By Richard Webner | @RWebner | Heron contributor
Updated 2:38 p.m. Friday:
On Tuesday, the Alamo Colleges District Board of Trustees approved the sale of the 120-year-old Koehler House, at 310 W. Ashby Place, to the development firm Weston Urban, according to the meeting agenda. The sale price was $2,037,800.
Weston Urban—which built the Frost Tower, and is building a 32-story apartment tower in west downtown—plans to turn the house into a hotel, restaurant and entertainment space, according to a letter sent by Dr. Robert Vela, president of the San Antonio College, to the Tobin Hill Community Association on Monday.
The house was built in 1901 by Otto Koehler, the co-founder and president of Pearl Brewery.
Up to now, the downtown developer Weston Urban has limited itself to projects in west downtown, where it built the landmark Frost Tower and where it soon plans to build another landmark, a $107 million, 32-story apartment tower.
But the developer, led by tech multimillionaire Graham Weston, is now reaching beyond its home base as it prepares to buy the historic Koehler House from the Alamo Colleges District to turn it into a hotel, restaurant and entertainment space, according to a letter from Dr. Robert Vela, president of San Antonio College (SAC).
Vela sent the letter on Monday to the Tobin Hill Community Association, saying that the Alamo Colleges District Board of Trustees is expected to authorize the sale of the 120-year-old house, 310 W. Ashby Place. The board will consider the sale at a meeting on Tuesday evening, according to the meeting agenda.
“The expected buyer is Weston Urban, a well-regarded local developer with the resources to invest appropriately in the restoration and maintenance of this historic property,” Vela said in the letter.
The firm plans to convert the Koehler House, and a carriage house and greenhouse on the 1.97-acre property, into “a full-service restaurant, hotel and entertainment space with a quality of customer experience warranted by a property of this caliber,” he said. “This will improve the appearance of the property and become an asset for the neighborhood.”
The Alamo Colleges District declared the Koehler House as a surplus property in September. It then received two bids for the property, according to the agenda of the Tuesday meeting. With a bid of $2,037,800, Weston Urban’s was the highest.
Randy Smith, Weston Urban’s president, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
With its three-story tower standing atop one of the highest points in Tobin Hill, the Koehler House is one of the most recognizable historic homes in San Antonio.
Otto Koehler, the co-founder and president of Pearl Brewery, built the home in 1901, said Vincent Michael, executive director of the Conservation Society of San Antonio. According to a widely-known story, he would take advantage of the high elevation to check whether smoke was coming from the smokestacks at the Pearl Brewery on the other side of the river, to make sure the business was running smoothly.
In 1971, his nephew—who was also named Otto Koehler, and who also served as president of the brewery—donated the house to the Alamo Colleges District “for enhancement of education in the fine arts,” according to the district’s website. As the Koehler Cultural Center, it hosted the ceramics, art metals and jewelry design studios for San Antonio College.
Michael called it “one of the most spectacular houses in town,” pointing to its mixture of Victorian and Romanesque architectural features. It is a Texas Historic Landmark, with a plaque celebrating its “turn-of-the-century eclecticism.”
Weston Urban has a good track record for restoring historic structures, Michael said, referencing their plans to rehab the former Continental Hotel on West Commerce Street into apartments and to preserve the adjacent De la Garza House.
“We have to see what their plans are,” Michael said. “They’re obviously doing the right thing with the Continental House and the De la Garza House. We’re interested in seeing their plans.”
Most of Weston Urban’s projects have involved the rehabilitation of historic buildings. In 2013, after buying the Rand building, 110 E. Houston St., the firm fixed it up to host the Geekdom coworking space, which now serves as a hub of the downtown tech district.
The firm has also rehabbed the Savoy building at 122 E. Houston St., home to Scaleworks, and the Dry Goods Building at 107 N. Flores St. It owns the Milam building, a 1920s-era high-rise at 115 E. Travis St., and has contemplated turning it into office space or apartments.
The Koehler House is across the street from the 108-year-old Hughes home, 312 W. Courtland Place, which has been at risk of demolition as its owner, the Archdiocese of San Antonio, prepared to sell it after using it as a Catholic Student Center.
In September, the archdiocese submitted an application to the city of San Antonio to demolish the home, telling District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo that it had received an offer to purchase the property.
[ Related: Preservationists helpless as archdiocese seeks to demolish 108-year-old home in Tobin Hill | Nov. 16, 2021 ]
After community outcry, Vela, the president of SAC, sent a letter to the Tobin Hill Community Association last month stating that the college wasn’t interested in buying the home, “given the projected costs of improvement and maintenance.”
The demolition request is “still technically active,” said Shanon Shea Miller, director of the city’s Office of Historic Preservation, in a text message on Monday. “But they asked us to hold off while they look for alternatives” to demolition, she said.
Jordan Mcmorrough, a spokesman for the archdiocese, declined to offer comment.
Richard Webner is a freelance journalist covering Austin and San Antonio, and a former San Antonio Express-News business reporter. Follow him at @RWebner on Twitter
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