For the first time in 70 years, the historic Tower Life Building is changing hands.

San Antonio businessman Red McCombs has partnered with real estate investors Jon Wiegand and Ed Cross to acquire the 1929 skyscraper at 310 S. St. Mary’s St. from descendants of the construction and engineering magnate H.B. Zachry.

“We are honored to now own and steward a piece of San Antonio’s cultural heritage,” stated Joe Shields, director of business development at McCombs Enterprises and McCombs’ grandson.

Designed by noted father-son architecture team Atlee and Robert Ayres, the 31-story octagonal tower took two years to complete and opened with fanfare on June 1, 1929.

The landmark tower, with its eight stone gargoyles and conical clay tile roof, was one of the last office buildings constructed in downtown San Antonio before the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression that followed. 

Tower Life gargoyles jut out over the San Antonio skyline from the 31-story building.
Tower Life gargoyles jut out over the San Antonio skyline from the 31-story building. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

Then named the Smith-Young Tower, the first six floors housed a Sears, Roebuck and Co. department store for a decade and the upper floors served as office space. A pneumatic tube system connected the building to the Bexar County Courthouse and an underground tunnel joined it to the nearby Plaza Hotel. 

The building at one time served as the headquarters of the Third U.S. Army with future president Dwight D. Eisenhower at the helm.

In the 1950s, the building was renamed the Transit Tower and occupied by what is now VIA Metropolitan Transit before being renamed for the Tower Life Insurance Co. in the 1960s. 

The president of the Tower Life Insurance Co. was James Powell Zachry, who also heads up the investor group Tower Life Properties, which sold the building to the McCombs group.

The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in October 1991.

In more recent years, the building has been occupied by a number of law firms with tenant improvements and renovations occurring on various floors since 2012, according to state filings. The most recent on record was a 2020 remodel of the fourth floor estimated at over $1 million. 

Wiegand did not respond to a request for more information about the purchase price or the group’s plans for the building. 

This year, the building’s appraised value increased from $6.1 million to $10.2 million with improvements in 2022 estimated to be $4.7 million, according to county appraisal district data. 

“The Tower Life Building has been the signature of the San Antonio skyline for nearly a century, and we are excited to maintain its prestige and be part of the continued reinvigoration of our community’s downtown,” Wiegand stated. 

Red McCombs Enterprises and the Zachry Group are financial supporters of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.

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Shari Biediger

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