Arts A wellspring of promise

A contemporary art space could revive the Hot Wells Resort

Through development and devastation, growth and abandonment, the mineral waters on the grounds of the former Hot Wells Resort in South San Antonio have percolated from deep within their geological origins, a constant presence undeterred by change.

Artists looking to get back to nature can work in rustic spaces at the former Hot Wells Resort, which is being restored by developer James Lifshutz. (Photos by Melissa Santos)

Wandering amid the ruins yields a fascinating glimpse into the past and starts the mind envisioning the grandeur that attracted the rich and famous to the resort's mineral waters. Will Rogers, Teddy Roosevelt, Cecil B. DeMille and Charlie Chaplin, among scores of others, vacationed at Hot Wells and "took the waters." You can imagine their eyes resting on letters painted on an interior wall, cautioning visitors that high diving is prohibited, a warning best heeded even if the pools weren't empty. Other signs painted directly on the brick exterior distinguish the "Ladies" pool from the "Gents," which is inexplicably deeper than the former. Charred fragments of window frames and shutters protrude from the aging structure, reminders of the numerous fires that ravaged the once elegant property.

The former resort has returned to an almost-natural state, with native vegetation and wildlife reclaiming the land for themselves. The skeleton of what was once the Hot Wells bathhouse clings to its foundation, straining to maintain its balance and refusing to lose its foothold, a remnant of a bygone era. This combination of nature, history, and unique geology provides the setting for San Antonio's newest art venue.

While crumbling walls are reinforced, brush is cleared, scattered bricks are gathered, and debris removed during restoration of the old bathhouse, there are plans to transform part of the former resort into Contemporary Modular Art Spaces. "This will be a very bohemian artists' community," says local metal sculptor D. Tillery, who is coordinating the efforts of The Hot Wells Artists, a group of nearly two dozen local artists tangentially involved with property owner James Lifshutz' preservation and restoration efforts. Artists inhabiting the CMAS will be getting back to basics sans electricity, water, or sewage. Although lacking in amenities, the CMAS will be nestled amid the trees and undergrowth that dominate the 21-acre site, where crumbling Depression-era cabins are still visible. "The setting offers a lot for artists interested in nature," says Tillery.


Access to Hot Wells is restricted, but the Hot Wells Artists will host a private art exhibit and reception July 23 as part of Contemporary Art Month. The event will feature the temporary and permanent installations of the Hot Wells Artists members. Guests can also tour the site and soak in the spring-fed mineral waters long believed to have healing qualities. Should you be fortunate enough to garner an invitation to attend, go prepared: You'll need sturdy shoes and appropriate "soaking" attire. And don't touch the vines unless you want to decorate your body with calamine lotion.

The Hot Wells Artists hoped to have the CMAS ready for occupation later this month, but as with most efforts that rely on volunteers, progress has been slow. "Artists wanting to get involved with developing the CMAS are welcome," says Tillery. As stated on The Hot Wells Artists' website, "The artist community at the Hot Wells is in its infancy but has signs of being a cross between the Chinati Hot Springs, once owned by Donald Judd near Marfa, Texas, and Shidoni Foundry, outside Santa Fe, New Mexico." From the looks of it, extra hands would certainly make the dream come to fruition more quickly. Let's hope the altruistic impetus behind this effort breathes new life into this ghost of San Antonio's storied past, and by extension, feeds the soul of our flourishing creative community.

Artists interested in exhibiting work at the reception can contact D. Tillery at [email protected].

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