By Ben Olivo | @rbolivo | Heron editor
The Tower Life Building, downtown San Antonio’s most iconic high-rise, has a new owner.
A group led by the McCombs family has purchased the circa-1920s octagonal office tower from the Zachry family, which had owned the building for nearly 80 years. The ownership group also includes local developer Ed Cross and Jon Wiegand, founder of investment firm Alamo Capital Advisors. The deal closed on Monday.
“If you’re in the real estate business and you have any connection to San Antonio, the Tower Life Building is the signature of our skyline,” Wiegand said in a brief interview Monday. “Part iconic building, part location, (the deal) came together as a great opportunity for us.”
The McCombs-led group is the building’s fourth owner. The Tower Life was completed in 1929, and was the last of a flurry of new buildings to go up in downtown San Antonio in the 1920s. Four months after the Tower Life opened, the stock market crashed, ushering in the start of the Great Depression. Now, San Antonio may be experiencing a construction boom similar to the ’20s led by developer Weston Urban, which completed the 24-story Frost Tower in 2019, and which broke ground on a 32-story apartment tower called 300 Main in March.
Wiegand declined to give a purchase price, nor the occupancy on the 31-story Tower Life Building.
The sale comes as the building’s appraised value jumped significantly from $6.1 million, where it had plateaued in recent years, to $10.2 million this year. The land value has remained steady at roughly $5.5 million. But the value of the building itself skyrocketed from $859,750 in 2021 to $4.7 million this year, according to the Bexar Appraisal District.
In an interview, Wiegand declined to say what was in store for the Tower Life Building in terms of upgrades or any other investment. He did say the building has a “variety of spaces today.”
“We’re going to continue the great work the Zachry family has done,” he said.
He said the deal has been in the works for “several months,” and was first discussed in talks with Cross and the Zachrys. It’s unclear who initiated the talks.
Wiegand and Cross will take over the building’s day-to-day operations, Wiegand said.
In a press release, Wiegand described the new ownership group as a “partnership capitalized by the McCombs family.”
“We are honored to now own and steward a piece of San Antonio’s cultural heritage,” Joe Shields, McCombs Enterprises’ director of business development and grandson of legendary businessman Red McCombs, said in a press release.
The Tower Life Building opened June 1, 1929, as the Smith-Young Tower. A San Antonio Light article the next day described 5,000 spectators attending an open house, which began at 8:30 p.m. There would have been more, but people were turned away.
“The six elevators, having all-automatic controls, were not able to handle the crowds,” the Light wrote. “Hundreds didn’t wait for elevators but climbed up and down long flights of stairs. The crowd did not become thin until midnight.”
Developers and brothers John H. and F. Albert Smith and lawyer J.W. Young built the 31-story skyscraper. Prominent architects Atlee B. & Robert M. Ayers, a father-and-son team, designed the Gothic Revival building.
The Tower Life Building is known for its terra-cotta gargoyles on the lower floors looking down on passersby, and its octagonal-shaped office tower that shoots up into the skyline, topped with its green-glazed clay tile roof.
The Smith-Young Tower marked the end of a flurry of downtown growth in the Roaring ’20s, one that also produced the San Antonio Express-News building and Majestic Theatre the same year.
Four months later, Wall Street crashed.
It later would become known as the San Antonio Transit Tower when it was purchased by the precursor to VIA Metropolitan Transit.
H.B. Zachry purchased the building in 1943 and renamed it the Tower Life Building.
Learn more about the Tower Life Building’s history:
» San Antonio Express-News: Tower Life building opened to great fanfare | March 31, 2015
» San Antonio Express-News: Remember Tower Life in downtown’s revival | April 2, 2015
» San Antonio Express-News: Tower Life building hosted Eisenhower’s office, a tunnel and all kinds of other weirdness | Jan. 21, 2022
Heron Editor Ben Olivo has been writing about downtown San Antonio since 2008, first for mySA.com, then for the San Antonio Express-News. He co-founded the Heron in 2018, and can be reached at 210-421-3932 | firstname.lastname@example.org | @rbolivo on Twitter
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