Which Opened in 1962 as the First Hotel on San Antonio's Riverwalk
|SAN ANTONIO - May 14, 2007 - They say nothing beats an original, unless
it’s the return of an original.
The only thing better? How about the reinvention of an original.
That is what is happening now on the beautiful San Antonio Riverwalk. New owners of the first hotel built along the Paseo del Rio are bringing back a familiar name and face – El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel.
Developers Tracy Hammer, James Lifshutz and Doyle Walsh purchased the 300-plus room property at 110 Lexington Avenue in 2005. But the look, sounds and atmosphere will recall the salad days of the early ’60s, when the original El Tropicano was San Antonio’s beacon on the Riverwalk.
“When people come here, they will know they are in San Antonio,” Hammer said. “They will experience the sights, sounds and scents that will make for an unforgettable experience.
“We will have all the elements that tell the story of the rich culture and fun atmosphere that make this one of the greatest cities in North America.”
History On The River
On August 21, 1962, El Tropicano opened as the first hotel on the Riverwalk, a chic and ultramodern luxurious property that looked as if it belonged on the glitzy Las Vegas Strip during the heyday of the Rat Pack. It has a unique atmosphere and a colorful, concave sign and standout logo with a tropical leaf to brand the property.
Advertisements for “El Tropicano Motor Hotel” touted the conveniences of the day, including radios in the TVs and air conditioning, a full-service barber shop and a VIP restaurant called the Fontana Club. Actor Rock Hudson and Lady Bird Johnson were among the first guests to stay here.
El Tropicano was also San Antonio’s party place. The Coronado Room, a 12,000-square-foot ballroom, is still one of the largest hotel meeting facilities in the city. Combined with the Junior Ballroom, which opens to a sprawling staircase leading to the pool deck, the hotel has been the site of countless weddings, quinceañeras, proms and other memorable events.
In the 1990s, the El Tropicano name gave way as the first of many new
owners who took over the hotel, as a Holiday Inn, Sheraton 4 Points, an
independent property and a Clarion. Each owner tried to update the hotel’s
look in their own way, but the result left something to be desired – a
mish-mash of bland modern design that took away from the property’s original
charm and unique flavor.
Inventing The Look
The owners brought back the El Tropicano name and reinvented its original look through a massive, well-planned renovation. The first phase, completed in May 2006, affected the common areas and meeting facilities including the restaurant and lounge.
“We are overcoming a problem that has plagued this hotel for the past 15 years as it lost its identity and vision,” Hammer said. “The community can expect this updated El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel will be a source of pride.”
The talents of Alamo Architects have been tapped to shape the look of the hotel so it harkens back to its origins while branding it with a style all its own.
“I told the pros at Alamo Architects that I wanted it to recall a Latin American beach resort, mixed with an upscale North American club, a place where you fell welcome, relaxed and special the moment you walk in,” Hammer said.
As a result, the inspiration for El Tropicano’s design comes from Acapulco beach resorts and trendy clubs like the Sky Bar in Los Angeles and the W in Mexico City, says Irby Hightower, the Alamo Architect partner leading El Tropicano’s renovation.
“We’ve tried to bring back the character of the hotel without it being a sentimental reconstruction,” Hightower said. In other words, don’t expect shag carpeting or the tiki-themed lounge that were very much part of the hotel’s style in the ‘60s.
“The new El Tropicano is an international-style modern building that has these touches of Mexico, the Tropics and things San Antonio,” Hightower said.
Expect an eclectic blend of cool and warm colors in the redesigned, more intimate lobby space. There is Mexican folk art and funky grass bamboo frozen in clear acrylic tile in the bar, which will showcase fine tequilas and rums. The Hotel features Mangos Restaurant open 7 days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The hotel lost some rooms, going from 324 to 306. But the payoff will be more dramatic and pleasing spaces throughout the property. The large winding stairway leads from the lobby to the pool deck, which is divided into different spaces, with the western part developed as a more intimate courtyard with a vista to the River Terrace. Palm trees and other tropical plants create an “Oasis” effect in the central courtyard pool area.
The property also features some of the best banquet and meeting facilities in the city, offering 37,000 square feet right in the central business district of the Alamo City. El Tropicano also can accommodate gatherings for 10 to 1,000 in more than 25 unique meeting areas throughout the complex by utilizing the niches and pleasing spaces that the architectural design has provided.
Sign of the Times: 313,000 Pieces of Imported Mexican Tile
No other hotel in San Antonio has an entire side draped in artwork. A replica of the original El Tropicano concave-shaped marquee, a 58-foot-long, 28-foot-high piece of mosaic artwork made up of more than 313,000 pieces of imported Mexican tile, was unveiled last year on the Lexington Avenue side of the property.
Designer Eve Beckwith Chavela of Alamo Architects referred to old photos of the original El Tropicano marquee to create a similar piece of art using cool tropical colors. Ice white, Cancun blue, Acapulco blue, Caribbean green, Cuernevaca green, Emerald green, and Lilac are among the tints of tile that will grace this truly one-of-a-kind signature sign.
A smaller El Tropicano sign on the St. Mary’s side will have a similar look, although using sunnier shades to define the background. “El Tropicano” letters in metallic gold and the signature tropical leaf will adorn both signs.
Fitness and Four-Star Living
The hotel will remain a mid-priced retreat for business travelers and vacationers. But the 9th floor, which offers a spectacular view of downtown San Antonio, is being transformed into a hotel-within-a-hotel, a boutique property that will provide upscale services and amenities to guests who choose to upgrade to this part of the hotel.
Also at the hotel is one of the finest fitness facilities in all of San Antonio. The owners moved their popular downtown fitness club and relocated it to the second floor, dubbing it Strive at El Tropicano. Although it is open to guests, this 3,000-square-foot workout space is also a members-only fitness club.
In keeping with its retro theme, El Tropicano has an in-house radio station playing funky Latin jazz and salsa. And an inflatable movie screen in the pool area will provide courtyard guests and swimmers with great movies from the early days of the hotel. Think features that made Doris Day and Steve McQueen stars.
A Place to Come Back To
More surprises have just been announced with the introduction of The El Trop Club, a unique free membership for locals to enjoy the hotel’s amenities.
The Hotel has added real toucans, the birds of paradise, as the official El Tropicano mascots.
What the owners want is for El Tropicano to be the property people want to return to year after year. “This property is one of San Antonio’s gems, and it deserves to be reborn as the unforgettable vacation spot that it once was,” Hammer said. “Sometimes you have to go back to your roots to move forward and grow. That’s the philosophy that’s driving our investment in El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel.”
In January 2007 InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), the world's largest hotel group by number of rooms, announces that the 306-room El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel has become a franchise of the Holiday Inn Brand.
El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel is a full-service 306-room property in downtown San Antonio that melds the relaxing ambiance of a Latin American beach resort with the style and elegance of an upscale North American club. Come experience an Alamo City original with poolside “dive-in” movies, live entertainment, and much more. Go to www.eltropicanohotel.com for more information.
El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel, San Antonio
|Also See:||The El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel Now a Franchise of the Holiday Inn Brand; Opened in 1962, It Was the First Hotel on San Antonio's Riverwalk / February 2007|