By Jane Lewis, Executive Director, Villa Finale
In 1967, San Antonio civic leader Walter Nold Mathis was looking to purchase another home after discovering his house in the Monte Vista Historic District of San Antonio was in the path of new US Highway 281. His friend, well-known preservation architect O’Neil Ford, told him about “the finest house in Texas” located in historic King William, a once-grand neighborhood founded by German immigrants that had fallen on hard times. Mathis toured the 1876 Italianate mansion located on the San Antonio River, now known as Villa Finale, and immediately fell in love with its many fireplaces, high ceilings and overall charm.
After purchasing the home and restoring it to a single-family dwelling -- it had been subdivided into affordable apartments since the late 1920s --Mathis realized the three homes across the street from Villa Finale were in a state of serious neglect. So, he purchased those three properties plus a dozen more over the next few years.
Mathis completed some if not all of the restoration work on the properties before selling them to mostly young couples who were not only interested in historic preservation but who also had the energy to complete the work themselves. Many times he would fund the mortgages himself in order to get the most historic home enthusiasts into the neighborhood, who otherwise might have been turned down by their financial institutions.
Throughout the nearly forty years Mathis lived in Villa Finale -- the name given by him in honor of it being his last home -- the King William Historic District went from being a run-down urban neighborhood to one of the most desirable places to live in the entire city. Walter Mathis was indeed the catalyst that spurred the revitalization of King William, an undertaking that earned him the Louise E. duPont Crowninshield Award in 2003, the highest honor awarded to an individual by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Upon his death in December 2005, Mathis bequeathed his entire estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Today, Villa Finale: Museum & Gardens is the only National Trust Historic Site in Texas, delighting visitors with its vast collections of fine and decorative arts, right in the heart of a vibrant historic neighborhood.
We asked three of Mathis’ family members, Josie Bain Fauerso (niece), Elizabeth Fauerso (great-niece), and Clark Kardys (great-nephew), to share their memories of this preservation advocate and explain his contribution of Villa Finale to the legacy of preservation.... Read More →
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