As San Antonio grew, so did St. Mary’s University. After opening the school in 1852 with twelve students, the Marianist Brothers moved from a temporary schoolhouse to a permanent building constructed near the San Antonio River. The first building functioned well for the Brothers’ mission to serve the Mexican poor despite its small space. The construction of St. Mary’s Catholic Church to the west of the school shortly followed. Paved roads intersecting the school and church became College Street and St. Mary’s, linking the school to the development of San Antonio’s downtown core. Additions to the building made it grow as enrollment increased. With this heritage, St. Mary’s University School of Law opened in 1934, becoming one of the last vestiges that linked St. Mary’s to downtown San Antonio.
The opening of the law school coincided with St. Mary’s growth and move to the St. Louis College campus on the westside of San Antonio. In 1894, St. Louis College opened on the land where St. Mary’s University currently stands. First opening as a boarding school, St. Louis College slowly became the focal point of St. Mary’s, with all the departments moving away from downtown. The downtown campus became St. Mary’s Academy and provided high school education. By 1927, St. Mary’s University attained senior college status, the same year the San Antonio Bar Association decided to open a law school. Seeking the best resources for students, the Bar Association selected St. Mary’s University for its administration. High school education moved to Central High School and downtown once again became a college level school.
On October 1, 1934, St. Mary’s University School of Law officially opened as part of the downtown campus. The rest of the downtown campus became a co-educational night and summer school. For the first time in the history of the university, women were accepted into programs. With the end of World War II, attendance for the university rose exponentially. The growth benefited the law school as it became accredited by the American Bar Association and the Association of American Law Schools. Around the same time, the Riverwalk project reshaped the function of the San Antonio River. Becoming a WPA project in 1939, the Riverwalk development influenced how downtown San Antonio grew over the following decades.
The School of Law moved to the main campus in 1968, closing the chapter of St. Mary’s downtown influence. That same year, San Antonio hosted Hemisfair ‘68, the official World’s Fair of 1968. Hemisfair reshaped the look and structure of downtown, making the closing of the downtown campus part of a larger change in the San Antonio landscape. The university sold the downtown campus, and it became a hotel. The Omni La Mansión del Rio Hotel renovated the building and added Spanish Revival flourishes to the facade. At the riverwalk, one can find a plaque detailing the history of the building and the impact St. Mary’s had in the formation of downtown San Antonio.
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