The Wulff House, built by German immigrant Anton Fredrich Wulff in 1869-1870, stands at the entrance of King William Street. The three-story Italianate style house features random course ashlar limestone walls, a distinctive square tower and raised basement. An interesting feature of the house is a bas-relief in the front gable with a sculpted bust of the Wulff’s daughter, Carolina, done by Wulff’s son, Harry. The property originally included a boathouse and a bathhouse. Flooding in 1921 resulted in a 1926 flood-control measure that re-routed the San Antonio River away from the rear of the property.
Wulff came to Texas in 1848, first to New Braunfels before settling in San Antonio in the 1850s. He married Paulita Olivarri in 1851 and went on to become a prominent commission merchant doing business on Military Plaza near present-day City Hall. In 1891 he was alderman-at-large for the city. San Antonio mayor James French (1875-1885) appointed Wulff as San Antonio’s first park commissioner because of the great interest he showed in landscaping the city’s plazas at his own expense. It was Wulff who designed the layout of Alamo Plaza.
During the Civil War, Wulff supplied military units on both sides of the conflict. As a result, Confederate States Army Lt. Col. John Baylor declared him a spy. Wulff promptly sent his family to Germany for the duration of the war while he moved to Mexico to wait it out. After the war was over, he and his family reunited in San Antonio where he built the home with lush gardens and tree shaded lawns for his wife and their eleven children. Anton Wulff died in 1894 at age 72.
Paulita and children lived in the home until it was sold in 1902 to Arthur William Guenther and his wife Elise for $7,000. The Guenthers owned the Liberty Flour Mill. Arthur had been in partnership with his brother and father at the C.H. Guenther & Sons Mill, but in 1894 joined with his wife’s relatives in a competing company called Liberty Flour Mill. C.H. Guenther & Sons thereafter became known as C.H. Guenther & Son.
In 1950, the Guenther heirs sold the house for $20,000 to F.G. and Kathryn Antonio to be converted into several apartments. About 1967, the Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners purchased the house. By 1974, vacant and last used by a church group as a Halloween spook house, it was up for sale again.
Walter Mathis got wind that the Wulff House was being seriously considered by a firm looking for a place to house a funeral home. The thought of a funeral home at the end of his street prompted Walter to join with O’Neil and Wanda Ford to mount a campaign to raise funds to buy the property for the Conservation Society. The campaign was dubbed “Save the Wulff House.” Letters requesting donations were sent to each Conservation Society member as well as prominent San Antonio residents.
Assisted by a generous $100,000 grant from The Sheerin Foundation, the San Antonio Conservation Society was able to buy the property from the Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners for $200,000. Restoration costs amounted to more than $250,000, eighty percent of which came from a U.S. Economic Development Agency grant and the rest from the Society.
After a year of painstaking restoration under the direction of O’Neil Ford and Associates, the house was ready in the fall of 1975 for the Society to move into its new headquarters.
- Bill Cogburn
Sources: Texas State Historical Assn; Saving San Antonio by Lewis Fisher; San Antonio Conservation Society; 2002 interview with Walter Mathis; The King William Area – A Guide to the Houses by Mary Burkholder. Photos courtesy of SA Conservation Society.