This is the second installment in a series where we are reminiscing about memorable buildings of Luling yesteryear that will not be making the journey with us into the 21st century. All around the country historic building restorations are becoming catalysts to major economic renaissances in their respective communities. Luling has preserved some its historic gems over the years, but unfortunately some of them have slipped through the cracks and are now gone forever.
So, – what is the most renowned hotel that Luling has ever had? Hint… it is not the shiny new hotel we now have out on the interstate. The building you see pictured to the right stood for over 90 years at the corner of Pierce and Walnut (where Apple Lumber now currently sits). The old Wilson Hotel was built by English immigrant Thomas Wilson around 1887 and is considered to be the most prominent hotel that Luling has ever had. An old Luling Signal article stated that back in the day people were driving well out of their way to stay at the Wilson Hotel due to its “homelike atmosphere, and pleasant personnel” and its many “comforts and accommodations”. Popular amenities included a highly regarded coffee shop, (locals called it Frenchy’s for awhile) and a covered bus station right outside the door which was used by the Greyhound and Kerrville bus lines for many years. For almost 8 decades the Wilson Hotel stood as Luling’s leading hotel. I hear one of the rooms even had a custom fire escape… built by one of its more permanent occupants. It consisted of one permanently attached rope that could be tossed out the 2nd story window in case of emergency, – or if he was trying to get away from someone. Another tidbit is back in the 50’s it was one of the only places in town with a pinball machine. My father said he and his buds always went to the hotel lobby after school to go play pinball. I guess they did it a lot because he said they got so good at it that they could put in a nickel and play for over an hour with all the free games they’d rack up. I hope this revelation doesn’t get some of them in trouble some 60 years later because they probably were supposed to be at home doing their homework… Although the Wilson Hotel was owned and managed by many different people over the years, it was always run as a hotel. There were short periods where owners treated it more like a family compound, and from what I hear there were some interesting characters residing there for a period of time. It was renamed the Union Hotel in the late 50’s, was a Luling rarity, in that it was a full 3 stories tall. After many recent group discussions with locals, the only other 3-story building that anyone can remember here in Luling is the historic High School building which was torn down in 1985, (we’re not counting basements and the new Best Western). With the advent of the “Motel” phenomenon in the early to mid 60’s and with traffic being diverted to the new Interstate Highway south of town in 1968, the Wilson Hotel slowly became an afterthought. Unfortunately it fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1979.
Luling currently has several buildings that are in this dangerous “afterthought” stage right now as we speak. Hopefully we can find feasible ways to reuse them so we don’t have to lose them. It seems that major production film crews who have been coming to town lately fully appreciate some of the nostalgic features that some of these old buildings possess and have been doing a lot of filming in and around these old structures lately. It’s cool that these crews are coming in and using these buildings, but that is not the kind of reuse I’m talking about. I’m referring to the kind of reuse that saves the building and helps it become a cornerstone in the revitalization of our economic base and that which helps preserve Luling’s cultural heritage. Some great examples of this include the “newer” Coffee Shop that’s now downtown on Davis St., the old Walker Bros building which was transformed into the Luling Oil Museum, and the Zedler Mill which is fast becoming a bridal mecca due to all the wonderful new amenities it offers for large weddings and events. But as you drive around town and look at some of these “afterthought” buildings, it just makes you wince as you think about what they could be if someone could just see the big picture. I know, I know… it’s always easy to come up with a million ways to spend someone else’s money. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could all work together to figure out a way to toss a lifeline to some of these Luling landmarks and give them a new lease on life?
“We have a strategic plan… it’s called doing things!” – Herb Kelleher