Villa Finale

A home standing through a city's history.

In 1876, merchant Russel C. Norton built a one-story, four room single family residence on what had been Alamo farmlands during San Antonio’s Spanish period. At that time, 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 old Norton house went through a variety of owners reflecting the changes happening throughout the city and region.

By 1967, the house was being used as a subdivided boarding home, a fate 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 it in 1967 after his own dwelling in a nearby historic neighborhood was scheduled to be razed for a highway project.

After spending nearly two years meticulously restoring the home, Mathis turned his attention to the neighborhood outside his door. One by one, he purchased and at least partially restored up to fourteen properties 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 fine and decorative art. These collections fill Mathis’ “Villa Finale,” so named in honor of it being his last home. Today, visitors to Villa Finale can view Mathis’ collection of over 12,000 items in the unique setting of this finely restored 1876 Italianate home. Mathis, who bequeathed the property and its collections to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2004, wanted to leave this gift for visitors to enjoy for generations to come.

Board of Directors
Nancy H. Avellar, Chair
Dru Van Steenberg, Vice-Chair
Jill Torbert, Secretary
Olin B. Strauss, Treasurer

Jennifer Abad
Robert K. Brown
Jay Louden
Elizabeth Lutz
Conrad J. Netting, IV
Merribell Parsons
Debra Salge
Katherine Sosa
Anthony White

Emeritus
Chris Carson
Edward Schroeder

 

In Memoriam
Agnes Bain
Maggie Saunders Block
Nancy S. Hurd
Edith McAllister
Patsy Galt Steves

Executive Director
Jane Lewis

A ninth-generation Texan, Walter Mathis traced his roots back to the Canary Islanders of 1731.

After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin and serving with the Army Air Corps during World War II, Mr. Mathis returned to San Antonio where he became an investment banker.

With the building of the nation’s highway system in the 1960s, Mr. Mathis discovered that his house in the nearby historic neighborhood of Monte Vista stood in the construction path of Highway 281. His friend, famed architect O’Neil Ford, led him to an 1876 Italianate which Ford called “the finest home in Texas.”

After purchasing the house in 1967 for $37,500, he began an intense two-year restoration project of the home and landscape. Mathis then went on to purchase and restore the three homes directly across the street. In total, Mathis purchased and at least partially restored up to fourteen properties in the neighborhood, selling them to like-minded preservationists, and leading the revitalization of the neighborhood. He received many awards and recognitions for his efforts in preservation.

After receiving the DuPont Crowninshield Award in 2003, the highest honor given by the National Trust to an individual for historic preservation, Walter Mathis officially bequeathed his collections and Villa Finale to the National Trust in 2004. Villa Finale: Museum & Gardens opened in October 2010 following several months of modern refurbishments by the National Trust.

Villa Finale, named in honor of it being his last home, continues Mr. Mathis’s legacy of historic preservation and admiration of decorative arts.