San Antonio is known mainly for the Alamo, the famous Spanish Mission, which in person, is a bit disappointing. It’s diminutive size is always a surprise to visitors, but its significance to history and tourism can not be overstated.The Alamo – the most famous historical site in Texas is the biggest tourism draw in San Antonio. It is truly a beautiful building. Here, it looks so impressive.
But driving downtown, it looks a bit less impressive. Wait…is THAT the Alamo on the right? Blink and you might miss it.
Besides the Alamo, another major draw for tourists is the Riverwalk – a rambling path along the muddy river that flows through San Antonio. Over the years, the Riverwalk has been extended to reach further and further destinations. It’s a festive place with throngs of people, lively music, sidewalk cafes and hotels.The romantic Riverwalk with arched bridges and mariachi music. The closest to Venice we have in Texas!The amphitheater is quiet here – probably because it’s 6:00 am!If you have never been to San Antonio, you should. It’s as unique a town as New Orleans, and today, there is now more than ever a reason to visit.Located at one of the furthest points on the Riverwalk, at the end of the last extension is Pearl – a revitalized neighborhood that has sprung up on the old Pearl Brewery campus. Years in the making, the area is now home to scores of new restaurants, shops, apartments, social venues, an outdoor amphitheater, and a farmers market.The crown jewel of the revitalization is the Hotel Emma, which after years of planning and renovation, finally opened last week. A boutique hotel with 146 rooms, it’s truly something to see.
The hotel is an incredible mix of old, modern, industrial and rustic design. The design company, New York’s hip Roman & Williams created the hotel and looking at their finished product, it’s hard to imagine any other firm at the helm. The hotel is their aesthetic, the definition of what the restoration of historic architecture can be in the 21st century.The Pearl Brewery’s history is thoroughly entwined with San Antonio’s. The city proved the perfect place to brew beer, thanks to its spring fed waters and scores of German immigrants. At the end of the 19th century, Pearl Brewery was erected along the San Antonio river on a stretch of 23 acres. The brewery, a true landmark, survived through Prohibition and remained open and operating until 2001.Otto Koehler owned the brewery and his wife Emma Koehler successfully took over the reins after his death in 1914. She is credited with keeping it open during prohibition by changing from manufacturing beer to running a dry cleaner, doing auto repairs, and making ice cream and sodas.Emma Koehler with the first bottle brewed after Prohibition. She was credited with keeping the brewery open, while most all others went bankrupt.The new hotel is named after Emma, but there is quite a scandalous story behind the name.In 1910, Emma was injured in a car accident. Her husband, Otto, hired a young - and very pretty nurse – also named Emma, known as Emma II, to tend to her. She then accompanied the family to Europe for an extended stay. As you can imagine, Otto and Emma II began a torrid affair which Emma II then retold to her friend, ANOTHER Emma, known as Emma III.Otto Koehler, the CasanovaOtto was very wealthy, one of the wealthiest men in the state. He set up the young nurse, Emma II, in a small house and gave her $125 a month in allowance. Soon afterwards, Emma III also moved into the small house and received $50 a month from Otto.The elderly man visited the house several times a week for a few hours. He later deeded the house to the two Emmas. His wife, the original Emma, meanwhile, lived in splendor, in a three story stone mansion near the brewery.Of course the arrangement was doomed to fail. Emma II found a husband and left Otto to Emma III. He then proposed to Emma III, but she turned him down because his wife, the original Emma was “too sickly” to divorce after having been married to Otto for 22 years.It all came to an end on November 12, 1914, when the 59 year Otto drove over to the small house. He was shot dead shortly after he entered - by one of the two Emmas. Apparently, he had headed straight to Emma III’s bedroom, where he tried to kiss her. Instead, she shot him dead with a .32.Emma III, the murdererThe family tried to blame it on a disputed bill for Mrs. Koehler’s care. Emma III confessed to the police when they found her lying over Otto’s body, after she tried to kill herself.Emma III was charged with murder, but left for Europe to treat soldiers in WWI. Huh???? It was not until 3 years later that Emma III returned to stand trial, when she was found in New York, having never gone to Europe at all. She came court in a fancy fur hat, muff and a veil covering her face. She claimed she shot Otto to protect the honor of Emma II. Emma III was found not guilty and quickly married one of the jury members. They lived in the small house that Otto bought for Emma II, who was never heard from again.Although Emma Koehler was supposedly too sick to divorce, she took over the brewery and worked there until her death in 1943. The Hotel
