There once was a famous hotel on the south side of San Antonio. Now ruins, this site is home to the newest park in the city. The Hot Wells Park opened to the public on April 30, 2019.
The Hot Wells Park
Location: 5503 S Presa St, San Antonio, TX 78214
There is a small parking lot. On a summer weekday there were only a few cars, some belonging to kayakers. Since it’s a small lot, I don’t recommend driving large vehicles, like trucks, because backing out may be difficult if there are other cars.
History of the Hot Wells
In 1892, the State of Texas authorized drilling for water on this site, then owned by the state. Drillers were surprised when the well produced 103º F sulphur water instead. The State sold the land to Charles Scheuermeyer, who opened an indoor pool on the location. Back then mineral wells were touted as offering health benefits. His plans for the pool fell through so he leased the land to McClennan Shacklett who added 10 acres of land and built a bathhouse. His bathhouse burned 1894 (start counting disasters! This is one.) and the site didn’t reopen until 1901.
In 1901, brewer Otto Koehler purchased the land and built the Hot Wells Hotel and Bath House, the grand hotel you’ll see pictures of on the park’s many signs. The Hotel offered 190 rooms, 3 swimming pools, 45 private bathing areas, street car and railway access, and was close to the San Antonio River and the Exposition Park. The nearby park offered a Ferris Wheel, horse racing, hot air balloon rides and an ostrich farm (not for petting but for placing bets on races). The Expo Park, however, closed in 1907. There were still plenty of entertainment options: golf, tennis, bowling, dancing, a zoo, a baseball school, and the Star Film Ranch, a working film studio. Some of the celebrities who visited the hotel and “Took the Waters” included Lt. Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, Will Rogers, Clara Bow, an Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, Sarah Bernhardt, Hoot Gibson, Tom Mix, E. H. Harriman (president of Union and Southern Pacific Railroads) and Mexican president Porfirio Díaz.
The Hotel was a thriving destination for locals and tourists alike until Prohibition proved to be too much of a strain on the hotel business. The Hot Well Hotel and Bathhouse closed in 1923 and was converted to a private school.
Then in 1925, the hotel portion of the building burned (that’s two). Some tourist cabins were built in its place. Then in 1937 a club room was opened, aptly named the Flame Room. It surprisingly stayed open (with an ominous name like that) until 1977. The Bathhouse stayed open until the 1980s. But over time weather and a fire in 1988 (three) left the building in ruins.
In 2015 the land was acquired by Bexar County for preservation and public use. It took about four years to restore the land and stabilize the structure. The park’s grand opening was held on April 30, 2019.
The Park Today
Remnants of the bathhouse is all that remains. There is a pathway circling the ruins, allowing visitors a chance to see all of the building, including the three main swimming areas. Signs explaining the history of the Hot Wells are located along the path. Although I listed all the facts above, the photos on the signs are worth looking at. You’ll see how the hotel looked in its glory days and during its different stages over the years.
The most interesting thing visitors can see are the swimming pools. You can still make out the painted signs designating pools to “Ladies” and “Gents” and warning guests that diving is strictly prohibited.
Aside from the hotel ruins, visitors can stroll along the San Antonio River. There is a crossing at the San Juan Damn to Padre Park on the other side of the river (most likely where the Star Film Ranch was once located). If you cross over to Padre Park, you’ll be close Mission San Jose, too. Otherwise, continue south down the paved trail to Mission San Juan. I don’t know the distance between these two points, so if this is your plan I suggest wearing comfortable shoes and bringing water, especially in the warmer months. To find out more about the San Antonio Missions, check out my blog post here.
I visited the park in May 2019 so all the trees and flowers were freshly planted. It’ll be really pretty and an enjoyable area to sit and relax or walk around once there’s more shade.
Let me know if you visit the Hot Wells Park and share your experience in the comments!