This article may have too many section headers dividing up its content. (July 2017)
The Menger family
William and Mary Menger opened the Menger hotel in 1859 in San Antonio’s Alamo Plaza. The plans for the hotel arose through the popularity of William Menger’s brewery. The Mengers sold the property in 1881 to the Kampmann family. William Menger had emigrated from Germany to America in 1847. Menger settled in San Antonio and resumed his previous trade as a cooper and brewer. With his German roots Menger brought beer to San Antonio. He opened the Menger Brewery in 1855 on the battle-grounds of the Alamo (now known as the Alamo Plaza).
In 1858 the Mengers hired an architect, John M. Fries, along with a contractor, J. H. Kampmann, to complete the two-story, 50-room hotel. Up until this point most accommodations in San Antonio were boarding houses, and there were few breweries. The Menger hotel opened in February 1859 and became an overnight success.
Civil War period
The hotel also withstood the trials and tribulations brought on during the time of the family’s ownership. The Mengers witnessed the events that led up to the Civil War and later experienced the turmoil of the Reconstruction era. As the prospect of war gained momentum in southern Texas it brought many soldiers to San Antonio. The large number of soldiers stationed in the city created a need for more boarding houses, and the Mengers happily provided rooms for the soldiers.
After the war began, it was a struggle to maintain the hotel's business. The Menger family decided to put the building to use to aid in the war effort. Due to its slow service and hard-to-come-by help, the hotel shut down its guestrooms during the war; however, they maintained the dining room in order to feed military personnel. The hotel also offered space for medical care of wounded soldiers. Once the war ended the hotel resumed full operations.
Death of William Menger
Unfortunately, after a little over a decade of turning the Menger Hotel into San Antonio’s finest, William Menger died in 1871. However, Mary and her son Louis William continued to run the hotel and brewery. Mary quickly ran an announcement in the local newspaper letting San Antonio know that she would carry on the business and her husband’s death “would cause no change in affairs” within the hotel or brewery. Mary went about business as usual and she made plans to further enlarge the hotel to better serve the huge influx of guests she was receiving. She bought neighboring land in order to add rooms to the hotel. In a one-year period Mary hosted more than 2,000 guests in her hotel, and on one night alone the hotel housed 165 guests. Her success was undeniable.
On February 19, 1877, the first train steamed into San Antonio, which further contributed to the growing success of the hotel. This allowed for a higher volume of travelers through the city and began to promote the growth of the Alamo Plaza. Alamo Plaza became the location of San Antonio’s first federal post office, which opened in 1877. The hotel offered a mail chute on each floor for guests to use. Outgoing mail was collected and taken to the post office. Mary was aware that the building was lacking in the latest technologies such as bathrooms, proper water closets, or bells. She took it upon herself to make the necessary adjustments to the establishment.
By 1879, Mary had gas equipment installed so the hotel could have its own source to use for its gas lighting. Even though Mary and her son Louis maintained the hotel to the best of their abilities, Mary was becoming too old to take care of it and her son was not interested in taking over. Thus the decision was made to sell the hotel to its original contractor Major J. H. Kampmann. The Hotel was sold on November 7, 1881 at the price of $118,500 which in today's currency would round to $2.8 million. Kampmann also bought all the furniture in the hotel for $8,500 or $203,000 in today's currency.