Emma plans to serve a new drink called “The Three Emmas.”The three story stone house that Otto Koehler built in 1901 for his wife Emma. The house still stands today, measuring over 12,000 sq. ft. It sits on a full city block with iron gates surrounding it. In 1908, Otto’s 15 year old nephew, also named Otto, came to live with them. Otto II took over the brewery from his aunt Emma and also inherited the mansion, where he continued to live until his death in 1969. Otto II left the house to the San Antonio College.The main hall in the Otto Koehler House. So beautiful!The original Pearl Brewery campus as it was when purchased in 2002.While Otto Koehler’s house has not changed through the years, neither has his old brewery. The company was located on the river, in a blue collar area of town. After operations had ceased, the large campus was bought in 2002 by Silver Ventures, headed by Kit Goldsbury, who had a vision for the property.Over the past decade, Goldsbury has brought the area back to life – known today simply as Pearl. It is a trendy area, certainly the trendiest in San Antonio, if not, Texas. The last piece of the revitalization was the old brewhouse. The Pearl had stores, restaurants, apartments, and social venues. It only lacked a hotel.The New York firm Roman & Williams was hired to renovate the old brewhouse and surrounding buildings into Hotel Emma. Architectural firm Clayton and Little fromAustin was also hired.Coming up with the correct vision for the old brewhouse was monumental. Although the historic building looks rather regal with its cupolas and stone edifice, inside it was built to efficiently brew beer. The interior of the main building was built tall to allow gravity to aid in the brewing process. Grain was mechanically lifted to the top of the building and then,through a series of machines and tanks, the beer would flow out from the bottom. Yum – I can just taste the cold, frothy brew!!When creating the vision for the new Hotel Emma, all the old machines and building artifacts were incorporated in the design.Walking into the lobby today, there is no doubt of its age: the original ammonia-driven engine is attached to the peeling plaster wall, almost like an fancy necklace found on a collarbone.The uniqueness of the brewery extends to the guest rooms. There are special rooms that were carved out of the cellars found at the rear of the Old Brew House. Although these cellar rooms are small, the tall ceilings create a feeling of space. Other rooms are found in the original tower, with spiral stairs that reach inside the cupolas.The renovation has been a long process. The seven story structure’s exterior was restored in 2008, the interior renovation, though, was only just begun in 2012. Besides the original buildings, there is also a new tower for additional guest rooms that are a bit more contemporary.Roman & Williams, the iconic design firm, created hotel in their aesthetic, it’s a mix of historic and modern elements, which they are known for. With all the old equipment incorporated into the hotel, there is both an industrial and rustic feel to the space, heightened by all the peeling paint, chipped plaster, and rough textures. Yet, despite this industrial feel, there is also a highly romantic air about, helped by the beautiful patterned encaustic concrete tile floors, cypress wood paneling, and vintage furniture that fills the lobby, restaurants and rooms.The final result is stunning, and another testament to Roman & Williams. It’s hard to imagine any other firm doing a better job, Hotel Emma and Roman & Williams are soul mates.The Pearl Campus sits on the San Antonio Riverwalk’s Museum Reach. You can see the original cupola topped brewery in the middle of the picture.Another view. The Riverwalk was extended to the Pearl Campus, although the moss-covered, stone arched bridges, and romantic air of the older sections of the Riverwalk is missing here.Throngs of people flock to Pearl for different events. There’s a farmers market and different culinary events that draw the crowds.Horse drawn carriages at the original Pearl brewery.Trucks replaced the horse drawn carriages.The campus, as it was when it finally closed its doors.The new hotel Emma, in black and white.The original Old Brewhouse today.The entrance to the Hotel Emma is located at the original engine room.The entrance courtyard with encaustic concrete tiles and a welcoming fireplace.An Instagram picture of the fireplace from this week. I love how the green in the cushions is picked up in the red/green tile.The Reception Lobby sets the tone with its encaustic tile floor and antique styled reception desk.An antique mail slot for each hotel guest. Except, no one uses mail anymore!The reception desk – on Instagram.THE LOBBY:Before: Renovation to the lobby begins in the old engine room. The red steam powered electric turbine remained in place and is the focal point of the lobby. For fun, be sure to come back and view the finished lobby with this photo of the original space. While the lobby looks authentic, if you looks closely – you will see there is a lot a “faux” authenticity too!For instance, here, the lobby has been cleaned up, ready for renovation. You can see the walls were plastered over and smoothed out a bit.BEFORE: from the other side.Getting closer to being finished.Concrete encaustic tiles were laid in the lobby. Their design was copied from an original tile found in the brewhouse.A close up of the turbines. The light fixtures were custom designed for the lobby.Amazing!The original drawing from Roman & Williams. How do they do this? Think you are creative? Looking at this really puts me in my place!!!AFTER: The vast lobby is just beautiful.Another view.The concierge’s desk.Be sure to notice all the furniture.A view of the machinery at the far end.View