There are 79 historic structures in the 22 blocks that make up this neighborhood. In the 1700s, this land was part of farmland that belonged to Mission San Antonio de Valero, better known as The Alamo. During the latter 1800s, it was transformed into an elegant residential neighborhood by prominent, mostly German merchants, cattlemen, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals. The name King William honors Kaiser Wilhelm I, the Emperor of Germany at that time. After you have parked your car walk over one block away from Alamo St., turn right on King William Street, and go to the first house on your right, at 528 King William Street. Almost every major architecture style is on display along this street. We will point out examples, but the main emphasis will be on the stories of the people who built and/or lived in these homes. I will also include current valuation data in case you want to come back and buy one. This tour uses GPS to determine your position to begin the narrative, so please stay on the sidewalks unless crossing the street. At any time, if you wish to replay the narrative you just heard, press the large forward arrow at the bottom of your phone. Be sure that the little selector at the bottom right is on Auto Play ON
The Who’s Who of San Antonio Architects designed homes here. This Stick Style home, built in 1880 for 1800 dollars eventually served as the office of O’Neil Ford, The architect responsible for the restoration of La Villita and buildings at HemisFair and Trinity University. Anytime you look at our HemisFair Tower, you can say you have been to the place that served as his office during that period. Other famous architects we will mention include J. Riley Gordon, Alfred Giles, and Atlee Ayres, all of which were giants in their field. Take time to read the historic sign. This house is currently valued at 650 Thousand Dollars
Edward and Johanna Steves opened our city’s first lumber company, which continues to operate today. This French Second Empire home with the familiar mansard roof and dormer windows on the top floor cost $12,000 to build in 1876. It has 13-inch-thick native limestone walls and 14 feet tall ceilings on the first two floors. He hired the best German craftsmen to do the amazing interior.
The Steves loved new and modern things. They were among the first to have a telephone in their home and enjoyed the first indoor swimming pool in the city. The pool was filled by an artesian well on their property. Mrs. Steves swam daily. It was a time in her day that she instructed the servants not to interrupt her. Often, following her swim she would ring a bell to let the neighborhood children know they could come over for a swim, always offering them cookies and lemonade before their departure.
The 3rd level of the home was the ballroom, and it was used by the family not only as a party room but Mrs. Steves allowed her grandchildren to roller skate there. You can tell she loved children.
The Steves had three sons and when the oldest son married, they built him the home at 431 King William as a wedding gift. The second son married, and they built him the home at 504 King William for his wedding gift. The third son never left home. His death, following an appendectomy broke his mother’s heart and she died three weeks later. The home was given to the San Antonio Conservation Society in the 1952 and they have operated it as a museum since 1954.
In 1691, on an expedition in search of a mid-way point between the missions in Mexico and those in East Texas, they came across this river They said mass along its banks and since it was the feast day of St. Anthony, named it for that saint.
The San Antonio River’s headwaters are on the campus of The University of Incarnate Word, about four miles north from where you are standing; the river meanders 240 miles in a southeasterly direction before joining the Guadalupe River just above the San Antonio Bay, which then enters the Gulf of Mexico. This river is fed by an underground aquifer, so it is not solely dependent on rain.
Great cities are often associated with great rivers. London has the Thames, Paris the Seine, and New Orleans the Mississippi. San Antonio, in this otherwise arid region, owes its very existence to this much smaller river that never stops flowing.
The downtown Riverwalk is only a small portion of the entire 15-mile-long system. The Museum Reach takes you from downtown north to the San Antonio Museum of Modern Art and ultimately to the trendy Pearl complex. The Mission Reach goes south from here and connects all four of the southern Spanish Colonial Missions.
You are currently standing on the Johnson Street Bridge. The original bridge spanned the San Antonio River on Commerce Street from 1880 to 1914 and was referred to as the O. Henry Bridge because the author used it in several of his stories. It was moved to this site in 1914 but was removed in the 60s and was replaced with a replica pedestrian bridge in the 80s.
Looking upriver you will see the iconic building with a green roof that was originally called the Smith-Young and was completed several weeks before the stock crash that led to the Great Depression. The lead architect on that project was Atlee Ayres who also designed the Nix Houses that you will see next.
Welcome to the Nix Houses. As I mentioned earlier, this and the house next door at 432, built in 1900, represent Atlee Ayers’s earliest exploration of the Colonial Revival Style. He and his son, Robert, would go on to be associated with lavish Spanish Colonial Revival mansions such as the McNay Art Institute and also our Municipal Auditorium, now converted to the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.
These homes were originally built to be rental property, but the family eventually lived here for 7 years. Mr. Nix did a lot of things before becoming an important developer. Today he is probably best known for the Nix Professional Building, popularly know as the Nix Hospital, which opened in 1930.
