Friday, August 5, 2016

The Spanish Governor's Palace and Courtyard Garden

As San Antonio begins the countdown to our 300th anniversary celebration in 2018, I'm playing tourist and sharing even more of my city's history.  The Spanish Governor's Palace is a place I've wondered about because it certainly doesn't look like a palace.  It turns out that the building was the residence and office of the Captains of the Presidio San Antonio de Béxar or Spanish Garrison at San Antonio so it was never a palace and there weren't any Governors living here either.  The inflated title was the result of a romanticized vision back in the 1920s to help promote the preservation of a significant piece of San Antonio history.  Myth or reality, the important part is the story saved one of our earliest buildings dating back to 1720.

Facing the Plaza de Armas near city hall, this stone entrance with hand-carved keystone was completed in 1749.  After the Spanish and Mexican armies left Texas the building was converted to commercial use and was a bar in the 19th century.  Parts of the building were used for a clothing store and even a tire shop back in the 1920s when local preservationists began encouraging the city to purchase and restore the property.  Now a city-owned museum, we'll tour a few rooms of the building and then head out to the courtyard garden.

Original stone lintels are a striking feature of the earliest rooms.   

When I visited in late July no air conditioning made it quite warm inside despite the thick walls.

The oldest room, built around 1720, is set up as an office for the Captain of the Presidio.  Block stone walls were left exposed in the niche during restoration.  Restoration included removing and replacing inappropriate cement wall coatings with plaster.

Behind the office a later 1700s addition features an interesting niche configuration with a sink in the lower stone.

Now out to the courtyard garden which was built in the 1930s though there were probably gardens here when it was a residence.

Pebble mosaic paving surrounding a large fountain is quite striking.  The courtyard is available to rent for outdoor events and photo shoots.

Creating such large-scale mosaic patterns must have been a lot of work though I couldn't find any detailed information.

Lush and tropical gardens welcome on a warm summer day.

Plenty of shade for visitors to enjoy.

Plenty of benches like this faux bois add to the San Antonio style.

You can just see a purple flower on the huge Bauhinia Orchid tree.

Caladiums and liriope line the mosaic walkway.

Patterns are well done and add interest.  I'd love to know more.

Huge oak trees provide shade.

Walls enclose a warmer microclimate.

Philodendron monstera would freeze in my yard but does well in this downtown courtyard.

More of those caladiums.  I tried this with white caladiums but they fry in the heat even with frequent watering.  It's nice to see how it would have looked had it worked.

We turned our attention to find the avocado tree I had heard so much about and could not spot it at first.  At 40' tall, it was so big we almost missed it!

Tons of avocados were ripening, this was on a lower branch.  The docent told us it is a Mexican Avocado, probably Persea americana which is native to Mexico.

We lingered quite a while in the garden before touring the rest of the house.

One last look at the fountain through the arch.

The kitchen section was added in the 1930s during the city's restoration.

The idea was to show what a kitchen might have been.

It came across as an idealized view of Southwestern style popular in the 1930s.

Nicely done

Some more views of the older parts of the house.

The dining room added in the late 1700s is beautifully done.

View out to the garden from a bedroom.

The19th century addition used rubble stone.

On the way out we realized we'd missed the beautiful side courtyard.

Visiting The Spanish Governor's Palace was fascinating as a piece of early San Antonio history and it was even more fun to learn about the process of taking it from myth back to reality.  The museum has a nominal admission fee and is closed on Mondays and holidays.  


  1. I love your tourist posts, Shirley. The mosaic paving is wonderful and the gardens looked lush. I was surprised by the Caladiums as even here (where the death star is somewhat less intense!) I think I'd have a hard time keeping them alive except perhaps in a pot in a shaded area alongside the house.

    1. It's interesting how a few miles make such a difference. Mine in pots on the shady porch also disappear even though they get daily water while my friend Melody has a few in pots that do very well. She's just over a mile away.

  2. Another fascinating San Antonio destination! I don't think we have any buildings that old in this part of the country. It's great fun to be a tourist with you!

    1. Thank you Peter! I have a few more posts in the works.

  3. That courtyard garden, I am in love.


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