The Exchange Building was opened in 1925 as the Builders Exchange. Prominent San Antonio architect George Willis (1879-1960) drew the plans in collaboration with his associate Emmett T. Jackson. Actually born in Chicago, Willis spent four years as a draftsman in the studio of Frank Lloyd Wright, between 1898 and 1902, before beginning his association with Atlee B. Ayers in San Antonio. The Builders Exchange was a combination of the influences of both of these training grounds. The ten story building is considered to be of the neo-gothic style. It is planted at a prominent downtown location at the corner of St. Mary's St. and Pecan, with one side adjoining the San Antonio River. The National Bank of Commerce Building, situated diagonally across the river, was converted into a four hundred plus room hotel by Adam's Mark in 1997.
David Lake and Ted Flato (Lake-Flato Architects) and Tom Guggolz (Developer) purchased the building after forming a partnership called The Exchange Building Limited. Boarded up for ten years the idea was to adapt the upper nine floors for use as apartments. The ground floor was designated for retail space, with the exception of the elevator lobby. A delictessan / grocery and a restaurant have successfully occupied these spaces for many years now.
Financing was the first obstacle to overcome in an unproven downtown housing market. By setting aside twenty per cent of the apartments for lower income tenants, the Exchange Building Limited was able to combine their general equity with city funds and state tax-exempt revenue bonds for affordable housing. The city also granted a ten year historic property tax abatement. Following National Register criteria and federal rehabilitation standards allowed an additional twenty per cent historic rehabilitation tax credit. An additional tax credit was also granted in exchange for the gift of a facade easement to the San Antonio Conservation Society. The Brady Building and the Majestic Towers were also being converted from office buildings to apartments in this same time frame. These three have been joined by the Robt. E. Lee, the Maverick Building, and several others in proving the downtown housing market (Dec. 1998).
The renovation program called for demolition of all the interiors (with the exception of the lobby). Battersby Ornamental repaired all of the perimeter walls inside, on the second floor through the tenth, and refinished all the ceilings, before restoring the moderately embellished lobby.