Did you know that you can find beautiful turn of the century style homes in San Antonio, Texas? As German immigrants moved into the area in the early 1800’s, they settled just south of down town. The district is known as King William, named after King Wilhelm I of Prussia. Strolling through this part of town is a favorite pastime for locals and tourists alike. There’s no better way to learn more about this district than taking a tour of one of the homes.
There are a few homes you can tour in the King William District.
One of these beautiful homes is now a restaurant. The Guenther House, once home to the owner of the Pioneer Flour Mill, serves breakfast and lunch in the ballroom. There is also a museum and tours available.
If you’re visiting during the holiday season, consider attending the King William Holiday Home Tour and see inside many more of these homes.
Address: 401 King William, San Antonio, Texas
Hours: Guided tours: Tuesday – Saturday: 1:30 pm and 3:00 pm; Self-guided tours (first floor only): Tuesday – Saturday: 10:00 am to 1:00 pm
Price: Tours $12 / adult; Self-guided $10 / adult
Parking is available on the streets in the neighborhood. Tickets can be purchased in the Carriage House on the back of the property.
I love when I have friends visit from out town because it gives me an excuse to become a tourist in my hometown. I’ve lived here for 10 years and this was my first time taking a tour of a King William home (if I don’t count going to homes of friends who live in the neighborhood that is). I learned a lot of history on this tour, which I probably would never have known had I not taken the tour. If you like learning about the cities you visit, I highly recommend going on one of these tours. One suggestion is to call ahead for tour times. We showed up a few minutes before a tour was going to begin. They were very nice to allow us to purchase tickets and join the group.
Villa Finale began as a one-story, four room residence, built by Russel C. Norton in 1876. The area was being established by wealthy German immigrants, but this changed during the 1920s. Many German families began to move out of the neighborhood with WWI and the rise of anti-german sentiment. When the San Antonio River flooded in 1921, more families began to leave the area for homes on high ground. The Nortons no longer lived in the home. A second owner began renovations, turning it into a two-story residence, but ran out of money to complete the project. By the 1960s many of the homes had been turned into boarding houses, including Villa Finale.
In comes Walter Nold Mathis. He purchased the home in 1967 with grand plans to restore the home. Once completed, Mathis turned to neighboring homes. He purchased 14 other properties, restored them, and sold them to like-minded individuals, those who wanted to revive the King William District.
Villa Finale and Mathis
One thing you need to know about Mathis before entering this home is that he was a collector of many things and displayed everything. If you have children (or adult friends) who love to touch things, maybe skip this tour. The temptation may be to great. But if you love looking at antiques, from furniture to paperclips, then this is the home tour for you!
Mathis collected nearly 12,000 different pieces. He also had an obsession with Napoleon Bonaparte. Many of his pieces relate to this admiration — a bust of the emperor, chandeliers and mirrors to mimic Versailles, one of Napoleon’s death masks, and so much more.
Many of his pieces were purchased from a catalog or were inherited from family members. Some of the catalog purchases were surprises as the descriptions, usually the size of an item, were very different. A table lamp was actually a few feet tall, but still placed on a table. A music box was actually a box that fit two violins inside. I won’t steal the tour guides’ stories about other pieces. You’ll have to take a tour to learn more about the pieces on display.
I love taking tours of old homes. The architecture, decor, colors, attention to detail, I love it all. You forget while walking through Villa Finale, that though it was originally built around the early 1900s, it wasn’t decorated until the 1970s. Walter Mathis lived in the home, wearing modern day clothing and using appliances like microwaves and refrigerators, until 2004 (though his updated microwave was hidden from guests’ eyes). You feel as though you’re walking through history because of all the antiques on display.
My favorite room was the kitchen. But his bedroom does have some interesting features. it was the first room to be completed so that he didn’t have to stay in a hotel, north of downtown, and commuting every day to over see the renovation. This meant that a kitchenette was installed in his bedroom so he could cook while the kitchen was being restored. It reminds me of the kitchenette in Linus Larrabeee’s office (in Sabrina, 1954 version). He also installed an alarm system – a button beside his bed that was a direct line to the police station – after his home was broken into.
The grounds are open to the public and free, so if you don’t have time to take a tour, I suggest walking around outside. There is a beautiful garden on the left side of the house. It’s a great spot to snap a few photos, too.
You’ll learn a little about how the grounds used to look before Mathis obtained the property, too. His plans for the home was a huge improvement!
Don’t forget to check the Villa Finale’s list of programs to see if you can attend special tours or events.