The exterior of the museum, formerly the home of the Lone Star Brewery. Photo courtesy of the San Antonio Museum of Art.

When visiting the San Antonio Museum of Art, you may notice architectural details that hearken back to a buzzy period in the city’s history. There’s a Lone Star beer emblem hand carved into limestone, metal stars adorning building exteriors, and octagonal ceiling supports that once held copper brewing vats—all reminders of the building’s original purpose when San Antonio was the brewing epicenter of Texas.

San Antonio Museum of Art

200 W. Jones Ave.
Phone: 210-978-8100
Tue and Fri, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Wed-Thu and Sat, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission: Free for children; $20 for adults

In 1884, on the heels of nearly five decades of German, Czech, and Austrian migration to South and Central Texas, the Lone Star Brewing Association opened along the banks of what is now the Museum Reach, a stretch of the San Antonio River north of the more postcard famous Paseo del Rio section, featuring 3 miles of paved hike and bike trails, access to museums and cultural institutions, a Mexican free-tailed bat colony, and public art installations. It followed the 1855 opening of Western Brewery, the first professional brewery in Texas, established by German immigrant and Menger Hotel founder William Menger.

The Lone Star Brewing Association facility became the first mechanized brewery in Texas. It produced nearly 65,000 barrels of “The National Beer of Texas” annually and employed Otto Koehler—who went on to establish the Pearl Brewery—before ceasing operation just before prohibition. Nearly a century later, on March 1, 1981, the San Antonio Museum of Art opened on the site of the repurposed historic Lone Star Brewery and its collections now boast more than 30,000 artworks. The billboard slogan for the museum’s inaugural year? “We’re brewing art.”

This summer, the museum celebrates its status as the only accredited art museum in the United States that was originally a brewery, as well as San Antonio’s leadership in adaptive reuse (the repurposing of historic buildings and sites to create community spaces), with the special exhibition Still Brewing Art on view through Sept. 3.

Tatiana Herrera-Schneider, Regina Palm, and Lindsay O’Connor, SAMA’s chief engagement officer, Marie and Hugh Halff Jr. Curatorial Fellow for American Art, and director of education respectively, worked together to create Still Brewing Art to tell the museum’s origin story in a fun, engaging way.

“The show is really about beer history, SAMA history, and San Antonio history,” Palm told me over the phone. But it also integrates San Antonio River history, since the story of the city’s own golden age of brewing during the late 19th century industrial revolution wouldn’t be possible without the waterway snaking through the city. A timeline representing the San Antonio River with dates and historic photographs dotting its banks is the first display visitors see at the exhibit. The river itself impressed beer mogul and German-born Anhueser-Busch co-founder Adolphus Busch, who decided to invest in the brewery in 1883.

The interior of the Lone Star Brewery, which once brewed annually 65,000 barrels of “The National Beer of Texas.” Photo courtesy San Antonio Museum of Art.


Thirsty? Visit these spots within a one-mile radius of SAMA:

Man Overboard Brewing Company
1203 Camden St.

Artisan Distillery & Craft Bar
402 Austin St.

Roadmap Brewing Co.
723 N. Alamo St.

Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery
136 E. Grayson, Suite 120

Alamo Beer Hall
202 Lamar St.

Back Unturned Brewing Co.
516 Brooklyn Ave.

Still Brewing Art weaves together the story of the roles of both water and architecture in the complex’s early days as a brewery and in its current life. It also holds up the SAMA complex as an early example of adaptive reuse in a city that later reimagined both the Pearl Brewery and the former Hot Wells Hotel and Spa as thriving modern public spaces. The San Antonio River was actually a dumping ground for the pre-prohibition brewery, but now the Museum Reach of the San Antonio River is the famed river’s quieter, more artsy stretch. And though it’s capped now, the well used to draw water for making beer still remains on the campus of the art museum.

The exhibition raises a curatorial toast to the arts of advertising and beer making. Visitors will see an array of belle époque brewery posters, historic photographs of the brewery, lyrics of the “Lone Star Anthem” in both English and German (yes, there’s a fight song), and pre-prohibition objects like beer steins, corkscrews, and a handmade wooden bottle box. Much of the ephemera on display was amassed from collectors within the Texas beer community.

“Community members welcomed our project with energy and enthusiasm and shared readily,” Palm told me. “Credit for Still Brewing Art goes to the community.”

That collaborative spirit comes full circle at the end of the exhibition, as a display stocked with pencils and postcards asks visitors to share their San Antonio Museum of Art stories. And though the facility ceased brewing beer nearly a century ago, the Museum Reach neighborhood surrounding it boasts several modern breweries for a post-museum tipple.

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