The Kampmann ownership
Over the hotel’s history, there have been different managers and management groups of the Menger Hotel, including Major John Hermann (J.H) Kampmann, Hermann Kampmann, William Louis Moody Jr, and Hector R. Venegas. Major John Hermann (J.H) Kampmann managed the hotel from 1881 until 1943. He was the contractor that was hired in 1858 to build the hotel. It has been said that he was the best person possible to take over the management of the hotel. During those years, Major J.H. Kampmann made various necessary changes to the hotel's structure. Kampmann was first and foremost a builder, and architect, credited with building the original Menger Hotel. As rights of the hotel came under his possession, Kampmann, had the power to add stories and additions to the hotel and make it more contemporary. In light of the many criticisms brought about in the local newspapers about how the hotel was lacking, Kampmann immediately began to remodel it. Soon there was the addition of an east wing, a relocation of the kitchen, another lobby and lastly the dining room was expanded so as to accommodate 160 people. Most importantly, he made it possible for water to be piped to every room. A laundry was added and, most significantly, private bathrooms contributed to a resurgence of the hotel's popularity, because few hotels offered such extravagances. Major Kampmann, much like William Menger, had wanted to provide an establishment that allowed travelers to enjoy a hotel that delivered the best. His dedication to the hotel could be seen in how much he improved it. Overall the citizens of San Antonio felt that the hotel once again boasted elegance in that it now included modern elements. As documented in an 1885 survey, the hotel had access to an elegant bar room, billiard hall, and barbershop which were connected to the hotel. Kampmann was very proud of the hotel and he felt that it was his best accomplishment. He is considered to have matured very quickly and on his own, due to his family’s condition. They were stable economically, but not wealthy or poor. He was also very strong willed and ambitious. J.H. Kampmann eventually retired leaving ownership of the hotel to his son Hermann Kampmann. J.H. was in Colorado Springs when he died on September 6, 1885 when he was sixty six years old. In addition to William Menger and J.H. Kampmann, Hermann Kampmann can also be considered as a significant part in the hotel's management. Son of J.H. Kampmann, Hermann was an avid businessman whose business practices made him one of the wealthiest people in San Antonio. His father had previously made many renovations to the hotel, but Hermann felt that there could be even more additions and restorations. His quest to change the building started by adding a new saloon, preferably one that evoked a certain old English Charm. In his ambition to have an authentic bar room he arranged for an architect to study the House of Lords pub in England so he could base his saloon design off of. In 1887, Hermann Kampmann added new saloon area to the hotel. This bar would come to be a huge success among both the local citizens as well as famous celebrities. The Menger Bar, as it is known, gave off an elegant appeal with its "ornate mahogany tables and chairs... large mirrors... fine crystal and sterling silver." The bar of the hotel is connected to Teddy Roosevelt, because it is where he recruited and met with his Rough Riders organization. Additionally, Hermann added a fourth floor to the Blum Street side of the hotel. The ever-growing demand for rooms became the hotel's most pressuring need. Besides the creation of the bar and a new story, Hermann also brought the latest technologies to the hotel such as steam elevator and laundries, electric lights and an artesian well. Also around this time, a reading area was also added to the hotel. There were “Many early writers and chroniclers of life in the Southwest…” that came to the Menger who wrote and worked in this room. By 1897 Kampmann had the kitchen remodeled once again, and included new furnishings and fixtures in the dining room. As business began to flourish Hermann found it difficult to manage it, and thus gave active management rights to J.W. McClean and J.H. Mudge whilst he still claimed the final say in major decisions. He would die in 1902 due to a buggy accident. Ownership of the hotel was passed to all of the Kampmann family as there was no individual family member who wanted to take over. Although they were not interested in the hotel business they attempted to renovate the hotel in 1909 by contracting architect Alfred Giles. He was to replace the front wall with a French facade, add marble floor to the lobby, construct an arched opening from the lobby to the patio, create a patterned tile floor in the Victorian lobby and lastly create corinthian columns to the oval shaped lobby. All of these additions made the Menger Hotel the most elegant in San Antonio which was crucial to its success for new hotels were now opening around the area such as the Crockett Hotel and Gunter Hotel. In 1912, the Kampmann family employed architect Atlee B. Ayres to renovate the dining room and add 30 guestrooms. After World War I the family could no longer provide for the hotel to host large social events and by 1929 the hotel had been so neglected that it was removed from the guidebooks. The Great Depression also contributed to the hotel's abandonment for not enough revenue, due to lack of guests, was being made to make the repairs and renovations. The hotel would enter what is known as its "declining elegance" period. The 1930s and 40s were no different for the hotel's improvements so much so that plans to tear it down to build a parking lot were being discussed.
