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Old Saint Mary’s College (La Mansion del Rio Hotel)

With so much Catholic history in San Antonio, we wanted to add one more place of interest….this time it is a hotel.  But it did not start off as a hotel….it began as a school.

In 1852, four brothers of The Society of Mary arrived in San Antonio to establish a school. They opened in 1853 and occupied the second floor of a livery stable on the west side of Military Plaza.  In December 1854, two additional Brothers of Mary joined the faculty.  Overcoming obstacles such as lack of provision ( cornbread was always served three times a day), they persevered and

Livestock was kept at Mission Conception, then run by the brothers. The school got fresh milk, cheese, and butter from nearby Mission Conception.  As time went on, St. Mary’s became a junior college and finally grew into a senior college.

In 1894, a new campus was acquired for boarding students and the original property was able to increase its enrollment of day students. The College Street campus grew and prospered as St. Mary’s Academy until 1924, and after that as St. Mary’s College. In 1931, the building became known as St. Mary’s University Downtown College. In 1934, the law school was set up downtown and remained on College Street until December of 1966 when it moved to the Woodlawn campus.

At this time, a former St. Mary’s law student purchased the property and work began on a new hotel. The exterior was made Spanish in style and a six-story addition was added at the rear overlooking the river. The designs and furnishings were designed to reflect the city’s cultural ties to Spain and Mexico. In April 1968, La Mansion del Rio opened its doors as a luxury hotel, just in time for Hemisfair, San Antonio’s 1968 World Fair.

A marker here reads:

Plaque showing the Catholic history of La Mansion del Rio in San Antonio(1852 – 1966) Established in 1852 in frontier San Antonio by 4 members of the Society of Mary: Brothers Andrew Edel, John Baptist Laignoux, Nicholas Koenig, and Xavier Mauclerc – – all natives of France. Construction of this building began in fall, 1852, and its doors opened March 1, 1853, to more than 100 students of all creeds. Structure then had 4 rooms. Late in 1854 Brothers Eligius Beyrer and Charles Francis joined the faculty. Francis, known as “the great builder,” devoted 54 years of his life to San Antonio and finished the building of the college.

By 1870 it was a well-proportioned structure of rough limestone, typically European in style. Once the largest building complex in San Antonio, St. Mary’s College educated many prominent South Texans, including 8 mayors of San Antonio.

From 1934 to 1966 the building housed St. Mary’s University School of Law, which, under Dean Ernest A. Raba, became a leading legal institution of the southwest. St. Mary’s is the only college to have served the city for 113 consecutive years. After 1966, when the building was acquired by River Hotel Company, a 6-story addition was built at the rear and the exterior made Spanish in style. Recorded Texas Historic Landmark – 1969

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