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For more than 70 years, Cool Crest was a rite of passage for San Antonians. It was the place you went with your family or hung out with your friends. It was the place for many first dates and almost as many first kisses.
Quite simply, it was the place to be.
So when the beloved miniature golf course closed in 2007, it left a hole in the hearts of multiple generations across the city. Come Sunday, hearts will be whole once again when the West Side attraction reopens its doors under new ownership.
Not much is known about the original Cool Crest, which opened in 1929. The “modern era” was ushered in eight years later, when truck driver, inventor and businessman Harold Metzger leased the site.
It was under his critical eye that the property acquired its Art Deco look and tropical-like setting.
Metzger and his wife, Maria, who he met in Germany in the 1950s, ran the miniature golf course as if it was a member of their family. They took such good care of it that the concrete in the original 18-hole course looks new.
Metzger died in 1998 and Maria continued to run the business, still living in the three-bedroom home on the property. When running Cool Crest became too much for her, she closed it in 2007. Three years later she died.
Without the loving care of the Metzgers, the property fell into disrepair. The plants were the hardest hit. The once-lush banana trees at one time numbered more than a thousand, but their numbers dwindled.
Every winter Maria had ensured each plant was cut to just above the following year’s fruit. Then each stalk was wrapped with three sheets of newspaper. It was arduous, time-consuming work.
As historic preservationists know, stories like this often come with a sad ending. Properties like Cool Crest could sit and decay for years, or worse, they could end up as parking lots. Thankfully, this story is on its way to a “happily ever after” ending. Not even Harold and Maria could have picked more appropriate buyers. Four brothers who once played on the course as kids became the proud new owners of Cool Crest in 2012.
The Andry Brothers – Albert, who lives in Los Angeles, and Phillip, James and Mitchell of San Antonio – describe their new venture as a labor of love.
“We spent countless days here,” recalled Mitchell on a recent Friday morning.
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“We grew up right over there,” he said as he gestured across I-10 at the Beacon Hill area. The “we” in question were five brothers and two sisters.
“I remember being 10 or 11 and Mrs. Metzger yelling at us when we hit a ball over her fence,” he said laughing. “I’m sure we’ll probably be doing the same thing ourselves.”
James Andry was first among the brothers to consider buying Cool Crest, but it took some persuasion on his part to get the other three to join.
“When Jim first brought it up, it wasn’t like ‘Wow, Cool Crest is for sale. Let’s buy it!’ We all had our own lives,” said Mitchell, who has worked at USAA for 31 years. “It was more of a love of childhood than an investment that finally convinced us.”
Restoring Cool Crest has been a hands-on project for the whole family. Attention to detail is important, Mitchell said, because the new owners want people to have an authentic experience. Many people in the community have been supportive of the family’s efforts to bring back Cool Crest.
The Benitez family at Color Tone Paint found the original formula for “Cool Crest Green.” George Mery at Elegant Limo built and painted sturdy new benches and scorecard holders in his auto body shop. He’s also helping to reinforce the iconic sign that fronts Fredericksburg Road.
Frank DeCock of Aggie Horticultural Service has been crucial in the re-greening of the property. With his landscaping expertise, he aims to have the monthly water bill at $500 or less.
Wayne DeWinne of DeWinne Construction built the only modification to the property – an ADA-accessible bathroom. In addition, his company did all the painting and scraped and sanded all 36 holes before the carpet was laid down.
Perhaps the most emotionally connected contribution to the reopening has come from Erasmo Ordenez, the Metzgers’ groundskeeper for more than 30 years. More than anyone involved, he knows what makes Cool Crest tick, and has been a steady presence during the restoration.
Shanon Miller, the director of San Antonio’s Office of Historic Preservation, said Cool Crest’s designation as a historic landmark came about in 2010 when the future of its ownership became unclear. This designation protected the property against demolition and alterations that would destroy its historic integrity.
“There was concern that the site could be redeveloped, and we would lose an important piece of San Antonio history and a landmark on Fredericksburg Road. Cool Crest is essentially the gateway to the Deco District,” Miller said. “We are thrilled the Andry family is committed to the restoration of Cool Crest. For them as it is for many, seeing Cool Crest come back to life brings back many special memories.”
One of those special memories belongs to Noemi Skok, whose first date with her now-husband Lance Skok was at Cool Crest in August 2006.
“I suggested it because it was a good, neutral thing to do so I could get to know him,” Skok said. “I went there a lot when I was a teen. I loved the way that it always felt breezy and cool there, no matter how hot it really was.”
She plans on taking their infant daughter to Cool Crest when she’s older.
“But I will make sure she plays an honest game, not like her mother,” she joked.
Mitchell said while he and his family find themselves stressing over every detail leading up to the grand opening, he feels it will end up being like a wedding.
“Everyone will have a great time and we’ll be the only ones that notice the imperfections,” he said.
Summer hours begin June 30. They’ll be noon to 10 p.m. Sundays, closed Mondays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. However, the course will be closed to the public the evening of July 12 for a special event.
“We’re excited to help Cool Crest celebrate their reopening with our July 12 fundraiser,” Miller said. “This event supports the hands-on preservation programs administered by the Office of Historic Preservation including the S.T.A.R. Project (Students Together Achieving Revitalization). Through this program, students and volunteer contractors complete minor rehabilitation projects in local historic districts.”
To date, the S.T.A.R. Project has improved more than 50 homes in five local historic districts.
“Hopefully, through these fundraising efforts, we will be able to expand our programs in the future to provide assistance for the restoration of important landmarks, such as Cool Crest,” Miller said.
When he heard about Cool Crest reopening, native San Antonian Chuck Peters said he learned a very important lesson on the course one night on a date. Normally a very competitive person, he and his date laughed and played and just had fun.
“I let her chip like three times on that famous hole. I didn’t care! She even hit a ball in the parking lot and I had to go get another ball for her,” he said.
They ended up playing both courses and had so much fun they kept the Metzgers up and they closed the course late.
“At the end of the night, my date asked who won. I told her she won and that she beat me by one stroke,” remembered Peters. “She looked at me and said ‘Really? My last boyfriend would have never said that! He would have said no way after I hit that ball in the parking lot.’ I said I did not count that and then she kissed me.”
As he walked away Mrs. Metzger called him over and told him, “I was kind of mad that you two stayed so late, but not now.” He apologized and told her they were just having fun, and then he asked why she wasn’t mad anymore.
“She said, ‘Because you know how to treat a lady!’”
Here’s to more memories like that.
Annette Crawford is a public affairs officer at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. She is also the house photographer for the Majestic Theatre and Sam’s Burger Joint & Music Hall. You can read her music and travel blog at www.thegroovygringa.com or follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @thegroovygringa.