Look back at history of SA Museum of Art, its origins as a brewery

SAMA featured in KSAT's Throwback Thursday series

A living encyclopedia. The San Antonio Museum of Art is a look into past worlds and civilizations.
A living encyclopedia. The San Antonio Museum of Art is a look into past worlds and civilizations.

SAN ANTONIO – A living encyclopedia: the San Antonio Museum of Art is a look into past worlds and civilizations.

The museum opened in 1981, but a hundred years earlier, the building operated as the Lone Star Brewing Company. 

“The Busch family came to San Antonio to look to open a brewery because of the very pure water that came from the San Antonio River,” said Katie Luber, the Kelso director at SAMA.

The brewery was active for decades, but production declined after prohibition. 

The building was abandoned until the 1970s when San Antonio Museum of Art Board members decided to open a museum at the site. 

“It was very visionary at that time,” said Luber. “Eighty families in San Antonio gave thousands of dollars each and they raised enough money to do a massive renovation.” 

“Now, of course, with the Pearl, and we think industrial chic is new, but it was really old again,” said Luber.

Former San Antonio Mayor Lila Cockrell was also a driving force to get funding for SAMA. 

“When we open the building, Lila was here, and because it was had been the brewery she smashed a beer bottle on it instead of a champagne bottle,” said Luber.

The museum opened as a celebration of Western Hemisphere and the Americas.

A few years later, prominent San Antonio attorney Gilbert Denman donated his collection of Roman antiquities and Mediterranean art. 

Some works of art from Greece, Rome and Egypt are anywhere from three to 5,000 years old.

There are pieces of linen that were woven to be mummies shrouds and other pieces that are 4,000 years old.

“We went from being a place that was about American art to being a place it was about the world,” said Luber.

In the early '90s, the museum acquired a large collection of Asian art and Chinese ceramics. The collection is now one of the finest in the country. 

“These works of art. Tell us about ourselves in a way that we almost cannot,” said Luber.

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art opened in the late 1990s, and the museum continues to grow.

In 2021, the museum will celebrate 40 years of activity here on the San Antonio River.

“We are the the seat of imagination,” said Luber. “We’re the seat of exploration and we’re a seat of self-awareness and I love that about the museum.”

Full Screen
1 / 14

About the Authors:

RJ Marquez has been at KSAT since 2010. He's covered a variety of stories and events across the San Antonio area, and is the lead reporter for KSAT Explains. He also covers the Spurs for on-air and digital platforms. You can see RJ regularly on KSAT Explains and Good Morning San Antonio. He also writes a weekly Spurs newsletter.

Andrew Wilson is a digital journalist and social media producer at KSAT.