The Hotel Emma
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Protector of the Historic Fabric

Jun 15, 2016

“My role at the hotel was to make sure that new construction was compatible with the soul and bones of the building.”

— Jeffrey Fetzer, FAIA

Jeff Fetzer winds down from the weighty responsibilities of Pearl’s Protector of the Historic Fabric by making quilts. Precisely designed, intricately pieced, studiously stitched quilts that are the beautifully crafted evidence of his ability to bring order to chaos and wrest beauty from scraps.

Multi-colored quilt

“Historic fabric” is the preservationist’s term for the materials and methods used in an historical building. As a preservation architect, Jeff collaborated with Hotel Emma’s owner, architects and designers as they wove history and hospitality into the spaces that surround guests with comfort, beauty and unexpected aesthetic juxtapositions.

“My role at the hotel was to make sure that new construction was compatible with the soul and bones of the building. And when we uncovered treasures, I made recommendations for integrating them into the finished design.”

Journal with notes on old brewhouse's condition

Jeff explored the old Brewhouse in 2002 to analyze and document the building’s condition. He found that the last brewery workers had “literally turned out the lights, locked the doors and walked away.” He discovered coffee cups (and beer cans) on desks, notes tacked to bulletin boards, and uniforms in lockers. And giant brewing tanks, conveyors, vats, hoppers and massive engines. Many of these artifacts are repurposed throughout the hotel, while others are cataloged and stored off site.

Brewing tanks discovered in archeological dig

Perhaps Hotel Emma’s re-invention resembled an archeological dig most closely when a crew was removing a concrete slab in the lobby area, which had been the brewery’s engine room. The superintendent called Jeff to say, “You might want to come take a look at this.” The crew had exposed a 25-square-foot area of original concrete tile that had been buried and forgotten for decades. The tiles were removed and preserved along with the February 1900 newspaper stuck to the undersides. A San Antonio company made exact replications of the tiles, which now pave the lobby floor.

Jeff’s 30+ years of knowledge and experience are notable — he was integral to repairs and restoration of the Texas State Capitol and Governor’s Mansion, San Antonio’s 17th century missions and our most famous mission of all, the Alamo.

Thanks to Jeff’s expertise and respect for the structure, the materials and the vision, Hotel Emma is suffused with 120 years of stories and history that played out in the industrial spaces that now welcome our guests.

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