The Hot Wells ruins.
The Hot Wells Park will be open to the public on Tuesday, April 30th. Credit: Scott Ball / Rivard Report

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.
An undated Hot Wells Hotel and Spa postcard. Credit: Courtesy / Public Domain

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.

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is a journalist and writer in San Antonio, and a business reporter for The Rivard Report.