St. Benedict’s Lofts on South Alamo Street has brought 66 new homes and five new businesses, including the Liberty Bar and Restaurant, to the King William neighborhood. Six single-family garden homes facing Madison Street will complete the project. This redevelopment has ended 17 years of decline of the buildings that once housed St. Benedict’s Hospital and Nursing Home, as well as the St. Scholastica Convent. (Historical note: Saints Benedict and Scholastica were twins born in 480 AD in Italy. Benedict created his order of religious men, and then his sister formed an order for women based on Benedict’s rules.)
As one of the new residents of St. Benedict’s, I became interested in exploring its history. I met Bill Cogburn at a King William Association social and learned that he had already begun researching the property’s history, which he kindly passed along to me. The project is not finished though. Please send me additions, corrections and clarifications. I hope to produce a monograph by 2011, in time for the 100th anniversary of the Benedictine Sisters of South Texas.
1870s - 1920s: Elmendorfs and Griesenbeck and McMonegal
I have come across several possibly contradictory versions of the original ownership of the property that became St. Benedict’s Hospital and Nursing Home and the St. Scholastica Convent. I attempted to reconcile these apparent contradictions by meeting with the Benedictine Sisters at their convent in Boerne, as well as by searching the Bexar County land records and the San Antonio Conservation Society library. I was not successful, and so I relate all versions to you.
According to Mary Burkholder’s book Down the Acequia Madre, the property was platted by Thomas Devine and F. Giraud. Burkholder wrote that in 1883 Edward Elmendorf bought two lots from Devine on which he and his brother Henry built homes. Henry was mayor of San Antonio from 1894-1897 and the founder of Elmendorf, Texas. Edward was an architect. Their father, Karl, had emigrated from Germany to New Braunfels in 1844 and begun importing hardware, farm implements and building supplies. Later he moved his business to Military Plaza in San Antonio.
After Edward died in 1893, his widow, Mary Staffel Elmendorf, leased their home to the Boerner family but returned to live in it from 1918 until 1938, when she sold it to the Benedictine Sisters. It’s possible that the house became the home of the St. Scholastica Convent.
Burkholder wrote that the Pereida family owned some of the suerte (lot) platted by F. Giraud in 1870, sold one parcel on the west side of Mill Street (later renamed Alamo) to Wilhelmine M.H. Griesenbeck, and that property later became the site of St. Benedict’s Nursing Home.
Yet according to another author, Mary Carolyn Hollers Jutson, it was Henry Elmendorf ’s house at 1119 South Alamo Street that became St. Benedict’s Home for the Aged. (See Alfred Giles: An English Architect in Texas and Mexico, p. 30.)
The Benedictine Sisters themselves told me in our meeting that they received the original nursing home building from Roger McMonegal in 1926. McMonegal was a cousin of Sister Gertrude Walsh, a member of their community. At the time, he was providing care for elderly men in a mansion on South Alamo Street. He told the Sisters that if they would take over the care of the elderly men he would deed his property to them. They agreed and thus began six decades of providing health care in the King William neighborhood. The home was first called St. Vincent’s Home for the Poor and Aged, then St. Vincent de Paul’s Nursing Home, and, eventually, St. Benedict’s. My best guess is that McMonegal had acquired the Henry Elmendorf home.
The community of Benedictine Sisters who came to the King William neighborhood got their start in the early 1900s when Sister Lidwina Weber responded to a call from a group of Benedictine Fathers who needed help establishing a school and convent in Cuba. The nuns left Cuba in 1918 after suffering two blows. One was a literal blow: a hurricane destroyed their school and convent. The second was the flu pandemic of 1918. They relocated to South Texas and began teaching in Las Gallinas and Loire, where they stayed until they came to San Antonio. Some members of the community continued the educational vocation into the 1980s, while others moved into the healthcare field.
1930s-1985: The Benedictines
From the 1930s onward the history is much clearer. The Benedictines ran the nursing home in the mansion until they had it demolished in 1952 to make room for a modern 100 plus-bed facility. The nursing home eventually expanded to 200 beds, including a “Day Care Hospital,” in the buildings that are now St. Benedict’s lofts. In the 1970s. four rooms in the nursing home housed paraplegic and quadriplegic men who were under the auspices of the Texas Rehabilitation Commission.
In 1950 the sisters built a separate 20-bed hospital that faced Madison Street, which was the first hospital in San Antonio to have central air conditioning. In the late 1960s an intensive care/coronary care unit was added to the hospital, but was underutilized and so was converted to a rehabilitation center. The hospital has been demolished and six single-family homes are being built on its site. St. Scholastica Convent became the mother house for the Sisters in 1939, after they added a second floor to the original home that had been built in the 1880s. The nuns who worked at the hospital and nursing home lived upstairs and had a chapel and common space downstairs. They also had a skywalk connecting the second story of the convent to the second story of the nursing home built in 1953.
By the 1980s San Antonio had many newer hospitals competing with St. Benedicts; also, fewer women entering religious life and the sisters determined that they should focus their energies on helping the poor get access to health care. In 1985 they sold their facilities to Ambulatory Hospital of America, which renamed the property “King William Health Care Center.”
The sisters moved to Boerne where they operated a boarding school for a few years. They now run a retreat center and support a variety of ministries.
1987 – 2004: Disuse and Decline
King William Health Care Center went bankrupt after two years, was sold and remained unused, except by homeless people, for seventeen years. In the early 1990s James Lifshutz bought the property and then sold it to Tom Pawel (owner of Concord Oil). Pawel told a local newspaper reporter that residents of King William had been urging him to redevelop the property because “they were tired of vagrants setting fires, drinking and tinkling in the bushes.” Also according to a newspaper report, Steve Yndo tried to buy the property from Concord Oil in 2001, but did not succeed. 2004 – Present In December of 2004 St. Benedict’s of SA, Ltd, comprised of Christopher Hill, James Lifshutz and Steve Yndo, bought the property and began plans for its redevelopment. Hill applied for “infill development zoning” (a form of urban redevelopment) with a view to creating a 100-room hotel, with a multi-family housing unit as the fall back plan that was eventually adopted. Most of us living in St. Benedict’s are newcomers to King William and are happy to be here. A modern apartment in the best neighborhood in San Antonio can’t be beat!
Claire Oxley Gluck