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Publication Date: 2015-12-04


Talk of Texas: San Antonio's New Emma Hotel by Roman and Williams

The Pearl, an old San Antonio brewery deftly transformed into an entire neighborhood of restaurants, shops, and an outpost of the Culinary Institute of America, has just opened a place to stay. The 146-room Hotel Emma is the work of Roman and Williams, former set designers who have become masters of the historic conversion. Several years in the making, the quarters put original curiosities, such as fermentation tanks and a giant copper engine, to clever use. And there's an overall expansiveness and down-home grace that plants the place firmly in Texas.


Yes, this was once a brewery—and in operation until 2001. The eight-story structure was designed in 1898 by August Maritzen who ultimately had more than 80 breweries to his credit and is in the Second Empire style. Photograph via The Rivard Report.

Roman and Williams say that in every project they "strive to find the tension between spontaneity and rigor, refinement and rebellion, and past and future." At the Emma, this translated into surprise details, such as an ammonia-powered copper engine preserved in the lobby. Photograph by Scott Martin via The Rivard Report.

The vast concrete-tiled space is divided into intimate seating areas. Photograh via Roman and Williams.

Roman and Williams preserved the decayed brick walls and framework ceiling while giving the space a grandeur. This being Texas, everything is outsized and upholstery is in saddle leather. Photograph by Craig Washburn via San Antonio Magazine.

There's even a two-tiered in-house library: The 3,700 volumes were acquired from local novelist and cultural anthropologist Sherry Kafka Wagner. Photograph by Scott Martin via The Rivard Report.

Brewery workers were allowed to imbibe on the job thanks to what was known as the Sternewirth privilege. Located in the building's great hall off the lobby, the Sternewirth bar and clubroom has 25-foot-tall ceilings and three fermentation tanks that Roman and Williams converted into lounges. Photograph by Scott Martin via The Rivard Report.

A closer look at a tank lounge with leather banquettes and metal paneling. Photograph by Scott Martin via The Rivard Report.

Wood and metal seating at the below-the-mezzanine bar. Upstairs books and beer bottles are on display. Photograph by Scott Martin via The Rivard Report.

Original archways and peeling walls have been preserved in the old brewhouse tower guest quarters. There are also rooms in a new wing. Photograph via Roman and Williams.

A nice place to plant your hat. Photograph via Roman and Williams.

Room to spare: The tall-ceilinged guest rooms have Herter Brother–inspired four posters. Photograph via Roman and Williams.

White Frette linens are punched up with embroidered pillows. Note the built-in storage cupboard. Photograph via Roman and Williams.

Twin pedestal sinks in a blue-and-white tiled bath. The hotel's robes are seersucker made by Pearl's resident guayabera designer Caroline Matthews of Dos Carolinas. Photograph via Roman and Williams.

A preserved factory column alongside a new clawfoot tub. Photograph via Roman and Williams.

Provisions from South Texas are sold in a hotel grocery called The Larder. Photograph via Roman and Williams.

A Thanksgiving still life. Photograph via Roman and Williams.

Bentwood armchairs, wood banquettes, and old-fashioned pendant lights at Supper. Photograph by Scott Martin via The Rivard Report.

Food is a big emphasis: In addition to the bar, the Emma is home to a restaurant called Supper—John Brand is the chef—and has a team of culinary concierges on hand to guide guests.

For two more Roman and Williams designs in dramatic historic buildings, take a look at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel and New York's High Line Hotel in Chelsea. Hotel Emma is at 136 E. Grayson St., overlooking the San Antonio River and the northern end of the River Walk, a 15-mile promenade.


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