One of the most iconic and historically significant buildings in San Antonio, the original portion of the National Register of Historic Places-listed Menger Hotel, was constructed on Alamo Plaza in 1859 by German immigrants Mary and William Menger. Mary Baumschlueter Guenther (soon to be Menger) arrived in San Antonio in 1846. Her husband died shortly after her arrival, and she opened a boarding house at the corner of St. Mary’s and Commerce Streets. William Menger stayed as a guest at the boarding house upon his arrival in San Antonio, and the couple married in 1851. Four years later they moved their boarding house to Alamo Plaza and established a brewery nearby. The success of the brewery operation led to the founding of the Menger Hotel in 1859 (Stuck 2013; Unknown n.d.).
The original 2-story, 50-room, cut limestone structure featured classical detailing and was designed by San Antonio’s first prominent architect John M. Fries. Fries was responsible for several other buildings of note in the area including the original City Market House and Casino Hall, both of which have since been demolished. He is also credited with repairing the Alamo in 1850 and saving it from collapse. Menger quickly realized that the newly-opened hotel was not large enough to accommodate demand and commissioned a three-story, 40-room addition between the hotel and the brewery the same year the hotel opened (Stuck 2013; THC 1976).
After William Menger’s death, his wife sold the hotel to J.H. Kampmann who oversaw a third-story addition to the original building along Alamo Plaza in 1881 and a fourth story addition to the annex on the Blum Street side of the building in 1887. Other renovations during this period included the addition of an artesian well, steam laundry service, electric lights, and a steam-powered elevator. During this period, the Menger remained the best known hotel in the southwestern United States, and additions such as a new bar in 1887 and another 50-room addition in 1899 reflect continued demand for lodging at the facility during the period (Stuck 2013).
Additional renovations and upgrades during the first decades of the twentieth century signal the hotel’s continued importance among the city’s social elite and important visitors. Throughout its early history, the Menger served as the hotel of choice for visiting dignitaries, politicians, and socialites. Teddy Roosevelt stayed at the Menger at least twice; the first time on a hunting trip and the second in 1898 to recruit volunteers for his Rough Riders.
The hotel housed studio space for renowned sculptor Gutzon Borglum, most famous for his work at Mt. Rushmore. Other significant visitors included Ulysses S. Grant, cattle baron Richard King, who died in the hotel, and author Oscar Wilde (Stuck 2013; Unknown n.d.).
Due to its continued popularity, renowned architect Alfred Giles was enlisted to renovate the hotel in 1909. He made extensive changes to the facility by adding Renaissance-Revival details to the main façade, including an ornamental marquee of ground glass and iron, as well as a glazed iron canopy across the main floor supported by iron columns. Giles also made renovations to the hotel’s interior, designing the inner rotunda that is still recognized as one of the facility’s character-defining features and embellishing the lobby with marble floors and other Renaissance-Revival detailing such as Corinthian columns and filigreed balustrades (Unknown n.d.).
The hotel continued to expand and evolve into its current form throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Specifically, a four story, 125-room addition was commissioned by new hotel owner W.L. Moody Jr. in 1949. This renovation included the construction of a new lobby and pool facilities. Another 5-story addition was constructed in 1966 followed by the most recent major renovations in 1988. Though its current character was achieved via years of renovation, addition, and modification, the historic fabric of the hotel reflects many layers of San Antonio’s history that can be traced through its evolution over time (Stuck 2013; Unknown n.d.).
In addition to its architectural significance, For more information about the history of the Menger Hotel, see the article on the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas Online. The hotel’s website also has additional information about the architecture and history of the facility as well as information regarding how to visit and tour the hotel. Finally, the Library of Congress Website provides copies of the Historic American Buildings Survey Report prepared for the property and includes historic photographs and drawings of the building.