The Moody ownership
The hotel was set to be remodeled in the year 1945, and William Lewis Moody Jr. was seen as being the best person in all of Texas to handle the Menger Hotel. Moody earned a law degree from the University of Virginia in the year 1851 and he arrived in Texas in 1852. Moody founded the National Hotel Corporation in the year 1928, and this Corporation took over the hotel on June 30, 1944. Following his ownership of the hotel, Moody had made plans to include new plumbing, electrical fixtures, new decorations and a complete restoration of the Spanish patio gardens. In addition he wanted to have the floor coverings replaced with carpeting, completely renovate guestrooms and public rooms as well as have the kitchen newly equipped. Moody also had the paintings restored by local artist Ernst Raba, the antique furniture was to be refinished and refurnished, and lastly the Colonial Dining room was to be restored. In 1948 the lobby that J.H. Kampmann had constructed in 1881 and several guestrooms above it were to be torn down and replaced with a new lobby and 3 floors of air conditioned guestrooms above. In all of his plans to renovate the hotel Moody had decided to leave the original portion that William Menger had built. On March 2, 1951, Moody was recognized by the San Antonio Conservation Society for his great work in remodeling the Menger and for making it a great landmark in San Antonio. In 1953, a swimming pool became a part of the Menger Hotel. Moody had a great long life, and accomplished and succeeded in many areas. There were many other members of the Moody family that were involved with the Menger Hotel, and still are. William Lewis Moody Jr. died in 1954 and passed the rights to the hotel to his oldest daughter Mary Moody Northern. The upcoming World's Fair in 1968 dubbed the Hemisfair by local San Antonians would have Mary spending $1.5 million on a five story addition with 110 guestrooms to accommodate the new coming tourists. This new establishment designed by architects Atlee B. Ayres and Robert Ayres, would be named the Motor Hotel which included drive-in convenience and valet parking. In 1977 Mary Moody Northern died and gave ownership to her nephew Robert L. Moody Jr. who would be the new chairman of the Moody Foundation. By 1991 the Hotel Corporation also known as the Gal-Tex Corporation finished its restoration on the 8,000 square feet retail space on the Alamo Plaza side of the hotel. This restoration cost a total of $9 million. Some of these people include: Colonel William Lewis Moody, Mary Moody Northen, and Robert L. Moody.
Over its history the Menger Hotel has been the scene for many important events, and has had many famous guests. The list of guests includes Presidents: Ulysses Grant, Benjamin Harrison, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, William H. Taft, William McKinley, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Lyndon Johnson, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton; military figures, including Sam Houston, Robert E. Lee and William Hood Simpson; and other public figures, including Oscar Wilde.
The hotel holds the unofficial title of "The Most Haunted Hotel in Texas." The Menger claims to host 38 different spirits including Richard King and Sallie White, a maid at the Menger who was murdered by her husband and buried at the hotel's expense.
Another popular draw to the hotel was the cuisine offered by Mary Menger herself. Mary had long been preparing meals for her guests since her boarding house and she felt doing so at the Menger Hotel would strengthen its appeal. Although expensive, Mary made sure to buy all of her food from the best markets available. The Mengers would purchase the best beef, chicken, fresh country butter and eggs the markets had to offer. They also prided themselves on providing their guests with the finest delicacies of the time. They sent out a wagon with benches that would drive around downtown picking up businessmen in order to take them to the hotel to dine on the delicious fare. Mary made up quite a menu for her guests, which included a selection of soups, beef, pasta, veal, and a variety of tasty desserts. All of these was served at a single sitting and diners left feeling quite satisfied. Mary was also known for throwing lavish dinner parties for celebrity guests that only further proved her culinary skills.
