Street view of historic building at corner of Houston Street and Cameron Street.

Historic San Antonio: 244 W Houston

The little corner of 244 W Houston has seen some things. It’s been some things. Hanging out in the bar of SoJourn Trading Company, I’ve wondered what this building was before. Well, after going down a research wormhole, the location has quite a history too juicy to not to tell. And let me qualify in advance, this research in no way is comprehensive. I mean, honestly, I kept getting side-tracked with all the juicy tidbits of historic hot chisme. But, no! I had to focus! Just the building, people just the building. Yet, I still dropped in a few of the background deets in case you wanna lose a good few hours that’s not Instagram.

Bawdy, Bawdy

Before there was a one-story building, a brick, two-story establishment stood tall overlooking a narrower Houston Street. Back in 1885, the corner was 432 W Houston. The Sanborn Fire Insurance maps label the location as ‘Female Boarding’ (Library of Congress Collection for Bexar County). Now let’s pause here for just a second. Maybe it truly was what it said it was. A place for single, young women to safely live together while they try to make a living in good ol’ San Antone (**cough, cough-BULLSHITE-cough, cough**).

Obviously it wasn’t female boarding. The ‘Running Red Lights’ podcast series on Texas Public Radio highlighting the historic red-light district in San Antonio mentions that it was common to label brothels, aka bawdy houses, as ‘female boarding’ on Sanborn maps. Interestingly enough, it was right across the street of the Alamo Ice Company. A convenient location, perhaps?

1885 map image of corner of Houston and Cameron Streets.

This particular bawdy house was east of the San Pedro Creek closer to the city-center of commercial and touristy areas and ‘respectability.’ San Pedro Creek was sorta an unofficial dividing line between the whiter, wealthier San Antonio vs. the diverse core of the city. Just before the city made this certain vice legal in 1889, the female boarding house was no more. By 1888, Sanborn maps label this building as ‘Sal’ for saloon. Why switch to a saloon right before brothels became legal? Okay, now for historic speculation story-time. 

It so happens that the building at the corner of W Houston and Camaron Streets was owned by Herman and Anna Haubold. That’s is, Anna Menger Haubold. That is, Menger as in the prominent and respected Menger’s of San Antonio (*gasp*). Did she know her property was an establishment of ill-repute? Did she care? Was it her husband that really knew and never told her? Did he actually (*clutch pearls*) run it? All of this conjecture, but I can’t help it. My imagination goes there and would love this to be the historic chisme. But I really don’t know. Again, I almost went on another tangent digging through Herman (a former Confederate army tanner!**double-gasp**) and Anna’s histories but had to get back on track. 

1888 map of corner of Houston and Cameron Streets.

What I do know is that this building was a saloon by 1888. And the city ordinance that legalized bawdy houses in 1889, limited the ‘sporting’ area to west of the San Pedro Creek, AND also started charging licensing fees of up to $500 dollars to maintain them. Again all this info is in the series so I highly recommend a listen or at least a download of the transcripts. Did Herman have an in at the city and decided to switch to a saloon so he wouldn’t have to pay the fees? The story I’m making up is that he did. Technically, the licensing fees were illegal. But you’ll have to check out Episode 2 of the Running Red-lights series to get that story of the madam (Emelia Garza) that challenged the city and won. It unfortunately didn’t end well for her, but her story is finally out there. In any case, that little brothel either moved west of the creek or just kicked out its ladies for the more respected establishment of a saloon.

Stayin’ Legit

The two-story building was a saloon through 1894 with some improvement happening around 1893 in an obscure snippet in the building permits section of the San Antonio Daily Light paper. In May of 1894, the city passed an ordinance to widen W Houston street and provide compensation to Mrs. Anna Haubold to tear down the building at that corner to do so. A day after that ordinance passed on May 8, 1894, demolition of the Haubold house began. References in the city paper consistently note the building is owned by Anna. Never mentioning her husband which I thought was weird (imagination overdrive). Anyway, by 1895 a one-story building took hold on that corner of 438 W Houston and Cameron and this time it was a store. 

1896 map view of corner of Houston and Cameron Streets.

