The Robt. E. Lee was adapted for use as apartments in 1996-97, after remaining boarded up for many years. A major conversion project was undertaken. During my time there, restoring the enormous plaster beams dividing the coffered ceiling in the lobby, I was able to get a feel for the grand space that was there at one time.
The Robt. E. Lee was once an upper level establishment, billing itself as "100% AIR CONDITIONED". Built in 1922-23 by the Travis Investment Company (Russell Hill, Harry Rogers, and Wallace Rogers), the ten story structure was one of several "skyscrapers" going up during this time (San Antonio's building permits reached a record high in 1922). The Frost National Bank Bldg., the Maverick Bldg., the Woolworth Bldg., and the Central Trust Bldg., among others, were also going up at this time. Architect Herbert S. Green rendered this "high rise" in the "Sullivanesque" style.
The Robt. E. Lee is bounded on three sides by N. Main Ave., N. Flores, and W. Travis St. (previously called Obraje St.). Adobe and caliche homes occupied the space in the 1850s, backing up to the San Pedro Acequia (from the Spanish Colonial era), which bisected the property from north to south. Stone and brick commercial buildings took their place through the years. Miguel Castanola gradually bought up most of this property, to the north boundary of Salinas St., after immigrating from the French colony of Algeria in the 1850s. He and his son, Antonio (a graduate of St. Mary's Academy), operated a mercantile business here. Castanola sold his interest in the property in 1912 to....
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