Once upon a time, I lived in a castle.
Actually, the fairy tale begins long before I lived in a castle. It starts with the castle itself, which is now for sale.
For $2.7 million, you can own one of San Antonio’s most iconic homes.
The distinctive masonry and third-story turret of the Kalteyer House stand out even among the stately homes in the King William Historic District. Designed by James Riley Gordon in 1892 for chemist George Kalteyer, the house has had only five owners. Its image is synonymous with King William, and it shows up in tourism material every now and then.
For most, a house of this size and stature is a showpiece, but current owner Gina Hughes uses every inch of it to forge her distinctive brand of hospitality: warm, versatile, and extravagant in a way that makes you feel like an honored guest.
To see it up for sale is bittersweet. The next occupants probably will not be a raucous blended family of seven daughters and one lone, youngest son, appropriately named Chance.
I can only hope that when prospective buyers see the house, they will also see its magic, not just the status.
Without its magic, I would not have my own fairy tale to tell. Without the castle at 425 King William St., my love story is pretty pedestrian. When I tell people that Lewis and I met at a party, they act a little disappointed – like they hoped for something more exotic.
So I usually follow up with, “That’s how we met, but here is how our story begins…”
Once upon a time, in 1987, a boy named Lewis Maverick McNeel went on a field trip with his class at Walden Pond Interarts Learning Center.
In the front yard of one of the grand King William homes the class took out their little sketch pads and set out to find natural subject matter – trees, squirrels, flowers, etc. Lewis, age 6, looked across the street and scrapped the nature assignment for a subject far more appealing to his budding architectural eye.
He loved the turrets, the windows, and the porches of the house at 425 King William St. Accurately depicting each detail – and adjusting a few windows to his liking – occupied him for the duration of the field trip. His teacher, Dottie McKinley was so taken with the sketch that she had it framed and hung it on the wall in the Walden Pond studio.
“One day,” 6-year-old Lewis thought to himself, “I’m going to see what’s inside that house.”
Fast forward 20 years…
The awe I felt walking in the door at 425 King William St. in August 2007 had less to do with the three-story atrium and more to do with the children practically swinging from the banisters. Two days earlier I had mailed in my dissertation to the London School of Economics. It was time to start looking for a job.
Gina had been after me for some time to take on a part-time nanny gig for her five children, ages 7, 5, 2, and twin 1-year-olds.
I said no at least three times. Finally, my gym membership demanded that I find a source of income, and I agreed to two days a week for a couple of months while I searched for a job in nonprofit communications.
Our daily conversations included the words “ballroom,” “porte cochère,” and “turret.” In the ballroom we did motor skill development, in the porte cochère we stashed the bikes, and in the turret we waved to the people using binoculars in the Tower of the Americas.
Eighteen months, three San Antonio marathons, two King William Fairs, and one Great Recession later, I cried as we celebrated my last day working in the house as a full-time nanny.
Eight months later I was back again. Not for work, but to live in the apartment off the back of the house. I kept my door cracked to welcome little visitors, and my window cracked to smell the autumn air as I watched the San Antonio River flow beside the back yard. I waved to the tour groups passing as I took out my trash in the mornings. I trapped Gina in her home office at night as I sought advice on the ups and downs of my abysmal dating life.
Lewis McNeel, age 29, met me, Bekah Stolhandske, age 25, at a party in 2009 – a Christmas sock hop, to be precise. I was a college minister wearing knee high candy stripe socks with fur trim. He was an architect wearing whatever he fished out of the basket of socks-for-people-who-didn’t-wear-their-own-Christmas-socks.
A few days later he responded to my Facebook message about plans to attend a dinner party. “Want to carpool to save the earth and whatnot?”
“Sure, where do you live?” he replied.
“425 King William St.”
Lewis might be the only suitor in history whose initial interest in being “invited inside” had more to do with the interior of the house than with smooching.
Over the coming months, the house was our home base. We ran along the King William stretch of the river, eventually working our way up to the Pearl and back. We sat in the turret and watched the Segway tours go by. We ended every date on the porch swing. The mystery built up over 22 years of wondering what was inside the house dissipated as Lewis made himself at home as a regular visitor.
It struck no one as odd when he asked for the turret keys one night. He had picked me up at the airport after 10 days of work travel and seemed to be feeling romantic. The keys to the turret were lost, so I shrugged and went to unpack my suitcase. Sensing something was afoot, one of the children happily ransacked the house to find the lost keys and all but shoved us out onto the turret.
Lewis proposed. I said yes. In the turret.
Some time before the wedding, I stopped in at Walden Pond to see if the sketch still existed. Dottie McKinley eyed me skeptically. I told her the story.
The synchronicity, as she called it, won her over. “You guys are from the same vortex!”
She could not find the picture, but gave me a blue Walden Pond gift certificate. At the bottom, scanned and scaled down to serve as a logo, was the sketch of 425 King William St. “by Lewis, age 6.”
The Kalteyer House is one of the city’s great artifacts of residential architecture, but it’s an even better home. I hope that the new owners use it to its fullest. Romance is in the rafters. The porch is great for drinking sangria during the King William Fair. The third-floor ballroom makes a great place to watch movies and listen to storms. The basement makes an excellent art studio for those who spill paint. The atrium can convert into an impromptu stage for dramatic reenactments or family karaoke. And the turret is a great place to propose.