For decades, the St. Anthony Hotel was a revered destination in downtown San Antonio. The three cattlemen who built the hotel in 1909 felt the luxury hotel would help make the city a destination spot for wealthy people to visit. Their dream became a reality as the building at 300 East Travis Street was the place to be seen, whether for a wedding, a grand gala or a special Sunday brunch.
But in recent years, the hotel lost its grandeur. Financial instability and mismanagement by an absentee owner led to the hotel being delinquent on its loans. The future looked bleak for the property once considered to be among the most modern hotels in the world.
The troubled waters subsided when BC Lynd Hospitality stepped in. The hotel management and investment company headquartered in San Antonio jumped at the opportunity to acquire the property and bring it back to its heyday reputation, and in April 2012, became the new owners of the St. Anthony Hotel.
“I grew up here and always had a special appreciation for the hotel,” said Brandon S. Raney, BC Lynd chief executive officer.
He and Clyde J.B. Johnson IV, BC Lynd’s founding principals, took their charge seriously.
“It was part of our core business, the property was in our backyard, and it was an asset that deserved more,” Raney said at a tour of the hotel sponsored by the Urban Land Institute on May 21.
After buying the property, BC Lynd and the project architect, Overland Partners, spent a year planning the way ahead. In May 2013, they launched a $24 million renovation that’s expected to take 18 months. When it’s complete, the St. Anthony Hotel will become part of the Starwood Luxury Collection.
“We wanted to be a part of the Renaissance happening in downtown San Antonio,” Raney said.
He pointed out the soon-to-open Tobin Center for the Performing Arts and the Museum Reach as examples of the new life in downtown, plus the revitalized Travis Park, which he likened to the hotel’s “front yard.”
Taking on a project of this magnitude didn’t come without its surprises, especially in a structure that’s more than a century old and experienced multiple revisions and additions. Some of those surprises have been good ones, such as finding plaster ceilings and an elaborate tile floor that was covered more than 70 years.
“We’re taking it back to the elements that made it the luxury hotel it once was. The guys who designed it the first time did it right,” Raney said.
Some of the major changes include enlarging the hotel rooms, which means going from 352 rooms to 277. The pool, located on the top of the sixth floor, will also be expanded. A tiled deck will be added to the west and south edges of the pool, with room enough for chairs. Water will bubble up through the tile and then waterfall into the pool.
“It will be a resort atmosphere in an urban setting,” Raney said of the 8,000-square-foot space.
Another area undergoing dramatic change is the 10th floor terrace. The once-graveled flooring has been replaced by a deck made of Ipe, a Brazilian hardwood.
“It’s very resilient in a variety of elements and will be able to withstand whatever the South Texas weather throws at it,” Raney said. Once the wood has been treated with oil, it will retain a deep, rich brown color.
In relating some of the more anecdotal changes at the hotel, Raney told a story about his second day of ownership and seeing a member of the housekeeping staff use a broom on a rug. He watched her sweep for quite a while and was curious if there was a special reason the rug needed to be swept instead of vacuumed.
There was – the hotel had no vacuum cleaners.
When introducing the lead architect for the project, Raney said they picked Overland Partners because “they know how to make a place special.”
Robert Shemwell, FAIA, LEED AP, and principal at Overland Partners, said he has worked on several important historic structures, but none with a scope like the St. Anthony Hotel.
“This is a top to bottom project that’s been through five major additions, so it’s been a challenge in finding benchmarks,” Shemwell said. He said the project has been made easier by working with owners who knew what it meant to tell a story.
“The owners have a great sense of what this hotel has meant to the city,” Shemwell said. “Once it’s done, it will be the destination for locals and visitors alike. The St. Anthony will once again be on everyone’s social calendar; it will reclaim that position.”
Shemwell looked around the 10th floor terrace and noted the ideal atmosphere for entertaining.
“The deck was raised two feet, and more around the borders,” Shemwell said, explaining that before that work was done, the windows were too high to enjoy any views of the downtown landscape. The wrought iron fencing will be replaced by glass, and all the storage space and bathrooms that took up the outer edge of the terrace were removed. A bar will also be added.
“This will once again be a sought-after location,” Shemwell said.
He added that the rooms have been designed to be both pretty and functional, with all the amenities one would expect at a first-class hotel. The ballrooms on the first floor have also been redesigned. While their dimensions weren’t changed, they have now all been united in the back so there’s a proper flow. Previously, guests had to exit a meeting or function space and walk through Peacock Alley to go into another location.
The check-in desk, bar and bathrooms were also moved to more centralized and accessible locations. A stairway that clogged up the flow in the main lobby was removed, and another set of stairs was added in a better location, creating both a library lounge and second floor terrace.
A vital part of any hotel operation is the food, and the St. Anthony has ensured this piece of the puzzle will also be first-class. The restaurant will be operated by Andrew Goodman and his team at Feast, 1024 S. Alamo St., with chef Stefan Bowers.
“We’re bringing the historic fabric back, and the St. Anthony will once again capture people’s hearts,” Shemwell said.
Raney said the project should be completed in the fall, with special events planned in the November timeframe to reintroduce the St. Anthony Hotel. He’s excited about showing off the new space.
“It will become the premier destination for social functions, wedding receptions, and other significant events seeking exceptional service and a meaningful experience,” he said.