The house now known as "Villa Finale" was built by hardware merchant Russel C. Norton in 1876 as a one-story, four room single family residence on what had been Alamo farmlands during the Spanish period. During the time of its original construction, the surrounding King William neighborhood was a desirable location for the city's largely wealthy German families.
However, a devastating flood in 1921 changed the neighborhood's fortunes as the old German families, which had already begun moving away at the beginning of the 20th century, chose homes further away from downtown and the San Antonio River. Through it all, the house, which took on its Italianate look by 1904, went through a variety of owners reflecting the changes going on throughout the city and region.
By 1967, the old Norton house was being used as a subdivided boarding home, a fortune shared by many of the once opulent homes in the neighborhood. The home's fortunes changed when local civic leader and collector, Walter Nold Mathis, purchased the home in 1967 after his own home in a nearby historic neighborhood was scheduled to be razed for a highway project.
After spending nearly two years meticulously restoring Villa Finale (the name chosen by Walter Mathis for what he knew would be his last home or "villa"), Mathis turned his attention to the neighborhood outside his door. One by one, he purchased and at least partially restored up to fourteen houses in King William and then sold them to preservation-minded individuals who would continue their restoration.
In addition to his preservation work, Walter Mathis was also a prodigious collector of artifacts of nearly every type; these collections fill Villa Finale. Throughout his home, one finds beautiful examples of European furniture, and fine and decorative arts. Mr. Mathis particularly enjoyed collecting memorabilia relating to the life and death of Napoleon Bonaparte. Mr. Mathis’s interest in Texas art is represented in the collection by such artists as Mary Bonner, and Julian and Robert Onderdonk. In addition, there is a wide range of Texas decorative arts, such as Bell silver, Texas furniture, and Texian campaign ceramics.
Visitors to Villa Finale today will hear about the fascinating Mathis collections and how the house reflects the different periods of the neighborhood's history.
The home and its collections were given to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2004, becoming the only National Trust Historic Site in Texas.
To see more images of Villa Finale, please click here.