This time the honey being sold at this corner was actually, well, honey. A well-respected apiarist (bee keeper!), Udo Toepperwein, sold bee-keeping supplies and the liquid gold through 1904. This was another instance where I went through another time-warp losing time learning about Mr. Toepperwein. He’s gonna have to be a whole post on his own because this guy was huge, BIG in the bee keeping community.

I lost the trail between 1904 and 1912 in the papers but it was possibly a saloon based on the maps. But for sure in 1908, Herman and Anna deeded the property to their children, Alfred, Clara and Anna (female Jr.). In 1913, the address pops back up in the paper in a sales ad for a fully licensed bar. Doesn’t say the price but it was likely selling the license of the bar and its materials and not necessarily the building. Although it might’ve been a bar in 1913, by 1924 it was then the Genard Brothers Tire Shop. The Genard Bros. ran the tire shop through 1942, maybe longer but not sure when it switched back to a bar.

Newspaper excerpts from 1894, 1904, and 1924 from 244 W Houston Street, formally 438 W Houston

From Bawdy House to Trading Co.

In the 1950s, possibly 1955 the building found its way back to its wayward roots and was once again a local watering hole.  This time El Tenampa cantina. Seemed that it was quite an establishment given that in 1958 a sheriff pistol-whipped the manager, was later charged with aggravated assault but then he was freed. Excuse me, did I say “pistol-whipped?” Yep, sure did, because that’s what the San Antonio Light (Sept 7, 1958) newspaper said.  

So the special deputy sheriff was hired to keep the peace at a next-door establishment when Mrs. El Tenampa ran inside to report her husband beating her. Then Mr. El Tenampa rolled up giving the sheriff the opportunity to arrest him. But words were exchanged with a potential threat of violence from Mr. Tenampa (former fireman) and the pistol-whipping commenced.   It was a bloody mess with the manager needing stitches across his scalp, forehead, and chin, the paper reports. It also reported that Mr. El Tenampa was 5’6” 130 lbs. and Mr. Sheriff was 6’2” 210 lbs. Yikes. Anyway, the sheriff was freed and the manager was booked for disturbing the peace. Go figure.

Around the 1970s is when one of the descendants of the Menger-Haubold family finally sold the property and building to a new bar owner. And even with the new owner and new address of 244 W Houston, the shenanigans continued. In the year of 1976, somebody’s grandpa threw a molotov cocktail into the newly spelled El Tenanpa bar. He was upset at the bartender for cutting him off because he couldn’t pay and decided to blow it up. Luckily, it “fizzled” out and the poor 63-year old man was arrested. It happened in early November, so you KNOW that Thanksgiving was awkward.

244 W Houston Street: 2008 street view of historic building as El Tenampa Bar.

El Tenampa or Tenanpa kept on keeping on until around 2010 it seems. A Yelper visiting in 2008 mentioned the hospitality of the owners and regulars, mentioning a risque mural of a naked female matador. Was it in honor of the former location of the bawdy house? Perhaps not, but it was certainly fitting. It closed down and then a newly renovated El Nuevo Tenampa opened up in 2013. Lasted around 2015 when it then became Juniper Tar. The building got a huge makeover with deep, dark woods, rich leather furniture, and antiques filling the interior creating what Imbibe magazine called a speakeasy vibe. I’m kinda bummed out that I missed out on visiting it, but honestly I love what it has become.

In 2018 Juniper Tar closed its doors, and in 2022 Sojourn Trading Co. took its place, totally changing the feel. This time, the interior is white with a mural of green fronds on one side and beautiful white shelving overlooking the bar on the other. Two massive chandeliers hang above the bar seating, which is small but cozy. And although the dark wooden doors with ornate stained-glass remain of Juniper Tar, the place is airy, calm invoking a semi-tropical scene. It really helps that Jose Amador and The Good Vibes Quintet (Latin Jazz) plays every month too. And the drink menu changes seasonally so if you fall in love with a cocktail…good luck. You’ll need to commit it to memory because you may never experience it again (I miss you Outlier’s Poetry!).

244 W Houston - SoJourn Trading Company Interior

So if you find yourself in this little corner of San Antonio and end up upon the little building on the Corner of Houston and Cameron streets…step in, have a drink, and take it in. You are now part of its history by sitting there for even just a brief moment like so many others before you.  There’s an imprint of you layered into all the stories of 244 Houston Street and who knows what other new stories await it.

Is there a building you’d love to know about? Let me know!

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