By Marc Speir
University News Service
January 15, 2008
Carlton Carl’s downtown holdings includes 300 feet of frontage on the San Marcos River.
Every semester since 1983, Nancy Granato’s research and environmental design classes have taken on a “real-life” project to transform a building or an area of a city to benefit the community.
This fall, advanced students from the interior design program at Texas State University-San Marcos created studio proposals to renovate downtown Martindale and its central artery, Main Street.
The water tower looming over Martindale provides a glimpse of the trade the town once boasted, now home to the skeletons of gins and abandoned businesses that thrived under the booming cotton-seed industry. It would be an understatement to suggest the town is in need of a facelift.
Proposals were shown in early December to town leaders, citizens, Mayor Patti Peterson and Carlton Carl, owner of the bulk of downtown Martindale, including seven buildings in need of renovation.
“Mr. Carl was beaming from ear to ear,” said Granato, coordinator of the interior design program at Texas State. “He wanted to take all the plans, models and drawings with him.”
Students in both sections of the course also used the opportunity to hone their skills and strengthen their portfolios.
“I’ve taught this class for almost 25 years and I’ve never seen a group as excited about a project,” Granato said. “This includes both the students and the client.”
Six of the seven buildings owned by Carl are currently unused and are charming, though in a state of stillness and decay, with only one building being rented out by a cabinet maker. Nearby, the police department, city court and mayor’s offices remain as the only major downtown fixtures in operation.
Students crafted 16 presentations for the remodeling showcase, two for each of seven buildings and two for the overall downtown scene.
Carl, former vice-president of communications for the American Association for Justice in Washington, D.C., flew in from the nation’s capitol to hear the various suggestions offered by the classes to transform his 36,000 square feet of commercial building property.
He is currently in the process of making Martindale his permanent home and recently accepted a position as CEO and executive publisher for the Texas Observer.
An inventory of Carl’s downtown holdings includes three empty general stores, a former bank, a cotton-seed weigh station, several warehouses, a movie-set courtroom, an aquarium filled with cotton plants, a seed elevator, 16 seed silos and 300 feet of frontage on the San Marcos River.
All the options left students with an abundance of ideas.
“They were fabulous,” Carl said. “Everyone was impressed with the thoroughness and creativity of the students; these are very talented artists, thinkers and designers."
Martindale is trying to reinvent its image in the hopes of drawing tourists, much like the artistic, bed and breakfast cities of Salado and Gruene. Carl and city leaders want to restore the buildings to create an historic district, strengthen the local economy and keep an old fashioned, turn-of-the-century look to the town.
“We’re looking at other similar cities and seeing what worked and what didn’t,” Carl said. “We want to preserve the character of a small agriculturally-based city to the extent possible but make it more attractive to visitors and the community.”
Students working in teams conducted research into the history of the district and its buildings and created three-dimensional projects designed to promote the future of the Martindale, one that is expected to grow from its current population of around 1,000 citizens. Evidence of expansion is seen as toll roads are built towards nearby Seguin and a number of residential developments are zoned near Martindale.
Proposals for the outdoor areas of the downtown district include innovations to landscaping, parking, paving materials, street lighting, wiring and the use of renewable or green energy sources.
Business ideas for the vacant building spaces were pitched in the form of a welcome center, dance hall, arcade, artist’s studio, farmer’s market, restaurant, grocery store and laundromat.
With the aid of the students’ plans and models, Carl said he will be able to entice investment in leasing his properties.
“If someone wants to open a business in one of my spaces, I have something concrete to show them what is possible,” Carl said. “The most significant idea was the multiple uses of space within each building.”
The idea of leasing the area as a location to film movies was also mentioned, which has served as a surprising draw for the town.
A number of television shows, music videos and movies have been shot in Martindale including A Perfect World, starring Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner, The Newton Boys, starring Matthew McConaughey and Ethan Hawke, and a 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
“The presentations inspired community leaders to encourage more interest in Martindale,” Carl said. “This doesn’t go for just my buildings, but the whole town. There’s a lot of excitement behind it.”
For more information on the interior design program in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences visit http://www.fcs.txstate.edu/id.htm.