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The historic Chandler Building: from law offices to the Rainforest Café

Negotiations are underway for a lease agreement on the historic Chandler Building at 110 E. Crockett, which could bring a Rainforest Café to the River Walk by December.

Landry's Restaurants of Houston, operators of about 35 Rainforest Café locations worldwide, confirmed Monday that negotiations are continuing with the Catto & Catto law firm, who currently occupy the four-story building at the corner of Crockett and Losoya streets, near the Hyatt Hotel.

"We're still trying to finalize the lease with the landlord," says Jeff Cantwell, spokesman for Landry's, which also operates Landry's Seafood House, Joe's Crab Shack, and Saltgrass Steak House locations in San Antonio. Landry's also recently took over operations of the restaurant in the Tower of the Americas, and is charged with renovating that prominent tourist attraction, which was built for the city's 1968 HemisFair.

The project also has to hurdle the Historical Design and Review Board.

District 1 Councilman Roger Flores Jr. says he is concerned that Landry's might use the Rainforest Café theme to turn the River Walk into a Disneyland atmosphere. "If they are going to build a volcano with lava, smoke, and flash, I don't know how it would go over there on the River Walk."
There are 25 Rainforest Café locations in the United States, and 10 overseas in such locations as London's Piccadilly Circus. The general theme of Rainforest Café includes the "sights, sounds and aromas of a tropical restaurant ... with lush vegetation, larger-than-life Banyan trees, cascading waterfalls, majestic rock formations, shooting stars, changing constellations, tropical music, cool mists, simulated rain storms complete with thunder and lightning."

The cafés feature giant-sized aquariums with more than 300 species of tropical fish, with a full-time animal care specialist to maintain the salt-water environments.

Details of the lease negotiations haven't been released, but the Rainforest Café would occupy all four floors of the Chandler Building, which has been in the Catto family for generations. The building was constructed circa 1894-5 in a Renaissance Revival style, with Romanesque arcade brickwork on the building façade. John Catto purchased the building in 1963, which was renovated in the late 1980s. His grandfather, Alfred Gage, occupied the building from 1900 to 1928, and he operated the family's extensive West Texas ranching ventures from that location, which also has housed the San Antonio Business Man's Club and the Chamber of Commerce.

Cantwell says plans call for keeping the ice cream store that operates on the street level. The river level would contain a gift shop, bar, and seating area. The second and third levels would serve as a restaurant, with kitchen and support space; the fourth would be reserved for management offices and a prep kitchen.

"It's happening," says Greg Gillaspy, executive director of the Paseo Del Rio Association. "Landry's is a great corporate citizen. They know the hospitality and tourism industry, and they service it very well, and I would hope they truly become good stewards of the River Walk, not just take advantage of the River Walk as some chains have done."

District 1 Councilman Roger Flores Jr.'s family operates the Paloma Restaurant on the River Walk, a couple of doors down from the Chandler Building. He says he is concerned that Landry's might use the Rainforest Café theme to turn the River Walk into a Disneyland atmosphere.

"If they are going to build a volcano with lava, smoke and flash, I don't know how it would go over there on the River Walk ... that is not conducive to the ambience of the River Walk ... I hope that group will understand that."

By Michael Cary

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