I read the (June 5) article about the sale and redevelopment of the old Continental Hotel and wondered if you have any pictures of the inside or know if it had a grand staircase? My grandfather took me to a hotel in San Antonio as a child, and all I remember was a grand staircase when you walked in the door. I do not think it was the St. Anthony or the Menger. When I saw this story, I thought maybe this was the hotel … just wondering.
— Susie Williams
“Grand” was not part of the Continental’s brand. When it opened as the Laclede Hotel in late 1898, it was advertised as the “best $2 house in Texas … New furniture, good (dining) table, clean beds.”
The emphasis was on practicality — a short walk from City Hall and the Bexar County Courthouse with good streetcar connections.
Its original “well-ventilated” 100 rooms had “not a dark room among them” because of the building’s simple design, long and narrow, with a central hallway and outer walls with windows for each room. Guests could choose American plan (meals included) or European plan (dine on your own). On the ground floor was a handy restaurant, a barber shop and a tailor’s shop.
Built by mortgage investor Francis Smith at 722 (now 322) W. Commerce St., the Laclede’s design was “not as pretentious as some of its counterparts,” according to an undated (probably early 1980s) historic preservation certification application to the Department of the Interior provided by the Conservation Society of San Antonio Library.
The Italianate Victorian, three-story buff-color brick and limestone building had a stern and manly vibe, with its flat roof ornamented with fortress-like crenelations.
Its architectural significance, says the application, “is an example of the distinctive building demanded by the successful businessman who desired to present a prosperous image to the public.”
At the turn of the last century, San Antonio saw considerable economic growth. Hotel space on a major commercial street in what the Laclede’s ads called “the heart of downtown” was needed for the commercial travelers, lawyers and visitors from smaller towns who traveled regularly to what was then the largest city in Texas.
The Laclede was “not an elegant hotel,” says the application, but it was “reasonably priced and pleasantly decorated … built to meet a need and to accommodate the increasing trade in the city,” including “many cattlemen who sought its convenient location near the plaza and the stockyards.”
As Houston Street — wider, with streetcars, and a couple of newer hotels — took prominence over Commerce, the Laclede lost some ground. The Gunter (1908) and the St. Anthony (1909) were elegant hotels, as well as taller and situated in the new heart of downtown.
When the original owner of Laclede died in 1919, his heirs renamed the property, and as the Continental Hotel, it was divided into 200 smaller rooms, and began to advertise at lower rates – $1 a day for rooms with a