Hot Wells, the latest Bexar County park, opened on April 30, 2019. Located along the San Antonio River, the property has been known by various names, but most included the phrase "Hot Wells." The Hot Wells resort provided three giant sulfurous mineral water spring-fed pools for men, women, and children. The stabilized remains of the former Hot Wells resort that attracted the rich and famous of its day is now part of a new South Side park. The resort opened in the 1890s off what is now South Presa when the sulfur spring was discovered, officials of the Hot Wells Conservancy said. The resort expanded, debuting an 80 room hotel. There were dozens of private baths and two hundred dressing rooms, according to the conservancy. Notable resort guests included Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, and future president Theodore Roosevelt. Visitors enjoyed dancing, concerts, lectures, garden teas, dominoes, and gambling, according to markers at the site. The resort survived several fires, had a few different owners, and by the 1970s it was closed for good.
In 2016 the Bexar County administration agreed to take over four acres of the property to create a public park. The resort bathhouse ruins required stabilization, along with coordinating the creation of a railroad crossing with Union Pacific. Utilities needed to be added, along with a modern restroom facility and landscaping.
Before the county agreed to take over the property, engineers and environmental professionals had to evaluate the site's potential environmental contamination. Rick Klar, P.G., Raba Kistner Vice President, Environmental, said "Bexar County was interested in turning the site into a potential park for many years. A previous environmental consultant has concluded the site would need to spend $500,000 or more, a sum that the county was not prepared to spend. Every time the resort burned down, the resulting debris was bulldozed into big 'push piles' at the edge of the property. These debris piles presented long term environmental problems largely due to the lead paint that was used in the old buildings." This paint would become an aerosol during the facility fires, spreading contaminants across the site.
Raba Kistner's team divided the property into a grid and collected 36 soil borings from the site to help determine the level and spread of soil contamination. Our team also gathered information from two existing ground water monitoring wells that the earlier environmental consultant had installed. The debris piles were removed and the team found that the lead levels in the soil were consistent with naturally occuring levels throughout the San Antonio River area.
The Raba Kistner team also searched for underground petroleum storage tanks that were believed to be on the site. During the excavation of exploratory trenches while investigating the debris push piles, Raba Kistner's team discovered the site of a former tank pit. The tanks had already been removed, but debris had been backfilled in their place. "We exhumed the tank pit and properly disposed of all site trash along with the push piles," said Klar. Our team helped remove and dispose of a small storage tank that held gasoline just outside the boundaries of the new park.
The total cost of the work was substantially under $500,000 because of the way Raba Kistner extensively studied and tested areas of the site to determine and help remediate localized contamination points.
Raba Kistner's archaeology team was hired to monitor the contractor's excavations at the site as part of the park's construction. The scope of this work included monitoring around the bathhouse walls, conduits for new utility lines, parking sites and other subsurface activities. Most of the material recovered dated to the early days of the hotel and spa, and include ceramics, shoes, and food remains. Older artifacts were also found, with some as old as 5,000 years. These artifacts will be processed and studied by Raba Kistner staff and distributed to local museums. The park design helps preserve the history of the site and enables access for all to enjoy and learn from it.