Historic renovations are never simple or easy. Mystery and the unexpected always lie behind layers of paint, carpeting and remodeling. Unexpected discoveries, good and bad, are an inevitable part of the process. The best-laid plans are set aside, change orders follow and deadlines pass.
In the case of the venerable St. Anthony Hotel, the challenge is to transform a landmark into a thriving modern-day business. Expectations were set high when the faded beauty was acquired in 2012 by a local partnership led by BC Lynd Hospitality. The owners hired San Antonio’s Overland Partners and Zachry Construction Corp. along with interior designers Forrest Perkins of Dallas to convert the turn-of-the-century, 352-room artifact into a 277-room luxury hotel that preserves a sense of time and place yet delivers state-of-the-art hospitality.
What now appears to be a three-year renovation is approaching the home stretch. The guest room floors of the 10-story building at 300 E. Travis St. have been closed, while the more public spaces that cater to banquets, parties, and meetings remain open.
“They are putting the final touches on, polishing an urban jewel,” said Emily Reynolds, with Defining Delicious Publicity. “The owners are taking the time they need to get every detail perfect. It’s going to be spectacular.”
Reynolds said completion would be in the Spring 2015. (You can read more about the current owners and their ambitious plans here: Grandeur Returns to the St. Antony Hotel.)
I have a sentimental soft spot for the St. Anthony Hotel. It was my first home of sorts in San Antonio what seems like a lifetime ago. The now-defunct Dallas Times Herald sent me to San Antonio in 1979 to cover the assassination of U.S. District Judge John H. Wood Jr. and the legal aftermath. A travel-wise editor suggested I try the St. Anthony. It was my first experience staying in a historic hotel, and my first real visit to San Antonio. The city was a very different place back then, so much smaller and less ambitious than now.
By 1979, the St. Anthony, which originally opened in 1909, was historic, a tad shabby, and quite comfortable, just like its namesake city. A postwar telephone book advertised the St. Anthony as “completely and continuously air conditioned.” The hotel on Travis Park had welcomed its fair share of presidents, tycoons and celebrities over the years, but the city’s first luxury hotel was no longer pricey or exclusive by the time I arrived.
Peacock Alley, the hotel’s narrow, ornate lobby and cocktail lounge, featured a wood-burning fireplace and crystal chandeliers. There was a distinctly old world, European feel with its formal furnishings, tall archways, and gilded finishes. A Louis XV Steinway piano with its own pedigreed past served as the lobby centerpiece. The piano was eventually sold, but a few years ago was purchased at auction for a small fortune by one of the current partners and brought back to the lobby.
The St. Anthony in the 1980s was an intriguing mix of old world splendor and Alamo City authenticity. A parade of interesting people seemed to be on constant display during my stay: bow-legged ranchers in cowboy boots and Stetsons, wealthy ladies lunching, and businessmen coming and going from meetings inside a private dining club. Like the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas or the Driskill Hotel in Austin, the St. Anthony was unique, a place where one could imagine historic figures from the past emerging like ghosts from the walls to walk the lobby.
A decade later, I returned to the St. Anthony while in the city for a job interview with another long-gone newspaper, the San Antonio Light. The hotel’s grandeur had faded even deeper into the past by then, and around-the-clock construction work on the Tri-Party Improvement Project left guests listening to late night jack hammers on Houston Street.
When the St. Anthony emerges from reconstruction as a member of the Starwood Luxury Collection, it will be a luxury hotel once again, this time in a very different city, and with growing competition, not only among downtown names like the Valencia, Weston River Walk, and Mokara, but soon from the Pearl’s Hotel Emma, also slated to open in the spring.
The rooms might be pricier, but there will be a new restaurant from owner Andrew Goodman and Chef Stefan Bowers of Feast fame, and there will be Peacock Alley, the Steinway piano, and what we can hope will be the returning parade of notable and interesting people from here and afar.
*Featured/top image: The St. Anthony Hotel at 300 E. Travis St. Photo by Robert Rivard.