The Savoy Building at 116 East Houston Street. Photo by Scott Ball.
The Savoy Building at 116 East Houston Street. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Less than three years after it bought the historic Rand Building at 110 E. Houston St. and transformed it into downtown’s busy tech hub and co-working space, Weston Urban has purchased the vacant Savoy Building at 116 E. Houston St. on the corner of Soledad Street with plans to meet growing demand for small business and startup office space.

“When you are in the business we are in, the worst three words you can tell someone, is, “No, we’re full,’” said Randy Smith, Weston Urban CEO. “If we hustle, and we are hustlers, someone could be in here by the end of 2016.”

Weston Urban CEO Randy Smith walks down a stairway in the Savoy Building. Photo by Scott Ball.
Weston Urban CEO Randy Smith walks down a stairway in the Savoy Building. Photo by Scott Ball.

Weston Urban leased back the Rand to Frost Bank, the seller, so that office workers could stay in place for two years while the new Frost Bank building in Westover Hills was completed. Alamo Architects and Metropolitan Contracting were hired to peel back decades of construction that had stripped the building of its historic roots and create open space floor plans more appealing to the creative class workers Weston wanted to attract downtown. The building restoration and upgrades are nearly completed and street level retail tenants are expected to be announced soon.

Less than one year after Frost Bank vacated the building, Weston Urban has seen the refurbished Rand fill to capacity. Some growing tech startups are already moving out as their workforces expand. Geekdom, the startup incubator and co-working space that occupies the top three floors of the eight-story building, will soon reach 1,000 members who pay monthly fess to share office space there and network. Rackspace’s Open Cloud Academy, which teaches computer networking and coding, occupies the entire fifth floor. Small, growing companies, including the Rivard Report, fill the sixth floor. Renovation of the second, third and fourth floors is being completed and office spaces have been pre-leased.

While the Rand was occupied when Weston Urban bought it, the Savoy is located on a square block with multiple vacant buildings, including the long-shuttered Solo Serve building on Soledad Street between East Commerce and East Houston streets. Two small historic structures, including the vacant Clegg Building, are located adjacent to the Savoy on Soledad, and the vacant Book Building is located adjacent to the Savoy on East Houston.

Multiple rooms are all connected through passage ways. Photo by Scott Ball.
Multiple rooms are all connected through passage ways. Photo by Scott Ball.

Weston Urban purchased the 38,361 sq. ft. Savoy from Tony Bradfield, an estate jeweler and real estate investor who purchased various properties along Broadway and downtown in the early 2000s. Bradfield merged Charles Anthony Jewelers in Alamo Heights with Houston’s Tenenbaum Estate Jewelry to become Tenenbaum & Co. in Houston, where he now lives, in 2010. The Savoy purchase price was not disclosed.

It wasn’t always this way. The 100-room Hotel Savoy was once one of the city’s many bustling destinations for travelers, renting European Plan rooms for $1 a night.

Electric streetcars plied East Houston Street in the late 1800s until 1933 when San Antonio became the first major U.S. city to abandon them in favor of buses. At one time, there were 90 miles of tracks connecting Fort Sam Houston through Dignowity Hill to downtown and nearby neighborhoods. In the Savoy’s first decade, the building was home to Temple & Hamilton’s Business College, Secretarial/Typewriting Institute. The Hotel Savoy opened in 1912, giving the building its enduring name. From 1912 through the 1930 the hotel thrived with the streetcar making it an easy destination for travelers arriving by train, or in later years, by motor vehicle.

When the street car line disappeared, the hotel soon followed.

A historic photograph of Hotel Savoy which opened in 1912 as found in the book Greater San Antonio: The City of Destiny and of Your Destination San Antonio: Higher Publicity League of Texas, published 1918. Photo in Library of Congress, public domain.
A historic photograph of Hotel Savoy which opened in 1912 as found in the book Greater San Antonio: The City of Destiny and of Your Destination San Antonio: Higher Publicity League of Texas, published 1918. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress, public domain.

Guerra Deberry Coody, a marketing and public relations firm, was the last contemporary tenant of any duration to have offices at the Savoy. It departed in 2012 at the same time the partners formed new firms. A Murphy’s Deli franchise operated on the street level for a time, but closed in 2015.

The three-story Savoy, which also has a basement and third-floor interior terrace, is really two buildings combined into one, the first being the so-called Soledad Block, completed in 1884, and the University Block built in 1893. The period limestone structure has ceilings that reach 13 feet high on the second floor with exposed wooden beams and floor joists and steel columns that hint the building’s potential. Large double hung windows still open easily, the original chains and weights still functioning.

Any renovation will have to be preceded by a cleanup. Two fires, one in the 1890s and another in the 1990s, have left faint scars. A pressed tin ceiling ripped open, perhaps by firefighters, offers a glimpse of what hotel guests once saw while lying in bed. A few room numbers still appear above the door frames of the modest rooms. Floors are littered with construction trash and unhinged doors. In a room fronting East Houston Street, a bathroom with a missing commode featured a fine seated view of the busy streetscape below.

Here and there, late 19th century wallpaper featuring faded floral and vine prints is still visible underneath layers of other wall coverings peeled back by time. The remains of a caged elevator lean against one wall, while a steel fireproof door on a pulley system protects the adjacent Clegg Building from the spread of flames. A basement floor offers up a yellowed mid-2oth century receipt for a dozen freshly-made Fritos. Total cost: 45 cents.

A receipt from Fritos made in 1957 was found in the basement of the Savoy. Photo by Scott Ball.
A receipt for Fritos made in 1957 was found in the basement of the Savoy. Photo by Scott Ball.

Once again, Alamo Architects will oversee the building’s renovation, marrying historic preservation with contemporary amenities.

“Everything that is historic stays, everything added later goes, and then we’ll take a look at what we got,” Smith said, leading a building tour. “This building has an architectural character very different than the Rand. Buildings from the 1880s and 1890s are completely different than the Rand, which was built in 1913, and is steel and concrete. This one is limestone and wood like you don’t see anymore, really beautiful.”

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*Top Image: The Savoy Building at 116 East Houston Street.  Photo by Scott Ball.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is co-founder and columnist at the San Antonio Report.