After Years of Effort, Groundbreaking on Hot Wells Redevelopment Could Come This Month

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1910 Post Card Courtesy of UTSA Center for Archaeological Research

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After several years of work, and a couple of false starts, Bexar County officials hope that a formal groundbreaking of the long awaited renovation of the Hot Wells Resort and Spa on the city's southeast side, can take place later this month, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

County Judge Nelson Wolff says an agreement between the County and developer Jim Lifshutz, who owns much of the property in the area, is the key to pushing the project forward.

Wolff says Lifshutz has donated property to the County, and he owns property on either side of the site of the spa that he plans to develop as well.

"There is one building there that can be renovated and used, and we are working with the Conservancy to raise money to rehabilitate that," he said.

The Hot Wells Resort is the most significant historical site that move people have never heard of.

From the mid 1890s to World War One, the rich and famous from around the world, from Teddy Roosevelt to Rudolph Valentino to Poncho Villa to European Royalty flocked to Hot Wells to 'take the waters,' the warm sulphurous springs of the Edwards Aquifer, which was believed at the time to be a cure-all for all types of diseases, from arthritis to cancer.

Wealthy travelers even ran private trains to San Antonio, to bathe in the 104 degree waters of a spring which was first drilled in hopes of providing fresh Aquifer water to what was then called the San Antonio Lunatic Asylum, which was built along the San Antonio River southeast of downtown.

"His (Lifshutz') vision is to create a spa that would still use that sulphur water that was so popular at the end of the 19th Century," Wolff said.  "There is a way to make the smell, kind of not so bad now."

Promotional brochures of the time touted the hot wells as a cure for 'rheumatism, sciatica, weak back, piles and tapeworms,' even for 'diseases of the eyelids' and 'diseases peculiar to females.'

In its heyday in the first decade of the Twentieth Century, the Hot Wells resort boasted a major hotel, a bathing house, men's and women's pools, and other amenities.

Wolff says the vision is pay homage to that era in the redevelopment.

"We will want to be showing silent films, many silent films were made out there," he said.  "It was a famous resort."

In fact, the first major motion picture company established in the United States, Star Pictures, was started at Hot Wells in 1910.  It made more than a thousand movies, including the first film on the Battle of the Alamo.

The end of the Hot Wells was caused by three developments.  

World War One dried up the international travels of the 'beautiful people,' especially from Europe, and the Mexican Revolution did the same for travel here from Latin America.  

The main building at the resort was destroyed by a major fire in 1925.

But the main thing that ended the short reign of Hot Wells was science.  The development of penicillin and other antibiotics decreased belief that bathing in hot sulphur springs was a cure for a number of diseases.

Interest in renovating Hot Wells, which is now a ruin along the San Antonio River, known to most people just as an exit on I-37, was sparked by the designation of the San Antonio Missions as a World Heritage Site.  Hot Wells is located right across the river from Mission San Jose and would be a perfect trip for 'cultural travelers' who visit San Antonio from around the world.

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