of the machinery – and, beyond, the hall with the custom chandeliers. I love how the machinery is red and the tiles pick up that color in their red and blue.A center table filled with berries and flowers greets people when they enter the lobby.A furniture vignette in the lobby.The to-die-for coffee bar in the lobby – set against original red pipes. I can’t imagine how good the lobby must smell!BEFORE: The ammonia manifold, as it was found.And here, cleaned up a bit. Lots of wiring and bits of steel have been removed.And finally, the ammonia manifold, artfully renovated, all polished up.The view at night. Wow! Just, wow!!The lobby leads to the bar.STERNEWIRTH:Originally, the bar looked like this. It is called Sternewirth, which is the name of the old Pearl brewery’s policy of allowing workers to drink beer on the premises as long as they did so in moderation. Notice the vaulted ceiling.Before: The same space now with a bar and a mezzanine in place. The top of the long wood bar was made from an old pecan tree found buried on the campus. It is believed to have been part of the foundation of the original wood-framed brew house built in 1881. The old wood brewery was soon replaced by the present day stone structure.After: The finished bar, which is also a club like room for relaxing and reading. A huge fireplace, center back, anchors the room. I love the striped blankets over the caramel leather sofas. Notice the wheel-like light fixture:The fabulous, focal point chandelier was originally a bottle labeler – transformed!Another view. Love the leather furniture!!The bar, with the restored pecan tree used as the bar countertop.Those columns are huge. They make the pool table look tiny.One end of the bar with the original spiral staircase. Inside the brew tank at the left, there is a private seating area.Close up of one of the private seating areas inside the brew tank!From Instagram – visitors inside the tank. Instagram is flooded with pictures from this week’s opening! I predict everyone is going to IG a picture in the tank!One of the small sitting areas in the bar. Outside the window, original wood beer kegs are used as architectural elements.THE LIBRARY:The library is located right off the lobby. The hotel purchased the 3700 book library of Sherry Kafka Wagner, a former Loeb Fellow at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, novelist, cultural anthropologist, and urban planning consultant who told friends at Silver Ventures that she “was downsizing.” She personally went through all the books and signed many of them, adding annotations. Fascinating!Another view of the library.Original memorabilia is used for at work.The grocery store, Larder.The elevator lobby has an Art Deco feel.The hall off the lobby. The branding of Hotel Emma is fabulous, seen here in this sign.One of the restaurants in the Old Brewhouse is Southerleigh. This wasn’t designed by Roman & Williams, but by Joel Mozerksy and I don’t think it is owned by the hotel, although it is located in the brewhouse. A bit confusing?Before: This part of Southerleigh is a brewery. Here, it is shown being built.AFTER: The finished brewery, with the beautiful, original columns, and the wall of wood planks. Notice the brewery machines above.The main restaurant at Hotel Emma is called “Supper.”The hotel’s chef is John Brand, whose official title is Culinary Director. He is known for his work at The Little Nell in Aspen, The Broadmoor and Keswick Hall.There is also a Culinary Concierge at the hotel to help introduce guests to all the cultural choices in food that are available in San Antonio. OK. Everything is soooo On Trend at Hotel Emma. Of course there would be a Culinary Concierge!But, seriously, in case you are wondering about the close attention to culinary topics at Hotel Emma, wonder no more.The owner of Silver Ventures, Kit Goldsbury, made a $35 million donation to the Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio, whose home is now located on the Pearl Campus. This development has helped make San Antonio a mecca for innovative chefs who have since flooded the city. Additionally, chefs who once moved away are now returning. The CIA is credited with increasing San Antonio’s reputation as a great food city.I would be willing to place a large wager that Kit is a major foodie.THE ELEPHANT CELLAR BALLROOM:Before.Before: Walls are now painted. These are the ends of brewing tanks, which when hung look like elephant trunks, hence, the name.After: The end of the brewing tanks used on the walls of the ballroom.The Elephant Ballroom – set for a cocktail party.Bottle labeler chandeliers hang in the Elephant Cellar ballroom.Still under construction when this picture was taken, is one of the conference rooms. Notice the antique doors – these are bought years ago by Christopher “Kit” Goldsbury, head of Silver Ventures whose vision was Pearl and Hotel Emma. Goldsbury once owned Pace Foods (Pace Picante Sauce) which he sold to Campbell's for a bit more than a billion. Just a bit. He then started Silver Ventures and in 2001, he bought the Pearl Brewery site.Off the ballroom and meeting rooms is the Exhibition Kitchen used for events and parties.Desserts on the island in the exhibition kitchen. So pretty!Off the meeting rooms and ballroom is the courtyard, with fountain.Before: This space in the cellars became guest rooms.Another space that became rooms.The Hopper Suite, before.The Hopper Suite, again. Located in the top of the Brewhouse, this suite can connect