchen/quarter. The tour will also explore traditional building modes, notably log construction and floor plans with open passages, that is to say, dogtrots, but also novel methods of construction, such as concrete buildings. The tour will also give VAFers opportunities to discuss Texas public buildings in late nineteenth century Texas, both a county jail and courthouse, and also landscapes of the New Deal, in the Gonzales Memorial Museum. The tour concludes in Luling at the Zedler Mill, a landscape of the New South that will also serve as the location of our dinner.


Texas/Mexico Border Tour


Friday San Antonio Neighborhoods/Missions Guided Tours


On Friday we will consider the city proper. VAF participants will have several choices but all tours will visit the San Antonio Missions, now a National Historical Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, consisting of four missions. One retains its original church, the only mission church that has its original roof, one that was intensively restored in the 1930s to return to something like its original footprint, and two later missions that, ironically, were built later but were left in a state that suggests the original state of all the missions.

Other tours will visit the King William district, which has the distinction of being the first National Register historic district in the state of Texas. Another tour will go to the West Side of San Antonio, which absorbed the tremendous influx of Mexican immigrants after the Mexican Revolution. 

All Friday tours will have bus transportation to get to either the King William or West Side districts, and then all will tour the Missions.  Lunch will be included in the tour as well.  The day will begin with a quick breakfast at the hotel and then depart to either the West Side or King William.  After lunch the tours will visit the Missions.

The conference hotel, El Tropicano, is within walking distance of the core of old San Antonio. This included buildings around the Main Plaza, the Military Plaza, the Alamo Plaza, and La Villita. Also within walking distance is the house of Jose Antonio Navarro, built in the 1850s, and the River Walk, a New Deal project of the 1930.

Saturday Paper Session and Banquet


Saturday’s paper sessions will be followed by the banquet and recognition of the winner of the Glassie Award.  Transportation on the San Antonio River by riverboat from the El Tropicano Hotel will take conference goers to LaVillita for a NIOSITA. NIOSITAS are hosted by San Antonio Conservation Society volunteers and benefit the preservation, education and museum programs of the Society. The art of staging these festive events has been passed from one generation of conservationists to the next; the recipes for the mouth-watering foods have stood the test of time; and hospitality has always been one of their specialties.

Conference Details

The conference is headquartered at El Tropicano Hotel. Breakfast will be provided at the hotel Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning before bus tours depart from the hotel and before paper sessions. Lunch on Thursday and Friday will be provided during the tours, and dinner on Thursday night will be part of the Bus Tour.

A detailed schedule can be found on the conference schedule page.

Please note:

  • The reception for the plenary event and awards is from 4:30-5:30pm on Wednesday, so make your travel plans accordingly.

  • The Texas/Mexico Border tour is limited to 50 participants each, so register early. This will be a long day, but will include very interesting sites.

  • Friday’s San Antonio Neighborhoods/Missions Walking tours include some self-guided walking, but buses will transport conference attendees to central locations.  

  • Please contact the conference organizer if you have mobility issues that may need more assistance.

Contact Michelle Jones, VAF Conference Coordinator with questions.

We look forward to seeing you in San Antonio!

The 2020 conference has received generous support from the Summerlee Foundation, Baylor University, Texas A & M University, Texas Tech University, Thomson Realty Capital. 

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