Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Time has not stood still since the King William District was established in the 1860s. In the 150 years of King William, houses and businesses have been built, rebuilt, moved, and destroyed. Homes have been bought and sold and passed down to family descendants.
The area was hard hit by the depression of the 1930s. After a brief revival during the years of World War II, the district again deteriorated as the big, old houses were divided into apartments. By the 1950s, the district was generally considered to be an undesirable, if not downright dangerous part of San Antonio.
However, the 1950s also saw the beginning of a revitalization of the district – a revitalization that continues today. Starting with a few bold urban settlers, many of the fine old mansions were acquired and once again turned into family homes. Several mansions were converted into bed and breakfast inns which brought affluent visitors back to the area. The district's gentrification was accelerated in 1967 with the formation of the King William Association, and in 1968 when King William was declared San Antonio's – and the State of Texas' – first historic district.
The many changes initiated in the 1950s continue up until today. Now the neighborhood is a blend of old, middle-aged, and new buildings. Many of the original structures have been turned into businesses including restaurants, offices, and retail outlets. A few former homes have yet to be rehabbed and still sit vacant and deteriorating.
St. Benedict's Lofts on South Alamo Street and the garden homes built on the property facing Madison Street are one development success story. Originally the St. Benedict's Hospital, this property sat vacant at Alamo and Johnson streets for many years. Finally, starting in 2003, the City of San Antonio approved the creative, adaptive reuse plans submitted by local architects Steve Yndo and Chris Hill.
The two examined many different development options, initially planning a boutique hotel with extended stay suites. However, construction of the nearby Grand Hyatt hotel with its more than 1,000 rooms caused them to rethink their options. Finally, they settled on turning the property into apartments, with ample parking on the premises.
The architects worked closely with the King William Association to build neighborhood support for the redevelopment as the project required rezoning, and, thus, involved public hearings. Eventually, more local architects, designers, and developers collaborated on the project – James Lifshutz, Jim Poteet, Darryl Ohlenbush, Billy Lambert, Candid Rogers, and Jim Nelson, all of whom have deep ties to San Antonio and care about the historic neighborhood. Apparently it takes a village to complete a project like this.
“There were several other projects that spun out of the main St. Benedict’s project," Yndo told me. "What was formerly the convent building for the Benedictine sisters was sold to Dwight Hobart of Liberty Bar. His lease for the famously leaning structure at Josephine and Highway 281 ended. He moved Liberty Bar into the former convent and it is now, again, a beloved neighborhood institution. In addition, MBS Fitness created its second location in St. Benedict's.”
The City approved a further development for the 400 block of Madison Street where a derelict hospital wing once stood. This infill project created six two-story garden homes built between 2011 and 2016 – an example of where the new blended in with the old in a beautiful way. All the houses have mature trees on the parkway and face historic houses across the street.
Randy Gay lives in one of the garden homes on Madison with his wife, Jane Bockus Gay. After living north of Loop 1604 and raising children, they returned to downtown living nearly four years ago, and Randy told me he wouldn’t want to live anywhere but his current home in King William. The couple worked with Ohlenbusch to design the interior, which features an open floor plan and plenty of wall space for Randy’s artworks and photographs. The property also includes an enclosed courtyard and a parking garage.
“I love the view from my living room of the old houses, my ability to walk to restaurants, and that I can enjoy First Friday events without driving or dealing with parking,” Randy said.
A King William resident myself, I agree with Randy. If you haven’t strolled around our neighborhood lately, come on down and see us.
The King William Association will honor the district's old and the new during its Holiday Home Tour, scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 1.