It’s the GREENEST!
By: Rita Zenzen Heck
When Sidney Francis bought the fading 1891 home at 425 King William in 1972, he had one idea in mind: “to bring this misused structure back to its royal beginnings.”
The spacious castle-like home known as the Kalteyer House backed up to the San Antonio River. It was designed by nationally famed architect, J. Riely Gordon, who created several homes and commercial structures in San Antonio, including the Bexar County Courthouse. Original owner John Kalteyer died in 1897, just six years after moving in.
German immigrant Ed Seeling, a successful young (21) entrepreneur, purchased the King William property, in San Antonio’s then most fashionable neighborhood, in 1907 with profits from selling Austin’s Driskill Hotel which he purchased for $80,000. The family lived there until 1942 as King William declined into a low-income area. The magnificent 425 King William beauty was transformed into a hodge-podge, fifteen unit apartment building with ugly add-ons and awkward interior/exterior changes. It was reduced to eight units before Francis’ exterior restoration began.
Francis’ dream when he and his wife, Janet, moved into the home in 1980 was to do a thorough authentic restoration. “It was a total mess,” Janet recalled. “We had to sleep in the living room for the first few years, but Sidney was firm on his resolve. It took twenty years, but the final result was the answer to Sidney’s dream,” she said.
“First thing I did was get a demolition permit to get rid of the add-ons. Fortunately, walls were not moved and a lot of the original features where easily repairable,” Sidney Francis said. “It was a matter of finding what was originally there and replacing it. We located the architect’s daughter and she had drawings and information to guide us,” he added.
The best restoration keeps and repairs what is already there: original wood windows, lighting fixtures, marble sinks, claw-foot bath tubs, floors and any embellishments,” Francis advises.
“Some of the curved wood window frames had to be duplicated. I found the Koehler Company’s architectural millworks division in Sequin and they reproduced them. Finding a glass company to produce the curved glass was more difficult. I haunted architectural antique shops around the city for authentic replacements and found Architectural Antiques near the Alamodome most helpful. Lighting fixtures, doors and other items there were really authentic,” Francis said.
Fortunately, the magnificent parquet and other wood floors were mostly undamaged. The apartment owners had covered them with linoleum. They just needed some sanding and general cleanup. To replace damaged burl walnut interior paneling, Francis purchased one-quarter inch burl walnut veneer plywood, glued it down and applied wet brown paper bags over it which he heated with an iron to straighten out the bubbles caused by the glue (a good idea for any of your similar projects). Exterior limestone features were restored, retaining their original color.
Since electricity was in the infant stage in 1891, architect Gordon wasn’t sure it was here to stay so he fitted all fixtures, appliances and fireplaces with gas alternates. “The gas is still connected but could be turned off in the basement,” Francis said.
According to Andrew Esponosa, City Office of Historic Preservation, gas and other original elements in a historic house are covered by San Antonio’s Code Compliance office. It is recommended that historic home owners contact that office for complete clarification.
Gas lighting may also be used in other properties but requires Code Compliance inspections and permits. The Preservation office has information on tax credits, grants and other financial benefits for owning a historical home, plus guidance to restore it.
Heating and cooling a three story home with full basement can be a problem (and expensive), but Francis learned that by opening all of the downstairs windows and the third floor skylight, the hot air rose to the top and made a tremendous difference in hot weather.
“Restoring a historical home is not easy,” Francis admits, “but it is a challenging and satisfying adventure that you will never regret…or forget!”
425 King William is currently on the market, listed by Kristin Kellum, Historic Home Specialist at Phyllis Browning Realty.
Historic Home Restore Tips
According to Nicole Curtis, host of HGTV’s Rehab Addict, quoted in an article by Marni Jameson for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “The biggest mistake people make when improving an old home is try to do what’s hot right now. But what’s hot right now won’t be in ten years. What will always be hot and will maintain the home’s value is keeping within the era of the home.”
Unobtrusive walk-in closets, updated heating/cooling/plumbing systems and new appliances should be the only updated changes. Curtis suggests keeping the cabinets (most are solid wood), refinishing tubs and sinks, saving wood floors, cleaning old tile, but NOT moving walls or replacing windows.
For help in planning your historic home restoration, first contact San Antonio’s Historic Preservation office for city guidelines. The San Antonio Conservation Society and the King William Neighborhood Association have useful information on the history of many homes in the area and contacts for available professional restoration assistance.
So preserve and be the greenest!
San Antonio Office of Historic Preservation
San Antonio Building Code/Inspections
San Antonio Conservation Society
King William Association
Kristin Kullum, Phyllis Browning Realty
For more information: Contact the entities on next page for information on this property as well as your own historic home renovation.