At the corner of a short city block eclipsed by construction activity in recent years, a towering modern hotel is nearing completion while its historic neighboring structures get a second life.

The 22-story Canopy by Hilton Hotel, located at East Commerce and North St. Mary’s streets, was expected to be completed in the fall. Instead, the 195-room hotel should open in late March or April, developer and restaurateur Chris Hill said, nearly four years after construction began.

But another Hill project – about 50 steps to the west – is closer to making its debut. The historic stone and brick Witte Building has been completely restored, and on the river and street levels of the building, a new restaurant and bar are set to open in the coming weeks.

Hill, who also owns the Esquire Tavern next door to the Canopy hotel, said he is looking forward to presenting to San Antonio what his group has been working on the past four years even if it means opening during a pandemic that has waylaid the city’s previously thriving hospitality sector.

The backside to the Esquire next to the Canopy Hotel. Photos taken on January 28, 2021.
The backside of the Esquire next to the Canopy by Hilton Hotel. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

“San Antonio has a great drive-to weekend market, and we’re mostly going to be more of a leisure hotel and expect occupancies for the ‘new guy’ on the block or the ‘new girl’ on the San Antonio River, with the architecture and the room types … to have perhaps a little higher than our fair share of market share,” Hill said of the hotel. 

New hotel tower

Hilton’s hip Canopy brand is described as a “local experience with a boutique hotel feel.” There are at least 20 Canopy hotels around the world, including two in Dallas and one in Austin. 

The San Antonio Canopy is situated on a sliver of an acre along the River Walk, steps from Main Plaza, and across St. Mary’s Street from the Aztec Theatre. 

The site was once partially occupied by the long-vacant MIC building. Though initially designed into the plans, the MIC was deemed non-historic and demolished with the approval of the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC). However, remnants of the MIC have been repurposed into the Canopy.

An old limestone cistern on the river level was exposed to view and much of the building’s facade was salvaged and used in the hotel lobby. Floor joists were repurposed in the hotel’s dining room, named Domingo. A third-floor bar in the hotel will be known as Otro, as in “otro más y nos vamos” (one more and we’ll go).

Guest rooms are furnished with headboards made of cypress and feature floor-to-ceiling windows. Passageways are painted with a color palette that includes “San Antonio gray.” “The rooms are restful and reflect Texas,” Hill said. “They’re quiet, they’re not poppy. We hope they’re a little more timeless … a little bit more residential in nature.”

Gensler and Lake Flato are the architectural design team for the Canopy and Sundt Construction is the contractor. The hotel will be managed by Indiana-based White Lodging.

New Witte Building

The three-story Witte Building at 135 E. Commerce St. was built by real estate broker George Witte in 1894 and over the years housed a jeweler, clothing shops, and a museum. After World War II, it was home to a bar known as the Fish Bowl, and in the 1970s and ‘80s, Maximillian’s restaurant.

The Witte building is next to a construction site.
The Witte Building (left) is next to a construction site with the Canopy by Hilton Hotel seen behind it. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

In 2015, with Hill as the building’s new owner, the HDRC approved restoration plans that included reconstructing the south facade, balcony and canopy additions, demolition of a retaining wall and walkway, and adding an elevator tower and staircase for public access to the River Walk.

Andrew Douglas of Douglas Architects served as the lead architect on the Witte Building project, and Lewis Fisher of Fisher Heck Architects served as historical architect for the project. 

Following the restoration, the second floor of the building was designed to serve as a private dining room with balconies overlooking the river, Hill said. The third floor consists of four micro-apartments available for lease through Hill’s real estate development firm, Crockett Urban Ventures. 

Hill announced in December the new food and beverage concepts opening in early 2021 on the river and street levels of the Witte Building. 

Named for Robert H.H. Hugman, the architect responsible for the creation of the San Antonio River Walk, Hugman’s Oasis will be a river-level “tiki bar” offering tropical-themed craft cocktails.

On street level, the House of Má restaurant will feature a menu created by the team behind Singh’s Vietnamese restaurant at 2803 N. St. Mary’s St. 

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.