The evening tour group gathered on the front porch to begin with a brief history of this 1876 Italianate home located in the King William neighborhood. As our guide unlocked the front door she told us that we would feel like we were stepping back into the 1800's, but really we were stepping into the 1970's. And indeed, as a child of the '70's I did see the truthfulness of the statement especially in the kitchen with the brown appliances and the elegant draperies with ball fringe trim!
This home's history really does begin in 1967 when Walter Nold Mathis purchased the derelict property. Hard times had come to the King William neighborhood following the disastrous flood of the San Antonio River in 1921. The elegant homes built by mostly German immigrants in the late 1880's were flooded and many owners moved northward leaving the homes to be neglected or divided into apartments. The neighborhood declined until a core group from the original families were successful in obtaining protective zoning. Shortly after Mathis bought the home the King William Association formed and soon the neighborhood was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, making it the first listed historic district in Texas. To read more about history of the King William area click here . The home is also listed in the Historic American Buildings Survey (Survey number: HABS TX-3225).
Hardware merchant Russel C. Norton and his wife hired architect Francis Crider to design a one-story four room limestone house in 1876 and added an identical second story to the home before selling it in 1881. During the 1880's Edwin Polk added a Victorian style two-story brick wing and wooden gallery to the house as well as several outbuildings (no longer extant).
|Two-story addition and galleries|
|Double front porches|
The tower is accessible from the front second-story room via a spiral staircase. In addition to giving the home a decorative touch on the exterior it is possible the tower was used to pull out the hot air from the lower floors.
From the 1920's until Walter Mathis bought the home it was divided into apartments and the rear porches converted into a kitchen and bathroom. Like many of the once grand homes the property suffered from general neglect. Mathis was a devoted preservationist who, interestingly, had been displaced from his existing home due to the impending construction of a new freeway. He bought the derelict home in 1967 and restored it to the original floor plan using modern construction materials and some of the salvaged architectual details. A year later the King William Street Historic District would be approved and the neighborhood would revive.
He named the house Villa Finale as he knew this would be his final home. During the forty years he lived here he filled would fill it with art and decorative pieces from his international travels and his extensive collections. After spending two years on the renovation of his home Mathis purchased and partially restored many surrounding homes and sold them to preservation minded individuals. He was a major influence on the renaisance of the King William Neighborhood. Villa Finale is now owned and administered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Located at 401 King William St., San Antonio Texas. Call before visiting to make a tour reservation. For more visitor information visit Villa Finale. Part 2 will feature the incredible interior and grounds.