Hotel Emma in San Antonio, TX

Hotel Emma in San Antonio, TX

I recently visited Hotel Emma in San Antonio, TX. I had just moved to San Antonio from Salt Lake City and was talking to my new hair dresser. I mentioned to her that preserve and restore historical buildings.  She then told me then I had to go visit Hotel Emma. She said that it had such an amazing story, and that they had done such a great job with preserving and remodeling this hotel. Well boy, was she right!

When I first arrived, I was taken aback by the detail of exterior. It reminded me of buildings I had seen when I studied abroad in Europe for a semester. I had later come to find out that San Antonio had a large influx of German immigrants in the 1800’s and therefore brought a lot of the European influence to the city. One of those immigrants who had the building constructed was Otto Koehler

Otto Koehler, a German immigrant was known all over Texas for his leadership in the brewing community. He designed the building that is now Hotel Emma as a brewery in 1894 with the help of August Maritzen, a Chicago architect who specialized in gilded aged breweries.  It was often referred to by the working crews as “The Cathedral” due to the “bell tower” roof type construction. 

While Otto was one of the most successful brewery owners in Texas, his personal life was also very notorious. He was married to Emma Koehler, but, after she was hurt in auto accident in 1910, she required a live-in nurse (also named Emma). Otto began an affair with this nurse as well as with the nurses’ friend (who also happened to be name Emma…). Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. Well, long story short, one of mistresses became so enraged at Otto for not spending enough time with her that he shot him dead!  

After Otto’s death in 1914, Emma Koehler took over the brewery, which for the early 1900’s was pretty remarkable. While other companies were shutting down during the great prohibition, Emma, being the ingenious CEO, successfully kept the company in business by converting the building into producing various other types of drinks. She ran the company until 1933 and then turned the company over to her nephew. The company went through various changes until 2001, but the building still stood as pillar in the community. Emma Koehler died in 1943, and the hotel was named after her. 

In 2002, Silver Ventures purchased the property and began the preservation and “adaptive reuse” process that created what the hotel property is today.

Inside the hotel you can see how they utilized some of the factory’s old pipes, grains dispensaries, and many other elements to adapt it into a new industrial-style hotel. 

The two pictures above show how they incorporated the old piping and factory engine into the hotel’s design aesthetics. Look at the picture above to see how they were originally used in the factory. 

The other design elements that I loved were the conversion of the old grain cisterns in their dining areas and the use of the old elevator and wrought iron stairs as backdrop to the hotels sitting area.

Hotel Emma is so unique when it comes to preserving and restoring for an adaptive use purpose. Many people come from near and far to visit this historical gem in San Antonio. 


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