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Saturday, March 16, 2013

"The CASTLE"

"The Castle of San Antonio" Algo Diferente

Growing up as a child, I was amused with an abandon building known as the Castle sitting deep inside an estate at 1012 Wurzbuch Road outside of the San Antonio City limits. Wondering throughout the rooms and long hall ways of the rock building, it was easy to pretend the place to be haunted by the early Indians who once live upon the lands, the Mexican Bandits or fallen Rangers. It was my grounds of exploration which I knew ever creek bed as I wondered throughout the entire grounds. Many of my explorations, I would find rusty treasure and even located a long forgotten dairy barn and cattle stockyard on the far south part of the property which then butted along the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. There, I found 3 large rustic cream cans which I carried by hand home. A trip of about 5 miles through the woods only able to carry one at a time. This was our Castle but was once known as Algo Diferente Ranch.

For much of its life, Algo Diferente lay outside the San Antonio city limits. Its centerpiece was a main building, constructed of rough-hewn, native stone in the midst of a large, wooded tract off Wurzbach Road between Vance Jackson and Lockhill-Selma roads.

The Ranch was originally the summer home of Mrs. Albert Friedrich. The main house – often referred to as a “mansion” – was built “around 1930 by a Mexican national" according to a Friedrich family member quoted in the San Antonio News, December 25, 1964. The rock house “had a lot of additions made to it,” said Milton Friedrich.

Originally “a small lodge,” the V shaped main building was enlarged to 28 rooms after tour operator Clarence A. Morgan purchased it from the Friedrich family in 1944. The property opened as a resort hotel May 3, 1947, stated in the San Antonio Light newspaper article dated two days later. The property which was to boast tennis courts, a swimming pool and a tropical garden later that summer – was meant to be used by Morgan Tours’ clients breaking their journeys from New York or Los Angeles to Mexico, or by travelers who had completed a whirlwind circuit of Mexico City, Acapulco, and Veracruz and wanted to rest up before winging or chugging northward. (Amercan Airlines also used it as a billet during the late ‘40’s, remembers Doug Saunders Sr. one of the property’s later owners.)

A single, narrow driveway led to the house, screened and shaded the large oaks. On the grounds outside were tall rock archways and cast-concrete statuaries of deer, dogs, and peacocks.  Most of  these statues had long been gone or destroyed when I would wonder the property, though early newspaper articles stated by visitors, " one can sit on the cool porches of the new hotel and watch the San Antonio skyline twinkle in the hills.” A vast dance floor with a bandstand catered to jazzier tastes. Beyond the lodge and outbuildings was a 240 acre heavily wooded forest that was home to south Texas wildlife. One of the amenities was the food, featuring fresh vegetables and meat raised on the premises.

Long after the hotel had closed Morgan’s widow described their version of Algo Diferente as “not very expensive, but exclusive…with good food and entertainment.” After the Morgan’s gave it up in 1948, its next owner considered putting in a golf course but went bankrupt before realizing his dream. By the late 1950’s a swim club, known as the Castle Club, operated there for a few years, but the main lodge remained closed.

The property went unused for about a decade, spooking and thrilling trespassing teenagers while it fell into disrepair. When writer/educator John Igo scouted Algo Diferente for use as a movie location in the early 60’s, the resort was in decline. The long abandoned grounds had a lonely, atmosphere: buildings and arches were still standing, but there was evidence of vandalism and decay. In the main house, a sweeping staircase led to littered former guest rooms off the upper corridor. “It was impossible to secure that place,” says Saunders. “We chained up the front gate and put huge boulders in front of the entrance.” Nonetheless, teenagers, drifters, and curiosity seekers kept visiting the site. At one point, a Volkswagen ended up at the bottom of the long drained, Olympic size swimming pool. “Why? Who Knows.” says Saunders. “Anything is possible.”

Eventually the property was developed into Elm Creek, an upscale residential community. At first, Saunders says, there was some thought of turning the lodge into a clubhouse, “but architectural studies showed that it was not feasible.” There was no interior finish on the old rock walls; windows and floors were lost to the deterioration that plagues long-empty buildings. All the Algo Diferente buildings were “relics,” says Saunders. “They were in need of total repair.” Instead, the crumbling buildings were bull dozed. Their rocky remains were used as fill for the swimming pool, and houses were built on the site.


During a time before it's final sale for residential property development, it would be leased out by investment banking for cattle seeking the benefits of agricultural tax exemptions, though for me, it was always the place of exploration remembering the many summer days wondering as I would experiences wildlife such as the white tail deer, cotton tail and jack rabbits among its sanctuary to many birds and other wild life habitats.  Often, our hikes included neighborhood friends as we searched for unknown treasures and hear the many stories of folklore and haunting tales of the ruins.   Today, the structure long gone with neighborhood streets flowing about what was then known as "The Castle." 
Wurzbach Road - the castle

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