The Texas Trail Roundup does not take you by the Southwest School of Art — the old Ursuline Academy — but if you have a bit of extra time on Friday, it would make for a pleasant side visit. Their Copper Kitchen Cafe is a lovely place for lunch and the striking enchilada red San Antonio Public Library (with a super art collection on the ground floor) is right across the street.
In 1851, seven sisters from the Ursuline order — four from New Orleans and three from Galveston — were invited by the Roman Catholic Bishop to come to San Antonio to start a girl’s school. And so they did. The first building, attributed to Jules Poinsard, is believed to be the oldest surviving example of pisé de terre (rammed earth) work in Texas. The French-trained architect François P. Giraud built most of the remaining buildings. It was a prestigious college preparation school that also accommodated boarders from Mexico and other areas of Texas. By 1962, changing residential patterns and the school’s inability to expand in their downtown location caused them to leave this property and move to a suburban location. The school closed for good in 1979.
In addition to educating generations of San Antonio women, according to the Handbook of Texas History:
. . . the Ursulines offered hospitality to various religious congregations of women as they established their own institutions: the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in 1869, the Carmelites in 1914, the Presentation Sisters in 1952. During the Mexican Revolution the convent was a refuge for bishops, priests, and nuns fleeing persecution. The community fed dozens of men daily during the Great Depression of the 1930s; during World War II it provided day care for preschool age children whose mothers were obliged to work.
The abandoned property quickly deteriorated. In 1967 one of the dormitories was destroyed by a fire. The San Antonio Conservation Society bought a large chunk of the Academy to save it, and in 1971 what is now the Southwest School of Art took most of it over and lovingly restored it. The now deconsecrated chapel is a favorite place for weddings and events.
The Southwest School of Art (300 Augusta St) is about a mile from the event hotel. From the hotel’s front entrance, turn right on Cesar Chavez and then make an immediate left onto Santa Rosa. You’ll walk about seven blocks, passing El Mercado and Milam Park on your left. At W. Martin, turn right. Walk three more short blocks then turn left at N. Main and then the 2nd right onto Giraud and (finally!) left onto Augusta.
The original dining room for the old Ursuline Academy is now the Copper Kitchen Café. Daily menu choices include a hot entree with salad, a Mexican plate, a homemade soup selection, large salads, and a variety of sandwiches. Desserts are homemade daily. Open Monday – Friday, 11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Call 210.224.0123 for the daily specials, to order a take-out lunch or to reserve space for a large group (8 or more.)