Originally part of the farmland belonging to the Mission San Antonio DE Valero (popularly known as The Alamo), the King William neighborhood was settled in the 1860s by German immigrants, who built many of the large historic homes still in the area today. After falling into disrepair for many decades, the neighborhood was revitalized starting in the 1960s, spurred by the efforts of Walter Mathis, who bought and restored 15 large, historic homes. The city designated King William as its first Historic Neighborhood in 1968. Walter’s last home, his Villa Finale, is currently operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a house museum.
In 1985, Hap Veltman and Bernard Lifshutz purchased the historic Blue Star Ice and Cold Storage complex across the San Antonio River from King William. The warehouse buildings comprising the complex were by this time run-down and mostly vacant. Just a year later, in 1986, the San Antonio Museum of Art cancelled what was to be the first exhibition of local, contemporary artists in San Antonio. In response, Veltman and Lifshutz offered to convert one of the warehouses into a gallery to temporarily house the exhibition. The exhibit drew thousands of people, and launched the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, as well as Contemporary Art Month, now celebrated citywide each March.
The city expanded the River Walk south into King William at around the same time Blue Star was originally being developed, but for over 25 years it stopped at Alamo Street just north of the arts complex. That changed when the Eagleland Segment opened in 2010, connecting the River Walk in King William to the new Mission Reach of the San Antonio River Improvement Project. As such, Blue Star’s now also functions as a trailhead for the 7-mile Mission Reach connecting 4 of San Antonio’s 5 Spanish Colonial Missions to the south.
In addition to the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, the complex is home to apartments, restaurants, a theater, and a number of smaller galleries and artist studies. San Antonio first brewpub, the Blue Star Brewing Company, opened here in 1996. The Blue Star Arts Complex was the city’s first mixed-use development, and the seed of its creative economy — originally built at a time before either of those terms were in use.
Over the years, Blue Star has remained a vital center for cutting edge art in San Antonio, even as dozens of other galleries have opened nearby. The development is still owned by Lifshutz Companies, which is currently developing the Big Tex project along the river just south of Blue Star.