Demolition efforts began this week on the state-owned G.J. Sutton Building, to the dismay of historians.
A construction crew worked its way through the east side building Friday morning. The large, vacant building will be destroyed and sold to developers as part of legislation passed last session. It once housed more than 200 state employees, but now hosts toxic soil, bats and crumbling floors.
It’s languished — a blight to many— for six years.
But not to architect Everett Fly.
Fly has spent the past few years finding and protecting historic black settlements throughout Bexar County. He argues the building represents San Antonio's economic, labor and civil rights history.
He brought two enlarged printouts of a 1920 advertisement in the San Antonio Express-News for the San Antonio Machine and Supply Company. The six-acre lot once held six long buildings where workmen produced pumps.
Samsco, which it was called, was started by M. Krueger, a bankrupt rancher out of Blanco County, with a loan from Alamo National Bank.
“Today this institution is the largest of its kind not only in the city, but in the state,” he said.
The sound of passing trains resonated behind Fly as he examined the papers. These were trains once transported the centrifugal pumps and drilling machinery throughout Texas and Oklahoma.
Holding the papers to his face, Fly compared the drawings in the advertisement to the south facing facade in front of him.
"As I stand here and look at this. I can see the original wood framing work around the windows. There’s even some existing glazing," he said.
There’s more than enough left of the original building for the state to declare it historic, he said, just from the building from an original San Antonio company. But when layered with the labor history there and that of the Sutton Family, the case becomes much stronger.
“That’s a trait of San Antonio. Many of them have multiple layers of history,” he said.
The state to condensed its San Antonio employees, and named the building after Garlington Jerome Sutton, the first black man elected to city-wide office and first black San Antonian to go to the state house.
You can see the house G.J. was born in from the Sutton building.
The Suttons were arguably one of the most influential African American families in San Antonio and GJ was born in 1909, the eighth of 15.
Twelve of his siblings, all who lived to adulthood, would earn college degrees. Many became teachers. His brother Percy Sutton would become a freedom rider, Malcom X's Lawyer and a Manhattan borough president.
They represent achievement, accomplishment and perseverance, Fly said.
"They had to overcome some tremendous obstacles to go to school, to go to college. It proves that San Antonio has the infrastructure, for people to rise up. People of all colors all ethnicities to rise up and achieve prominence, locally nationally and internationally,” he said. “The Sutton family is just a perfect example of that."
Whatever is built at the location is said to continue holding the Sutton name, but that isn’t enough said Fly. He hopes the state changes its mind, taps state, federal and private funds to maintain the original building and create something for the current East Side community.
Something there has been no sign of while construction crews continued to prepare the building to be destroyed.