VAF 2021 Annual Meeting 

May 19-22, 2021
San Antonio, Texas

VAF 2021 Annual Meeting

May 19-22, 2021
San Antonio, Texas

Brent Fortenberry, Ken Hafertepe, Clifton Ellis, and

Evan Thompson

While COVID-19 forced us postpone much of the 2020 VAF Conference, we are pleased to have been able to reschedule the San Antonio gathering for May 2021, when VAF will visit Texas for the first time. The field days will introduce attendees to the diverse and rich history of San Antonio and its environs with tours of Fredericksburg in the Hill Country, the rural and ranching area east of San Antonio near Seguin and Gonzalez, and a tour of the border towns of Laredo and San Ygnacio.

City tours will highlight San Antonio’s West Side and King William districts as well as the five colonial Spanish missions that constitute the San Antonio Missions National Park.

The conference will culminate with a NIOSITA, a traditional fiesta in La Villita, a preservation success story in central San Antonio. 

Together VAF 2021 will celebrate the rich material and built heritage of central Texas and explore the complicated histories of migration, creolization, and cultural exchange over the last five hundred years.

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

Wednesday Reception, Keynote, and Awards

The conference is headquartered at El Tropicano Hotel on the San Antonio Riverwalk. The conference opens on Wednesday, May 19th, 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 pm and plan your travel accordingly. Keynote address and awards ceremony will begin at 5:30 pm.


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. Later in the day we will visit 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

The third Thursday tour will travel to the Texas/Mexico border and visit the border towns of Laredo and San Ygnacio. In Laredo we will explore the changing urban environment of a major border town with a palimpsest of buildings from the colonial, post-colonial, early 20th century and mid century modern periods. Here attendee will examine the ways that the built vernacular environment provides historical context for the challenges of the 21st century. In San Ygnacio and its environs attendees will examine the fortified ranch houses of the border and discuss the complicated issues of preservation and conservation in this isolated landscape. 

The border tour is an all day event leaving the conference hotel from 6:30 am and will not return until near 8pm.

You must have a current passport with you in order to join the 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 either the King William or West Side districts, then all will tour the Missions.  Lunch will be included in each tour.  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 includes 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


Paper and Poster Session will be held on Saturday at the El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel.   

In addition to Paper Sessions on Saturday, the 2021 San Antonio conference will include a plenary entitled “Migration History and the Contemporary Political Landscape.”  The plenary is designed to begin a conversation about how historians of vernacular landscapes might engage with contemporary debates about national migration policy.  Our presenters will offer short presentations concerning their studies of landscapes shaped by immigration and how this scholarship shapes their own thinking about the debate about borders, migration, and nationalism.  We hope to create a space for open dialog about history and how and if historians should engage in larger political debates. 


Sarah Gould, Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, Westside Community Museum Coordinator, San Antonio, Texas

Sarah Lopez, Assistant Professor, Architecture, University of Texas at Austin
Arijit Sen, Associate Professor, Architecture; University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Moderator: William Littmann, Senior Adjunct, Architecture, Interior Design, and Visual Studies, California College of the Arts, San Francisco, California

The Transportation on the San Antonio River by riverboat from 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 proposed schedule can be found on the conference schedule page. 

Please note:

  • The reception for the keynote event and awards is from 4:30-5:30 pm on Wednesday. The keynote and awards will begin at 5:30 pm. Make your travel plans accordingly.

  • The Texas/Mexico Border tour is limited to 50 participants, 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 2021 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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