When the bride stepped out of the antique iron elevator during the first of two weddings in the palm-treed courtyard on Saturday, it was the start of a rebooted wedding season and a new chapter for a once-prominent North San Antonio hotel.
Following a yearlong closure, the newly named Estancia del Norte opened its doors April 22 after top-to-bottom renovations intended to return the distinctive hotel to its former glory.
Debuting in 1978 as La Mansion del Norte, the elegant white stucco hotel stood out amid its hospitality peers near the airport and North Star Mall. Local attorney and developer Pat Kennedy billed it as a sister hotel to La Mansion del Rio, his historic luxury inn on the San Antonio River Walk, and for several decades it attracted tourists seeking an alternative to the chain hotels along North Loop 410.
In 1988, Kennedy sold La Mansion del Norte, and over the years, it has operated under a series of hotel flags, including the Omni, Sheraton, and DoubleTree brands.
But it wasn’t being managed well, said the new owner, Charles Leddy, CEO of Presidian Hotels & Resorts. A Presidian investment group acquired the former DoubleTree San Antonio Airport hotel in June 2019 – its first such asset in San Antonio – with plans for a major overhaul while keeping the hotel open to guests in order to continue generating revenue.
“We had planned to start with the renovation in April of 2020,” Leddy said. “That’s when COVID really hit so we had to make a decision at that point. We made the decision to close. So I guess in some ways you could say we were lucky that [the pandemic] happened when it did.”
With no guests or events to accommodate, interior walls came down, the swimming pool was moved, and guest rooms were modernized, Leddy said. He was determined to upgrade the hotel he had always admired.
“I grew up about 2 miles from here [so] I’ve known this hotel since I was a kid and had come to this hotel for high school events and I always thought it was a really neat, unique piece of architecture in San Antonio, particularly in this part of town,” Leddy said. “I also thought that the hotel was just organized poorly.”
In addition to upgrades in all 277 guest rooms, the five-story hotel now has an open and stylish lobby and bar, a new restaurant, redesigned courtyard, and a grander ballroom and spacious meeting rooms.
Two suites and a private courtyard were created for bridal parties preparing for their nuptials at the hotel. Brides make their entrance by crossing over a Plexiglas bridge spanning the sparkling pool.
Works by local artists adorn the walls of the lobby and public spaces and every piece is for sale with the exception of a 21-by-6-foot tile mural that highlights the hotel’s history and scenes of San Antonio city life. A gift shop features wares by local artisans and handcrafted leather boots by West Texas brand M.L. Leddy’s.
The caterer Don Strange of Texas soon will open the company’s first brick-and-mortar dining establishment, called Lazo With Don Strange, in the hotel. Presidian will manage the hotel with Rene Vasquez as its general manager.
Vasquez began managing hotels in San Antonio 20 years ago and admired the Northside establishment even then, he said. But when he started working there in 2019, guests said the bar and other spaces were too dark and the outdoor reception space for the ballroom was too hot during the summer.
In recent years, hotel guests were mostly military service members and airline employees, but Vasquez is hoping for a return of tourists from Mexico, a key part of the clientele in the hotel’s heyday. Room rates average $135 a night.
With a plan to embrace the vision of the original developer, Leddy said he set out to “create a property for San Antonio, that feels like San Antonio.”
That took time – and what he would only describe as an “eight-figure” investment. The partnership that purchased the hotel paid more than $15 million to a California investment group, according to the Presidian website, and put $11 million into renovations.
The result is a hotel that meets the standards for inclusion in the Tapestry Collection by Hilton brand – the only such hotel in San Antonio – and of the couples planning their weddings at the Estancia this year. At least seven are already booked as couples who delayed their nuptials amid the pandemic proceed with celebratory events.
“I believe in creating experiences, and that there’s value in creating moments for people,” Leddy said. “And I feel like, given what this property is architecturally, we have that opportunity here to create moments for people.”