Many of Mary Menger's recipes are still offered today in the hotel's Colonial Dining Room. A guest favorite is the mango ice cream.
The Menger Hotel has been recognized by the state of Texas and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
- "A Guide to the Menger Hotel (San Antonio, Tex.) Register, 1874." A Guide to the Menger Hotel (San Antonio, Tex.) Register, 1874. Accessed November 7, 2015.
- Alexander, Thomas E., and Dan K. Utley. Faded Glory: A Century of Forgotten Military Sites in Texas, Then and Now. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2012. Google Books.
- Brookins, Julia. "William Achatius Menger." In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol.2, edited by William J. Hausman. German Historical Institute. Last modified May 21, 2013. Accessed December 3, 2015. http://immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entry.php?rec=29
- Historic plaque (Menger Hotel) outside Menger Hotel, erected in 1976, viewed 14 November 2005
- Historic plaque (Barbed Wire Demonstration) outside Menger Hotel, erected in 2000, viewed 14 November 2005
- Historic plaque (San Antonio Section, National Council of Jewish Women) outside Menger Hotel, erected in 2000, viewed 14 November 2005
- Johnson, Linda. Historic Texas Hotels and Country Inns. Burnet, Tex.: Eakin Press, 1982
- Jordan, Terry G. "GERMANS." Handbook of Texas Online. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association. Accessed October 20, 2015. http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/png02
- "Journal of the Life and Culture of San Antonio." Mary Menger. Accessed November 7, 2015.
- Strumpf, Franz. San Antonio’s Menger. Abilene Christian University ILL, 1953.
- "The First Texas Brewery." The First Texas Brewery. Accessed November 7, 2015
- Williams, Docia Schultz. The History and Mystery of The Menger Hotel. Plano: Republic of Texas Press, 2000.
- Williams, Docia Schultz (2000). The History and Mystery of the Menger Hotel. Dallas: Republic of Texas Press. pp. 32–34. ISBN 9781556227929.
- Brookins, Julia (May 21, 2013). "William Achatius Menger (1827-1871)". Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies. American Historical Association. Retrieved December 3, 2015.
- Williams, Docia Schultz (2000). The History and Mystery of the Menger Hotel. Dallas: Republic of Texas Press. pp. 43–44. ISBN 9781556227929.
- Williams, Docia Schultz (2000). The History and Mystery of the Menger Hotel. Dallas: Republic of Texas Press. pp. 46–49. ISBN 9781556227929.
- Alexander, Thomas E. (2012). Faded Glory: A Century of Forgotten Military Sites in Texas, Then and Now. College Station: Texas A&M University Press. p. 90. ISBN 9781603447539.
- Williams, Docia Schultz (2000). The History and Mystery of the Menger Hotel. Dallas: Republic of Texas Press. pp. 49–50. ISBN 9781556227929.
- Williams, Docia Schultz (2000). The History and Mystery of the Menger Hotel. Dallas: Republic of Texas Press. pp. 50–52. ISBN 9781556227929.
- Williams, Docia Schultz (2000). The History and Mystery of the Menger Hotel. Dallas: Republic of Texas Press. pp. 53–54. ISBN 9781556227929.
- Williams, Docia Schultz (2000). The History and Mystery of the Menger Hotel. Dallas: Republic of Texas Press. pp. 54–56. ISBN 9781556227929.
- Williams, Docia Schultz (2000). The History and Mystery of the Menger Hotel. Dallas: Republic of Texas Press. pp. 55–56. ISBN 9781556227929.
- Oscar Wilde in San Antonio
- Menger Hotel
- About 1859 Historic Hotels
- "The Menger Hotel, a Historic Hotels of America member". Historic Hotels of America. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
- Menger Hotel site
- Menger Hotel from the Handbook of Texas Online
- Texas History 101: Tales of Teddy Roosevelt swilling, recruiting, and raising hell in and around San Antonio’s Menger Hotel
- TR's bio and other information on the Rough Riders