Throwback Thursday: Menger Hotel history features notable guests, stories, mysteries

Menger Hotel just celebrated 160 years in operation at Alamo Plaza

By RJ Marquez - Digital Content Curator, Samuel Bayless Jr. - Editor

SAN ANTONIO - A fixture of the Texas frontier and a San Antonio landmark, the Menger Hotel has stood for more than a century and a half in Alamo Plaza.

William and Mary Menger opened the historic hotel in February 1859, but that was not the original business plan.

William Menger emigrated to Texas from Germany and dreamed of opening a brewery, which he did in the 1850s.

“The reason he built it here on this plot of land near the Alamo is he wanted access to the irrigation system when crops were still grown by the original monks,” said Kyle Kennedy, night auditor for The Menger Hotel.

The brewery was a huge success, but it led to an unforeseen problem with customers.

“The brew is so strong, they end up passing out all over the place. Under the tables, on the tables, under the benches,” said Kennedy.

The Mengers built a set of rooms next to the brewery to let customers sleep off the alcohol.

The building was not the hotel itself, but gave them the idea for one.

They drew plans for a 50-room, three-story hotel where no expense was spared. The Menger became the first hotel in San Antonio.

“Mr. Menger was very proud of it, he took out ads in regional newspapers declaring that if it was not the best hotel, it was at least equal to any hotel you would find in the west,” said Kennedy.

The Menger quickly expanded and ushered in a new era of sophistication in hotels west of the Mississippi River.

Teddy Roosevelt’s recruitment of the Rough Riders ended in San Antonio, and the cavalry would often visit the hotel bar.

“There are actual bullet holes in the bar, and the legend goes those are from the Rough Riders before they shipped out to Cuba,” said Kennedy.

Former presidents and historical figures such as Ulysses Grant, Dwight Eisenhauer, Babe Ruth and much later Bill Clinton have all been guests of the hotel.

Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore, created the early designs for the national monument while in his Menger suite.

As the hotel grew in popularity, so did its folklore and legend. Naturally,there have been stories over the years of strange and other worldly activity.

“The way I describe it to guests is that, it’ like a ship at sea, a ship will go out and it will come back with barnacles,” said Kennedy. “An old building is the same way. It picks up ghost stories.”

The most famous story is that of Capt. Richard King, the founder of King Ranch.

King died at the Menger hotel and his funeral was held in the lobby because of his love for the hotel. Some still believe his spirit resides there.

The hotel has stories aplenty. The Moody family is the current owner the Menger and saved it in the 1940s after World War II.

It was nearly demolished, but the Moodys stepped in, refurbished the hotel and kept it in operation.

“I personally feel like the historic rooms are our best rooms in general,” said Kennedy. “They have high ceilings. We’ve done our best to keep the decor.”

But it all started with William Menger, an influential figure who gave back as much as he got from the city.

“He actually bought San Antonio’s first fire engine out of his own money,” said Kennedy. “Didn’t ask anything for it, just felt the city needed a fire engine.”

Kennedy said working for the hotel essentially means he never lacks for a conversation starter.

“Everyone who has been downtown, been to the Alamo, from San Antonio knows about the hotel even if they have never been inside,” said Kennedy.

The hotel just celebrated 160 years. Menger’s spirit still lives on with the staff that work hard every day to keep it going.

“A hotel is large building of course, but it only works by people who make it work,” said Kennedy. “All of us work to keep this place going, hopefully for another 160 years."

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