Jon Gustafson for the Rivard Report
Bexar County commissioners Tuesday granted $5.8 million to the project to convert the century-old ruins at the old Hot Wells Resort on San Antonio's Southside into the newest Bexar County park.
Davila Construction, Inc., the lowest bidder out of five companies, was chosen to lead the construction effort, which primarily involves stabilizing the Hot Wells Bathhouse Ruins.
Established in 1894, Hot Wells – which once used water from a hot Edwards Aquifer well – was a popular spa, hotel, bathhouse, and health resort until the early 1920s. The site welcomed local, national, and even international prominent figures including former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, former Mexican President Porfirio Díaz, and actor and director Charlie Chaplin.
Over time, a series of fires left the popular destination in ruins. In 2012, the Hot Wells Conservancy began planning to revitalize the site, and in 2015 County Commissioners agreed to pledge funds to the effort.
"It's indeed a very historic place," Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said.
The owner of the land, James Lifshutz, has agreed to donate the about 3.8 acres land to the County for the project, Bexar County Heritage & Parks Department Director Betty Bueché told commissioners Tuesday. That donation agreement, she added, will be finalized at the time Commissioner's Court officially awards the construction contract.
"The historic bathhouse has many ruins that are substantial," Bueché said, "and the primary part of the project is to stabilize those ruins."
The overall project entails a mixture of masonry, landscaping, construction, signage and trail implementation, and utility work. Other optional additions beyond the base project plan include restrooms, a maintenance shed, lighting, and a recycled water line.
The project has the support of five nearby neighborhood associations, Bueché said, along with several community organizations. Other organizations have backed the effort, too, including the National Park Service, the Mitchell Lake Audubon Center, which could host community-wide nature programs, and the Rivers, Trails, & Conservation Assistance Program, which proposed starting an outdoor classroom program to teach children, families, and educators about nature, history, and culture.
While the County's efforts are primarily concerned with the stabilization of the ruins, as well as the roads and infrastructure around them, the Hot Wells Conservancy will manage the improvements inside the three-story structure.
"The Conservancy is creating a pathway to renovating and rehabilitating the inside of the bathhouse," Hot Wells Conservancy Executive Director Cindy Taylor said. "We are working to identify lasting partners so that we can establish programming for this special place."
The San Antonio River Authority also has pledged its support for the transformative project.
"I’m really excited about Hot Wells," said Commissioner Chico Rodriguez (Pct. 1), "and I think everybody in the community, not only in the Southside, but everywhere in Bexar County has some value when it comes to this."
Production Editor Hanna Oberhofer contributed to this report.