Once a hotel frequented by the rich and famous (including Rudolph Valentino, Theodore Roosevelt, Cecil B. DeMille, Tom Mix, Will Rogers, Charlie Chaplin, and Sarah Bernhardt), all that remains of the Hot Wells Hotel and Space in San Antonio, Texas, is a pile of ruins. Today, the ruins are a popular destination for urban explorers seeking to trample around in what little remains of the once-impressive resort.
The health spa that once stood at this site piped hot, sulfurous water from a well in Edwards to health-inducing baths and swimming pools. The destination became so popular that it continued to grow throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, at one point comprising nearly 200 individual rooms.
The sulfurous water was discovered in 1892 when the executives who ran the Southwestern Lunatic Asylum drilled outside of their building to supply water to a new facility near the San Antonio River. The 104-degree water, which smelled strongly of sulfur, was deemed unsuitable for use in the asylum, but many people believed that water of that sort held special healing powers. Entrepreneurs quickly took advantage of the well, which was spilling forth 180,000 gallons every day and the first resort was opened in 1893.
Built by McClellan Shacklett, who was leasing the water from the well for $500 a year, the first resort advertised the medicinal benefits of its waters; the guests immediately started arriving in droves. And then it burned to the ground in 1894, only one year after it opened its doors. But its replacement, a world-class Victorian-style structure, was far more opulent. That hotel, too, burned to the ground, this time having survived 30 years. While it stood, though, it was incredibly popular.
Built by a team of investors from the north who had secured a 25-year lease on the Asylum’s waters, the Victorian-style resort included a bath house and three large swimming pools, each measuring 90 feet in length. Forty-five private rooms featured marble partitions and solid porcelain tubs. As the years wore on, the investors continued to expand and improve their resort, adding steam heat, electric and gas lights, and individual telephones. Perhaps the most obscure part of the whole enterprise was an ostrich farm that was relocated to the resort from San Pedro Springs just so that visiting women could easily acquire feathers, an important component of ladies fashion of the day.
Update, July 2017: The location is currently under redevelopment and the site is fenced off.
Update, August 2019: Hot Wells Hotel and Spa is now open to the public as a preserved historic park.