The Conservation Society of San Antonio, the nonprofit whose mission is to protect San Antonio’s oldest houses and important structures, is looking to sell its own historic home.

The organization has resided at 107 King William St. in the 151-year-old Anton Wulff House since saving it from demolition in 1974. The purchase price back then was $200,000, money that came from a grant and a fundraising campaign. 

This month, the Conservation Society put the restored house and barn on a 1.16-acre corner lot in one of San Antonio’s oldest neighborhoods on the market for $3.9 million. 

Conservation leadership points to the coronavirus pandemic as the reason, but not because COVID-19 shut down the organization’s largest annual fundraiser, A Night in Old San Antonio (NIOSA) in 2020. It’s what the pandemic did to the real estate market — driving up demand and prices — that is the real driver of the decision to sell, said Vincent Michael, the group’s executive director.

“We started looking for office space three years ago because, for a variety of reasons, the house no longer suits our needs,” Michael said. Then the group’s real estate committee advised him that market conditions made it a good time to sell. In the last year, home values have increased 13.8% in King William, according to real estate site Zillow.com.

“So that’s really what determined the timing of it,” he said.

Michael said he understands why people would assume the Conservation Society needs to sell the home to bolster its finances after NIOSA was canceled last year and rescheduled and reduced in scope this year.

“I get that,” he said. But “we did what every small business or nonprofit has done — we got [Paycheck Protection Program] loans. We did eventually trim a couple of staff positions. We’ve been sort of on an austerity budget for the last year.”

The Conservation Society does not have “huge reserves,” he added, but it was able to weather the unusual economic conditions of 2020. The group’s total assets amounted to $5.2 million in 2019, according to tax filings.

In the first week the house was on the market, several interested buyers toured the 6,000-square-foot house, some considering it for commercial uses, others as a home. The property is zoned commercial. Listing agent Stephen Yndo said he hopes it will be under contract by the end of the year.

“It’s one of the more unique properties in the neighborhood — just the limestone block construction and the size of the limestone block is pretty incredible,” Yndo said. “It’s at the gateway to coming into the neighborhood on King William Street. All that stuff is big, and obviously great views to downtown because it’s just right there.”

A historic photograph of the Anton Wulff House in King William.
A historic photograph of the Anton Wulff House in King William. Credit: Courtesy / University of North Texas

In addition to the desirable location, the home has a story.

A German immigrant, Anton Wulff came to Texas in 1848 and settled in San Antonio in the 1850s. After making his fortune as a merchant and marrying Canary Islander descendant María Guadalupe Paula Olivarri, Wulff built the home in 1870, designing the gardens himself.

A two-term alderman in the German ward of the time, the civic-minded Wulff also planted trees and improved various public plazas in the city, and he introduced resolutions to beautify Alamo Plaza. He died in 1894.

Wulff’s Italianate-style house with its four-story square campanile is said to be modeled after the Römische Bäder, or Roman Baths, in Potsdam, Germany, which was designed by famous German architect Friedrich Schinkel in the early 19th century.

At three stories, the home’s main level is placed above a raised basement and the limestone is exposed on the thick interior walls. The parlor offers access through French doors to a large and ornate wooden veranda on the east side of the house. The Conservation Society’s library takes up most of the third floor.

In the gable, a circular bas-relief features a sculptured bust of Wulff’s daughter Carolina, done by his oldest son Henry. The Wulffs had 10 children and the youngest, Isabel, died in 1969, according to burial information site findagrave.com.

When the prominent Wulff family sold the home to Arthur and Elise Guenther in 1902, it went for $7,000. The third owner paid $20,000 and converted the house into three apartments in the 1950s. Even then, a woman who lived there as a child at the time recalls the home feeling like a fairy-tale castle.

The home later fell into disrepair. After the Conservation Society acquired it, the group invested $250,000 in restoring the home and in 1976, a Texas historic landmark medallion was placed on the house. A historic 1,400-square-foot barn, also constructed of limestone blocks, was relocated from downtown to the property in 1982, providing additional office space for the group.

Maintaining such a home comes with costs. A recent restoration of a porch on the Wulff House required about $10,000 worth of work, Michael said.

The Conservation Society owns 10 properties in San Antonio, including the 1876 Edward Steves Homestead Museum, also in King William, with a total of 18 structures. The group is considering one of these sites for its offices and looking at others.

“We want to stay in the King William area,” Michael said. “We want to be near the downtown area but we don’t need to be on this corner. … We could probably find a property three or four or five blocks away that would be significantly less expensive.”

Shari Biediger

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