The story of the house at 310 West Ashby and the people that have lived there is the story of burgeoning prosperity in central Texas. Until 1886, the Indian menace prevented the development of the city to the north beyond San Pedro Springs-that favored spot for picnics in the country as well as the end of the street car line. The capture of the infamous Apache chief, Geronimo, in that year, along with the decline of the outlaw and road agent, allowed unfettered development of outlying suburbs without fear of harassment. Real estate developers opened Laurel Heights’ Place in 1890-91 along with other residential additions north of the center of town such as Alamo Heights and Beacon Hill.
According to family legend, Koehler selected as the site for his home a hill on Laurel Heights Place overlooking the skyline of the city which, of course, included an unobstructed view of his brewery. Sitting on his porch, he could determine whether his employees were hard at work by the color of the smoke issuing from the brewery’s stacks.
The Koehlers were first listed in residence at the corner of Lewis and San Pedro in the General Directory of the City of San Antonio of 1901-02. Later City Directories recorded the address variously as 410 West San Pedro in 1903-04, 310 West San Pedro in 1905-06, and finally as 310 West Ashby. The land on which the house is situated occupies one square block bounded on the north and east by Ashby and Lewis Street and on the south and west by Courtland and Belknap. The pride of the Tobin Hill Neighborhood Association, the house stands just beyond the southern boundary of the Monte Vista Historic District.
Carl von Seutter was the architect of the Koehler mansion, then touted as the most costly private residence in the city. Seutter had worked as a draftsman for James Riley Gordon, architect of the Bexar County Courthouse, from 1894-96. He completed his professional training and entered into partnership with another architect. The firm of Murphey and Seutter was listed in city directory of 1897-98. In 1899, the partnership was dissolved and Seutter maintained architect’s office at frequently changing locations for at least three decades. Jacob Wagner was the contractor for the Koehler residence.
Temple Beth-el (1927) on the southwest corner of the Ashby and Belknap was also designed by Seutter in partnership with Malcolm G. Simons.
Architect and patron alike shared a love of the typically Victorian showy facade. Forms culled from styles of the past were combined by Seutter in more or less new combinations as was the fashion. Eclecticism was one of the dominant features of the architectural scene between 1890-1915.
The rustificated stone exterior of 310 West Ashby offers many delightful details to arrest the eye. Friezes ornamented with sculptured garland, logic columns, and balustrades as well as Italian Palladian windows were Renaissance elements which provided inspiration for the architect. The massive round arches at basement level as well as polygonal turrets, round bays, and the asymmetrical disposition of the masses reflect the strong influence of the Richardsonian Romanesque style which the architect, Carl von Setter, undoubtedly learned during his apprenticeship with Gordon. The romantic notion that the house was inspired by the castles along the Rhine may be born out by the polygonal roof turret which is reminiscent of the onion domes of the German Baroque epoch. The interior space cover a total of 12, 655 square feet which is divided between a basement ( with a one-lane bowling alley!) and three upper level floors. The top floor was transformed into a private night club during the late 40s.
Mr. Koehler took the greatest pride and pleasure in his home and the broad terraced lawns were his special province. G.A. Schattenberg, owner of Waldheim Nursery in Boerne, Texas, did the original landscaping, providing only the choicest specimens for his friend. It was said that Koehler never left San Antonio for an extended absence without giving special instructions to his gardener for the care of his flowers and trees.
OWNERS OF THE PROPERTY:
Otto Koehler was born in Aldfeld, Hanover, Germany on April 28, 1855 and received his education in the Seminary School of Aldfeld. Immigrating to the United States in 1872, he settled in St. Louis and soon found employment with a firm of Griesedieck Brothers. Brewers. Mr. Koehler came to San Antonio in 1884 and was one of the organizers of the San Antonio Brewing Association known as the City Brewery, now Pearl Brewing Company. Early in the history of the enterprise, he became its president. He was the principal owner of the famous health resort Hot Sulphur Wells, south of San Antonio. He organized two mining operations and a rubber factory in Mexico as well as serving as president or director in fifteen different corporations. He had many associations with the city which he was proud to call his home and was a strong supporter of the Chamber of Commerce. Koehler died in 1914.
Otto A. Koehler, son of the first Otto’s twin brother, made his boyhood home with his aunt and uncle, and upon Mrs. Koehler’s death in 1943, he and his wife Marcia assumed ownership of the mansion. An official biography states that Koehler was born in North Warren, Pennsylvania in 1893, however, family members assert that he was actually born in Germany. He joined the Brewery in 1921, subsequently becoming chairman of the board and president of the Pearl Brewing Company. The second Otto Koehler died in 1969.
Otto and Marcia Koehler deeded the spectacular estate to the San Antonio Union Junior College District for the use as the Koehler Cultural Center in 1971.
The property was jointly operated by the Junior College District and the San Antonio Art League as an art center for the San Antonio area until 1988, at which time the operation of the Koehler Cultural Center was taken over by the Alamo Community College District. The residence and spacious ground have been renewed with an eye to preserving the original appearance.
Today the mansion is a focal point for the educational and social life of the community, but perhaps more important, the students of San Antonio College, St. Phillips College, Palo Alto College and Northwest Vista have access to living history. With its future assured, the Otto Koehler residence forms an important part of the architectural heritage of central Texas-a “recycled” landmark that will continue to enhance our lives through new uses.
The history of the Koehler Cultural Center was written by Mary Hollers George, Associate Professor of Art History, San Antonio College.
Reservations for the use of the Koehler Cultural Center first floors and grounds can be made by calling the San Antonio College Facilities Management Department at 486-0876.