t If you’re visiting San Antonio’s downtown, you’re likely going to see well-known highlights: the River Walk, the Alamo, La Vallita, San Fernando Cathedral, and the Historic Market Square. But there’s a lot of history in Downtown San Antonio. Opportunities to learn about the city’s beginnings can be found everywhere. Some of these places are lesser known, but worth adding to your itinerary. One of these hidden historic gems is the Spanish Governor’s Palace.
Spanish Governor’s Palace
Address: 105 Plaza De Armas, San Antonio, TX 78205
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday: 9 am – 5 pm; Sunday: 10 am – 5 pm; Closed on Mondays
Entrance Fee: $5 / adult
Parking: There is a parking garage at 60 N Flores St, San Antonio, TX 78205. This garage will become City of San Antonio parking on August 1, 2019. It is a short walk to the Spanish Governor’s Palace.
The Building’s History
Now coined as a Palace, this modest building was not originally designed to be a home and only housed one governor. The original building is what remains from the Presidio San Antonio de Béjar, a fort established in 1722 by the Governor of Coahuila and Texas, Marquis de San Miguel de Aguayo, to protect the newly established Mission San Antonio de Valero (now known as The Alamo) from the French as they advanced through the region.
The Presidio had a very small home, one bedroom with a kitchen out back. This is where captains would stay as they presided over the military garrison. In 1749, the residing captain added three rooms to the original one-room house so he could have a bedroom and separate office. Captain Menchaca built two additional rooms between 1763 and 1804. One of these rooms house a shop for selling Mexican goods.
The last captain to live in the Presidio was Captain Juan Ignacio (Ygnacio) Perez. He was a merchant, land owner, and appointed Governor of Tejas and Coahiula in 1816. He was Governor for one year, but that was long enough this humble abode to later be referred to as the Spanish Governor’s Palace.
No longer functioning as a military post, Captain Perez’s family lived on the property during the 1800’s — witnessing the Texas Revolution, establishment of the Republic of Texas, and Texas becoming the 28th state — while leasing the property to merchants. By the turn of the century, most of the family members had moved into newer neighborhoods and the property was used for businesses, the first of which was a pawn shop in 1877.
You may notice that the entrance to the Palace is off of “Plaza de Armas” and one street down from Military Plaza. Now you know where these streets got their name.
Restoration of the Palace
By 1928, the property had grown to 6 rooms with hardwood floors, temporary walls, and modern windows. Commercial buildings encroached the remnants of the Presidio, including a newly built City Hall (currently under reconstruction). In comparison, the Presidio was an eye-sore and under consideration for demolition. Instead, the City of San Antonio purchased the property and opened it as a museum in 1930.
It may seem like a quick restoration project, but efforts to save the historic building from demolition began 15 years earlier. Adina Emilia De Zavala (granddaughter of Lorenzo de Zavala, who was the first vice president of the Republic of Texas) was the force behind preserving the historically important site. She had already “founded the De Zavala Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas in 1893 and the Texas Historical and Landmarks Association in 1912.” She stated her vision for restoration in a newspaper, calling the building the “Spanish Governor’s Palace.” (If you’re familiar with San Antonio, you’ll know that the De Zavala family has a street named after them.)
The 1930s’ idea of historic preservation is very different from today’s view. The restoration was more of a romanticized remodeling of the structure. The hardwood floors were replaced with old sidewalk material and tiles, the temporary walls were removed to reflect the original designs, and many structures which had been removed by business owners were replicated. But some of the renovation included adding another bedroom, a passageway, fireplaces in the rooms, a colonial-style kitchen, attached to the dining room, and a courtyard. (You can find photos of what the property looked like before restoration took place while you tour the property).
The renovations to the building did not end in the 1930s. In 2010, the City upgraded the electrical service, lime-washed the walls, and redesigned the rooms to depict a more accurate display. No air conditioning was added, so consider yourselves warned if you visit during the summer months. The recent reno kept a lot of the 1930’s additions because they have become a part of the site’s history and mark the Spanish Colonial Revival moment that occurred during the time (for another example, check out the McNay Art Museum).
Pay attention to the entrance doors. These are not the original doors, but replicas designed by the Swiss woodcarver, Peter Mansbendel. He was also commissioned to design the doors at Mission San Jose. As you pass through the Palace doors, look up. The Hapsburg double eagle emblem above the doorway was associated with King Carlos I of Spain.
Though these courtyards did not exist during the Presidio era, I’m not complaining about the historical inaccuracy. It’s a beautifully designed garden. There is the main courtyard in the back of the building and a side courtyard, which can be seen from the street. Both include water features.
Did you know? Although not designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Spanish Governor’s Palace is managed by the city’s World Heritage Office. When you visit the building, use the following tags: @worldheritagesanantonio #worldheritagesa
Have you visited the Spanish Governor’s Palace? Do you plant on visiting? Let me know in the comments!