The Nix House is the first recorded Historic (LEED) Platinum certified home in the state of Texas. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. It is difficult and expensive to convert an existing structure to that level of energy efficiency, but here they also wanted to maintain the historical integrity of the exterior. The list of what is required to get this rating is daunting: blown in foam insulation in every nook and cranny, ventless attic, highly reflective roof, high efficiency air conditioning, and tankless water heaters, just to mention a few. The current owners’ efforts to do all of this while maintain the historical accuracy is well above expectational.
This is one of my favorite houses and it belonged to the son of a German immigrant. The elder Kalteyer had come over from Germany as a chemist and had opened a successful drug store. He wanted his son, George, to go into business with him so he sent him off to university in Germany. While there, as an undergraduate, he worked with several cement companies testing their products. He came home and worked with his father for a while. One day an acquaintance brought in a sample of the local limestone and asked if it was right for making cement. The answer came back that it was perfect for making a special variety called Portland Cement. George got a group of investors together and formed Alamo Cement which is still in business today. He was soon able to have the pre-eminent courthouse architect in Texas, J. Riley Gordan, design and build this beautiful Richardsonian Romanesque home. Richardson was an architect from Chicago who put his own spin on the popular Romanesque Revival style and was very influential in this time frame. In 2020, the current value is estimated at 1.6 million dollars.
One of the most colorful chapters in King William lore is the story of Sandra West. This home was owned by Ike West who made his fortune the traditional Texas way, through cattle and oil. West had two sons, Sol and Ike. Sandra met Sol first and dated him steadily until he introduced her to his brother Ike. Several days after meeting, she and Ike flew to Vegas and married.
Eccentric is the word to describe Sandra. She would order a 40-cent cup of coffee and leave a 20-dollar tip. She loved making a grand entrance. Once, she dressed up in 2 hundred thousand dollars’ worth of jewels and a mink coat and hired a chauffeur to drive her to a fashionable restaurant. Upon her arrival, she ordered a hamburger to go.
Sandra had earlier been involved in a car wreck and her health went downhill until she died at 37. Her husband had died young as well, so she designated her brother-in-law, Sol, to be the primary beneficiary of her estate. Sandra’s final request was to be buried next to her husband, in her blue Ferrari, in a lace nightgown, with the seat slanted comfortably back. Sol was instructed that if he followed the will, he would inherit 2 million dollars but if he ignored her wishes, he would only receive 10 thousand dollars
Sandra’s wishes were carried out. The car and Mrs. West were put in a large plywood box, which was hauled to the grave site on a flatbed truck and lowered into the ground by a crane. Following the burial, a concrete mixing truck that had been standing by poured concrete over and around the box. In an interview, Sandra’s housekeeper said, “My employer was fascinated with Egyptian history. I believe that she got the idea for her burial plans from the ancient Egyptian customs of being buried with their possessions.” The current value is estimated at 1.5 million dollars.
This house was built in 1875 of materials brought up from the coast by oxcart. Mrs. L.N. Edmunds operated a Ladies Boarding School here that educated the young ladies in Literary, classical, and scientific knowledge as well as developing a polite and dignified deportment. That’s what an early diploma said, anyway. The current value is estimated at 1.1 million dollars. Walk down to the house on the corner, Villa Finale at 401
Starting in around 1900 as the next generation took over, they started to gradually move out of the neighbor. Many of these grand homes were either abandoned or turned into low-rent apartments. By the 1950s this was a dangerous, rundown neighborhood. Enter Walter Mathis. He had just graduate from UT Austin when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He immediately signed up for the Army Air Corps and served as a fighter pilot in Europe. Walter came back to San Antonio and had a successful career as an investment banker. When his home by the Airport was taken in the 1960s to make room for a new freeway, he needed a new place to live. His friend, architect O’Neil Ford, brought him to this home, pointed right at it, and said “Walter, this is one of the finest homes in all of Texas”. Walter believed him, bought the home, and did a complete restoration. He eventually bought 13 more rundown houses and repaired the roofs and the foundations so the city could not condemn them. He then proceeded to find people willing to buy the homes, carried the low interest note, and walked them through the restoration process. He single-handedly reached down, grabbed this neighborhood, and started it on the road to the historical treasure it is today. Like the name Villa Finale or last house suggests, he never moved again. Walter never married and when he died, he left the house and his extensive collection of Napoleonic artifacts to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and today it is run as a museum. Current value is estimated at 1.9 million dollars.
This Italian Villa style house was designed by prominent San Antonio architect, Alfred Giles, for one of the three founding members of the Groos National Bank. In 1981, Charles Butt, owner of HEB grocery chain, purchased the house from the Girl Scouts of America. HEB was started in 1905 by Mr. Butt’s grandmother, Florence, in the small Texas Hill Country town of Kerrville using her $60 nest egg. Today it has grown to more than 300 stores in Texas and Mexico. In 2019, Forbes ranked HEB #12 on “Americas Largest Private Companies” with 100,000 employees and 21 Billion dollars in annual sales. The company gives five percent of annual pretax earnings to causes in the areas in which it operates, including education and food banks. Its current valuation is 2.4 million dollars.
