Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
For the last 15 years, my address has been like my shoes – traveling with me. So moving back to San Antonio after a decade and a half has been an interesting ride. A lot has changed since I left, and I had many marvelous neighborhoods from which to choose when I came home.
But to me, the most important element when selecting a home is location.
So where did I choose to place myself? The Central Business District along the San Antonio River Walk. According to my friends over at Visit San Antonio, more than 34 million people visit San Antonio each year, and about 11.5 million of them take a stroll along the River Walk. The economic impact of tourism and hospitality in San Antonio is more than $14 billion annually. That said, a thriving downtown is critical for tourism and directly impacts every single business in this city in one way or another.
Nonprofits like Activate Houston Street, Hemisfair Conservancy, The River Walk Association, and Main Plaza Conservancy are out there activating downtown. Commercial developers have cleared the path for cybersecurity companies to set up fiber networks in historically significant buildings without disrupting their exquisite antediluvian foundations.
Last year, I left my life in Washington, D.C., where I spent 10 years as a Capitol Hill resident. These were my formative years. I forged a political career, fostered meaningful relationships, advocated on K Street, shared Ramadan with the ambassador from Qatar, salsa-danced with the fasten seat belt sign on, and married the two loves of my life: politics and interior styling. I founded my interior styling firm, The Style Lobbyist, and took a job in government affairs as the director of public policy for the North San Antonio Chamber so that I could bring back my experience and advocate for our marvelous city and businesses.
So when it came to setting up shop in San Antonio, I wanted to be in the heartbeat of the action. Delivery trucks, commuters, sirens – I wanted it all. I wanted to read building permits as they are being taped up just to be 10 minutes smarter in knowing who just secured a downtown space. I wanted to be able to walk out my front door and catch The Saga in Main Plaza on a Sunday night.
When it came to selecting a home, I admittedly set the bar high. The criteria was hefty: high ceilings, no built-ins, kitchen not visible from front door, must have historical significance – and location, location, location.
That said, scoring a place on the River Walk is not easy. Fortunately, my boyfriend is in commercial real estate, so he called upon a commercial developer who happened to have available the top floor of a half commercial, half residential building on the River Walk. I immediately fell in love, and we signed on the dotted line.
The building on East Commerce Street is full of rich history. Built in 1902, what once served as a famous financial institution in San Antonio was also the home of George and Eleanor Brackenridge, one of the first women to register and cast a vote in Bexar County. The top floors eventually became the headquarters of the International Club, hosting diplomats and the president of Mexico. In fact, my living room was the grand ballroom.
Today, it is my home – the place where I host friends, listen to the hustle and bustle along the River Walk, sing along with the mariachis, and feel a part of San Antonio. In the same space where businessmen were encouraged to build friendly ties between Mexico and the United States, my better half and I – along with our chocolate lab, Sarita, and our cats Cupcake, Pop Tart, and Spaghetti – deliberate over politics and celebrate rich culture.
From a large window in my bedroom, the Tower of the Americas illuminates my room at night. I am reminded of the many tenacious women and men – my grandfather, Jim, being one of them – who worked endlessly on Hemisfair and countless other development schemes and projects that led to San Antonio’s placing as a global destination.
As a champion of historic preservation, I wanted to design and decorate this unique and exquisite space without rewriting history. I used modern and clean lines with a mix of antique pieces, family heirlooms, modern décor that looks like something out of a Miami nightclub, and sprinkles of political memorabilia.
The 11-foot ceilings of the former grand ballroom called for a statement piece, so we commissioned a local artist for a tongue-in-cheek, satirical art installation that plays on my liking for fashion.
After a recent trip to Cuba, we returned armed with tile inspiration. So I whited out the dated bathroom tiles, hand-painted a black and white checkerboard, and outlined it with 24-karat gold paint, a design prevalent through The Style Lobbyist.
My flat in the Central Business District displays my designs, houses meaningful treasures, generates creative energy, and fosters love. So for now my shoes are shined, and we’ll stay put. My home is with God, but my address is the old San Antonio Loan & Trust Building.