Long-Awaited Hot Wells Park, Site of Former Resort, Opens

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The Hot Wells ruins.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The Hot Wells Park will be open to the public on Tuesday, April 30th.

Glenn Jones put everything he had into Hot Wells.

He once drove all the way to Chicago to buy a shuffleboard table and bring it back and he often slept in his hat and cowboy boots just in case a late-night patron showed up looking for a room. But his commitment to keeping the resort open also meant he drove all over South Texas trying to find people willing to work.

Jones and his wife Cleo began management of the Hot Wells Resort in 1943, and the couple managed the old resort on the South Side of San Antonio for 36 years. Jones’ family keeps the stories of those days alive similar to the way Jones kept the resort going despite hard times. Their memories are now part of the storied fabric of Hot Wells of Bexar County park, which opens to the public Tuesday at 10 a.m.

Long before local developer James Lifshutz bought the property and deeded four acres to Bexar County for the long-awaited park, Jones worked to maintain the aging resort after its heydey in the Roaring ’20s. Deed records show he purchased “Hot Wells Courts” from W.W. McAllister using $46,500 of his first wife’s inheritance money. He paid in installments.

Memories of Jones’ time at Hot Wells are now retold by his great-niece, Emily Callman, who says the Illinois native had a passion for the place though not necessarily the resources to keep up with all the maintenance it demanded. Her stories have been passed down from Callman’s grandmother and mother and through old family postcards and photos.

“My mom still remembers going over the railroad tracks at the entrance and how there was a huge cat there,” Callman said. “[Jones] used to flip burgers in the ‘flame room,’ a place where the made all the food.”

Callman’s mother, Kay Tankiewicz, told her daughter of a pecan grove and sacks of gathered pecans, a centerpiece fountain, and a “one-armed bandit” slot machine Jones would let her drop nickels into. He then would open the machine to retrieve the coin so she could do it again. One postcard tells of how they enjoyed the pools fed by the sulfur springs on the property during a stay in 1972. Jones allowed local churches to perform baptisms in the pools as well.

“He did a lot of plumbing work on the property because things were always leaking,” she said. “They say he always took an umbrella with him to use the restroom because of the leaks up above.”

Callman considers her great uncle the hidden hero of Hot Wells because of his dedication to making the resort successful before selling it in 1979.

Jones passed away two years later, but Callman remains proud of her family’s connection to the site. “It was pretty magical,” she said. “He always wanted it to be preserved and designated a historic site … so it’s amazing this is going on.”

Hot Wells has been a natural draw since sulfur springs were first discovered on the site in 1892. Within two years, the property’s first owner had established the luxurious Hot Wells hotel, spa, and bathhouse. It burned to the ground in 1894 but was replaced by a grand Victorian-style structure in 1900. Hollywood filmmakers and 1920s glamour showed up at the resort as the elite sought the water’s healing powers.

An undated Hot Wells Hotel and Spa postcard. Public domain image.

Courtesy / Public Domain

An undated Hot Wells Hotel and Spa postcard.

With only the bathhouse ruins remaining, and an old motel consumed by vegetation, the property sat mostly neglected in recent decades.

In 2017, Bexar County Commissioners solidified a deal with Lifshutz to redevelop the historic Hot Wells ruins into a county park. Under the contract, the County got four acres of land for the park and paid $52,459.39 to the Edwards Aquifer Authority for a partial release of a lien. Texas Parks & Wildlife provided a $1 million project grant.

To develop the property as a park, the ruins were stabilized, interpretive signs installed, and the grounds landscaped. An entrance that crosses the railroad tracks is now in place as well as a portal from the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River.

This first phase of the project took much longer than expected due to heavy rains last fall and delays in obtaining a right-of-way agreement with Union Pacific for the railroad crossing. A second phase of the project will complete renovation of the bathhouse building and the gardens with funds raised by the Hot Wells Conservancy.

Callman, an innkeeper of sorts herself these days as co-owner of several short-term rentals, plans to attend the park opening on Tuesday. She likely won’t be the only one feeling nostalgic and with stories to share.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff grew up near Hot Wells and remembers as a boy tracking a loose baseball onto the grounds. In more recent years, he would look up from the Mission Reach trails and see the lonely ruins waiting for rebirth. Now that time has come.

“At night, it looks absolutely beautiful all lit up,” Wolff said.

14 thoughts on “Long-Awaited Hot Wells Park, Site of Former Resort, Opens

  1. My great-grandfather, McClellan Shacklett, was the first developer of the Hot Wells Resort in the 1890’s. It burned down twice during his ownership. I will attend the grand opening.

  2. What a wonderful article!!! My great uncle Glenn finally gets some long deserved credit for 36 years of efforts to keep Hot Wells alive! Thanks Shari!!

  3. Congratulations to the Hot Wells Conservancy Board and the County for making this historic building another piece of San Antonio history available to the public.

  4. Thank you Hot Wells Conservancy Board and Bexar County for fulfilling the dream of saving this treasure. I fell in love with it the first time I saw it.
    I bet Mr. Callman will be their in spirit.

  5. My late mother, Edith McAllister, also lived at Hot Wells from 1929-31. Her father, R.W. Scott, bought it with some other investors in 1929, just in time for the world to be turned upside down with the Crash and the Depression. Thank goodness for Glenn Jones! Was it Hattie Jones who had the salt-and-pepper shaker collection that sat on a little stage in their bar/restaurant? I wonder where it is now…

    • Taddy , the salt and pepper collection was Cleo’s .
      Do you recognize the vehicle that my Uncle is kneeling in front of with
      the two deers on the hood? I hope to meet you at the event tomorrow .

      • So WHERE IS the salt-and-pepper shaker collection now? Would love to meet you. RR, send her my email address!

  6. Not sure if you remember, Taddy, that Naomi’s oral history that she did right after I bought the property included the kind words of your mom. Give it a listen:

  7. Always loved this site, so glad for this preservation. A hidden diamond brought to brilliance. Hope I’m lucky enough to experience when completed. Thank you for restoring this magnetic treasure I’d always been curious about.

  8. Thank you, James Lifshutz, for your role – vision – generosity in the preservation and restoration of this long abandoned forlorn but obviously much beloved San Antonio treasure. You came to its rescue and thanks to that, Hot Wells will rise yet again.

  9. A very haunted location! Many years ago did a ghost hunt at the ruins. I am very excited that this project has been completed. This entire area around Hot Wells has some very interesting “ghost” history.

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