with two other corner rooms to create a four room apartment. The stairs lead to the cupola.The Hopper Suite – with the staircase that leads up to the cupola.The cellars became guest rooms.The top floor of cellar 7, becomes a guest suite. Looking at all these vast spaces, it is amazing to think how a hotel was carved out of this.Before: This space will become one of the suites at Hotel Emma.After: And here is the same sitting room in a guest room.A view of the sitting room in one of the suites. Decorated in leather upholstery, striped rugs – these rooms have wood windows and original plaster walls.There are seven different suites – each unique. Some are two stories that reach up into the cupolas. Others have outdoor terraces.Here is a guest room, with tall ceilings. The rooms are a mix of the industrial style that Roman & Williams is famous for – and a touch of Texas chic. Love the leather bench and suzani pillow!The tall original ceilings found in some of the guest rooms.Sitting area with striped rugs and leather furniture in a guest room.Before: Here is a sketch of a bathroom in a guest room.And here – a bathroom in a suite – with double vanities. Just stunning!Some suites, and rooms, such as the Artesian Guest Rooms, have claw foot tubs. How beautiful is this?!! If you want a tub, be sure to ask when booking because not all rooms have them.Here is another bathroom in the Otto Suite, still under construction. Love the window!This is what the bathrooms in a standard guest room looks like. Book me now!Here is a finished bath in a guest room.A sitting area in the new tower rooms. Love the coffee table and chair.Here is a guest room – probably a standard. Notice the armoire in the corner. That’s the mini bar!The mini bar is stocked with Texas goodies like Mexican Cokes, Topo Chico mineral water. Cute lettering “ice box.” All of the rooms have chinaware, stemware, cutlery and cutting boards.Besides the restaurants, there is also the Larder, a gourmet market that stocks local groceries, local olive oils, baked goods, flowers and freshly-prepared foods.The “Terrace” guest rooms, come with this wonderful space – with the encaustic concrete tiles AND a fireplace!!!! WOW!!!One of the rooms with a fireplace on its terrace.All rooms comes with Guayabera robes, custom-made by Dos Carolinas, Malin + Goetz toiletries and Frette linens.The halls in the new tower. Beautiful rug, sconces over the doors, and I love the black and white contrast and the trim on the doors.The pool.Here is a look at other renovations on the Pearl Campus. The scope of the endeavor is truly monumental when you see it all put together:Here is a plat of Pearl, before Hotel Emma was finished. But you can see the Engine House, Brew House, Old Cellars, Block Cellars – and how they all became Hotel Emma.The original Administration Building built in 1910.Today, it is the location for Cured, one of the many restaurants found on the campus.The Stables, built in 1894 to house the horses that delivered the beer.Today, the Stables is a venue for social events such as weddings and parties.The Stables, set up for a wedding reception.At the entry of the campus were the large warehouses, built by Pearl in 1970. San Antonio’s Lake Flato Architectural firm transformed the plain warehouses into a vibrant mixed use destination. The Pearl Brewery/Full Goods Warehouse was one of the the Top Ten Green Projects of 2013, by AIA/COTE.A look at some of the recycled and salvaged material used in the Full Goods project. The landscape at the campus is all native and drought tolerant and all rainwater is captured and recycled for irrigation.Pearl is a walkable location - emphasis is on walking and bicycling. There are bike valet stations and there are places to recharge your electric car. Of course! I have a feeling that only people who can afford a Tesla are staying here!No, that’s bad. The rooms start at $300 a night on the weekends, with hints that less expensive rates will be available on weekdays.On the site of the old can warehouse, apartments were built. I’m not sure if the original warehouses were salvaged, but it looks like they might have been.The original garage as seen in 2002 and later in 2012 when the Aveda Institute was housed here.Today Peer 1 is located in the old garages.The CIA, Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio, is located in these renovated warehouses. This transformation is amazing!Here is how the “river” looked before the Riverwalk was extended. Another amazing photograph. The now 15 mile Riverwalk has been lengthened a few times since its inception. This latest expanded area is called the Museum Reach – and totals 1.33 miles. The new riverwalk encompasses the San Antonio Museum of Art and, of course, the Pearl Brewery campus, thanks to Kit Goldsbury of Silver Ventures.Today, the Hotel Emma and the Old Brewhouse overlook the San Antonio Riverwalk, which is a major attraction for Pearl’s tourists.Wow. What an adventure. Doing this story reminded me of Seaside – the Florida town that grew from a vision of one man, Robert S. Davis, who inherited 80 acres of land in Northwest Florida. He hired the innovative firm of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, and together they forever changed the landscape of northern Florida, and truly, beach towns throughout America.The lesson learned is how one man’s vision can change the landscape for better.For more information, go to Hotel Emma HERE.
Nighttime view of the Old Brewhouse at Hotel Emma.