Remember the aptitude tests you took in school that show you three things and you are supposed to pick out which one doesn’t go with the others? Well, you are standing in front of one of those. Sometime in the 1940s, the tennis court of the house you just looked at was sold and this Art Moderne Style home with its smooth, rounded stucco walls and flat roof was constructed. We don’t know anything about the original owner other than he had an interest in what was no doubt cutting edge architecture at the time. The current value is estimated at 550 thousand dollars.
This home of banker M.L. Oppenheimer, built around 1900, is an example of the Romanesque Revival Style. It is built of brick with carved stone detailing and exhibits large, deep Roman Arches. The Oppenheimer family lived at this address until 1963. You will notice several of the houses have large rectangular shaped stones out by the street. The one here has the original owners initials carved in it, M.L.O.. These are carriage steps to help when you were entering or exiting your horse drawn carriage. Current value is estimated at 800 thousand dollars.
Do you remember the three types of Greek columns, Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian? Look at your phone for a picture of all three types in that order. On this street you will see Doric, the simplest of them all, and Corinthian, which is the most ornate one The Ionic Column is mid-way between those two with a scroll or rams-horn design at the top but there are no examples of it on this street. See if you can pick out the different types as you walk along.
This Colonial Revival house belonged to Alexander Joskes, son of the founder of Joske’s Department Store, Julius Joske. He was one of three brothers who eventually went into business with their father. In the early 1920s he bought out everyone for sole ownership but died suddenly in 1925. Notice that the rock that creates the curb in the front of his house is made from granite, the only home on the entire street to do so. Can you see examples of both Doric and Corinthian columns here?
Ernst Altgelt came to Texas in 1850 and moved to San Antonio in 1866 . Originally a surveyor, he was the one who platted this neighborhood and named it King William. This house, considered by many to have been the first home in the area, has gone through some serious changes and additions. The earlier part of the structure is covered with imitation concrete stone. The current valuation is 644 Thousand dollars. Continue to the next house at 226
Altgelt built this more elaborate second home in 1877–78 but died shortly before it was finished. Notice the exterior covered stairway intended to save interior space. This house is currently valued at 523 Thousand Dollars. You will find this next stop a little sobering.
I am often asked why the Germans came to Texas. A better question might be why they left Germany in the first place. Civil unrest, disease, and limited job opportunities were probably some of the reasons. If you were not the first-born male, your outlook was grim, as well. Traditionally the choice for the younger males was to either join the military or the church. For many, immigrating to America was an alluring third choice.
The first Germans settlers arrived in 1844. As word of the opportunities and cheap land made its way back to Germany the interest in immigration increased. The bulk of the Germans arrived between the 1870s to the 1890s.
Up to that time, San Antonio had been kind of a wild west cowboy town. With the Germans came a sense of order and culture that soon rubbed off on this place.
During World War 1 anti-German sentiment was strong. The city’s response was to change the name from King William Street to Pershing Avenue. It was changed back after the conclusion of the war.
Underneath all the layers of dirt and neglect lies a beautiful house. This stands as a stark reminder of what this neighborhood might have looked like if Walter Mathis had not intervened. It also testifies to the fact that living in this area and providing care and upkeep on
120-year-old homes requires a lot of effort and money. It is currently valued at 437 Thousand Dollars, but would easily take that much more to do a full restoration.
Although this looks like just another nice home, it was originally the carriage house for a large home on Madison, the next street over. A carriage house is like a garage for both the carriage and the horses that pulled it. Built by Dr. Alfred McDaniel in 1896, it was restyled in 1972 and currently serves as the headquarters of the San Antonio Art League. It is currently valued at 518 Thousand Dollars.
This is a classic example of a Texas Vernacular house with its standing seam roof and a large overhanging porch. In 1868 two brothers from Elmendorf, John and Joseph Ball, bought this lot and the one next door for $650 and built two identical houses. The story is that there had been a falling out between the wives, so there were no windows on 120 facing 118. A later owner decided they need more room at 118 and added on a second story.
Like my grandmother’s house out in the country, it has a basement, probably originally used for storing homemade “canned goods” and smoked meats in a cool environment. This house is currently owned by another member of the San Antonio Professional Tour Association and I got to go in it a while back. It reinforced my belief that you need an equal part of money and perseverance to live in and maintain these homes. It is valued at 360 thousand dollars.
Built in 1870, this was one of the earlier homes erected here and is in the Italianate style. Wulf was a merchant and was also the cities first park commissioner. The sculpture on the front is of his daughter, Carolina, and was done by his son, Henry. Only five of the houses on this street are not residences and this one is the headquarters of the San Antonio Conservation Society. Formed back in the 1920s, they were responsible first for the saving of our downtown Riverwalk then for getting the ball rolling to save and rebuild our missions. They raise millions of dollars every year that goes toward historical preservation.
That concludes your tour of King William Street. I will suggest that you walk back down the street and spend time looking at all the houses. You could also start walking back, take a left on the first street you come to and a right on Madison St. back to your car. There are some beautiful homes on this street as well as some surprisingly modern ones.