There is more than one way to reach the picturesque and historic Eastside mansion remade into the newest event venue in San Antonio. Wrought-iron front gates embellished with gold letters open to a massive driveway encircling a two-tiered fountain and twin palmetto palms swaying in the breeze.
But crossing the lake in a covered gondola that glides quietly over the still waters on a warm fall afternoon to a dock near sweeping green lawns and meandering paths might be the best.
Either way, an invitation to the Red Berry Estate, the recently completed centerpiece of a long-awaited $61.8 million mixed-used development project owned and operated by the prominent event and catering company, The RK Group, might just be the hottest ticket in town.
Built in 1951 by an eccentric Texas politician, the estate changed hands several times over the years. But between 2012, when the City of San Antonio purchased the sprawling estate for $2.25 million, until 2019, the mansion sat mostly empty, collecting dust.
In 2018, a public-private partnership between the City’s Housing Trust Public Facility Corporation and The RK Group kicked off a project that would open wide the once-luxurious estate and welcome a new era of visitors. Development firms NRP Group and Casey Development also were partners in the project.
While the agreement also resulted in a new mixed-income, multi-family housing development that hugs the eastern shore of the lake and a trail system extension to the west, it is the restored mansion, built of rock in 1951, that is the nexus of attention today.
Renovations to the mansion, which began in Nov. 2019 and were completed by Joeris General Contractors, turned the myriad rooms into spaces more suited for elegant events and receptions, with added doors and restrooms, an elevator, and a terrace overlooking the lake. The new mansion ballroom seats up to 200 people.
Most of the original porte-cochere on the front of the historic mansion was removed to create an entryway and the materials salvaged to build a back terrace. But the old palm trees near the front entrance were saved. Architect Malcom Chesney of Chesney Morales Partners developed the designs for the mansion and a new facility.
At the entrance to the gated property, a concrete driveway with ribbons of turf and a water fountain can be accessed by shuttle buses. Stone pathways wind through the property, and the entire landscape surrounding the mansion is covered in artificial turf, a surface more suitable than natural turf for outdoor events and which is green all year round.
Though much of what gave the storied French chateau-style mansion its character remains, including the marble staircase and stylish iron railings, what’s new also was inspired by the home’s vibrant past as designed by interior decorator Casey Roy.
On each of the three levels, sunshine and light from crystal chandeliers gleam off polished dark-lacquer walls as well as the gilded wallpaper, framed mirrors, and other finishes. Warm wood floors and striking tile work lend a timeless feel to rooms furnished with lush rugs and sophisticated furnishings.
The chateau level on the third floor features a reception lounge and separate dressing suites – one a chic and spacious area for the bridal party and the other a masculine groom’s “den.” A terrace offers views of downtown San Antonio.
The casino level, formerly a basement where the original owner, Virgil Edward “Red” Berry, ran a gambling operation, has been designed to feel like a warm and comfortable speakeasy with a bar and gaming tables.
A windowed cupola perched on the roof that once served as a lookout during the home’s gambling heydays is no longer in service. But the RK Group has plans to offer the manmade lake, where Berry is said to have exercised his horses, as an added attraction.
Duffy electric boats could ferry guests or a bride wanting to make a dramatic entrance across the lake to the mansion. Partygoers could spill out onto the water for sunset cruises. There are three fountains in the lake that provide both visual effect and aeration.
Nestled against the 12-acre lake is a new facility The RK Group built in place of a pool that was constructed on the property sometime in the 1960s. To accommodate larger events, it features a grand ballroom that seats 400 indoors, and another 200 on the veranda, as well as audio/visual technology and a commercial kitchen. A sound system links all structures and the grounds.
The entire vista that is the Red Berry Estate – the mansion, its water features, and new lakeside venue – is visible from the lobby of The RK Group’s massive new headquarters building that sits to the south side of the lake.
A two-story wall of windows frames the view and allows in the light where fine table settings are showcased for event planners and brides shopping for a venue and caterer.
With RK’s new headquarters nearly three times the size of its former home on East Commerce Street near downtown, the company moved most of its operations in May to the new facility situated along Interstate 10 East between W.W. White Road and East Commerce.
The first event to be hosted by The RK Group at the Red Berry Estate was a Sept. 29 campaign fundraiser for Republican Trish DeBerry, who is running against Democrat Christine Hortick for the Pct. 3 county commissioner seat.
The standard rental rate for the Red Berry Mansion or Lakeside Ballroom is $5,000 for evening events, plus the cost of food and beverages. A reduced rate is available by request for daytime events and for nonprofit organizations.
Though some weddings and events booked for the new venue were canceled and postponed due to the pandemic, the calendar is starting to fill up again with downsized weddings and other events, said Jamie Kowalski, director of relationship marketing at The RK Group.
And while the venue may be new and improved, hosting events at the Red Berry isn’t a completely novel experience – at least not for the company’s founder.
RK Group Chairman Emeritus Rosemary Kowalski, who started the company with her husband in 1946, recalls catering events at the mansion in years past, said Jamie, who is a granddaughter by marriage to Rosemary.
“I think it was just a meant-to-be kind of thing,” Jamie said.
The RK Group is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.