Remembering Hap Veltman
QSanAntonio, July 20, 2013
This past June 23 would have been Arthur P. (Hap) Veltman, Jr.'s 77th
birthday. Veltman, an openly gay man, was a downtown real-estate developer,
restaurant and nightlife entrepreneur, an arts advocate, and historical
Veltman was known as Hap to his friends, short for Happy. The LGBT community
remembers him as the man who owned the Bonham Exchange and before that
the San Antonio Country. Yet, he was also instrumental in developing the
Blue Star Arts Complex and helped restore numerous historical buildings
throughout the city.
Recently, Sylver Rios-Lisk, a good friend of Veltman's who worked in his
office, posted a timeline of significant events from his life. While this
is not a totally comprehensive list, it offers an idea of Veltman's prolific
Happy’s Historical Timeline
June 23, 1936
Arthur P. Veltman, Jr. is born in San Antonio, Texas. His father, Arthur
“Pat” Veltman, was a Major League outfielder from 1926 to
1934, and played with the Chicago White Sox, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the
then-Boston Braves and the New York Giants.
Hap Veltman attends Rice University in Houston. He goes on to earn a business
degree from the University of Texas and a law degree from St. Mary’s
University Law School.
The Rabbit Habbit on Mulberry launches Veltman into the local business/entrepreneurial
The Kangaroo Court opens, and is the first new significant nightlife-restaurant
business on the Riverwalk in over twenty years. With his first restaurant,
Veltman turned the main entrance around to face the Riverwalk, an idea
that he is credited with proliferating. His river front retail space featured
luscious landscaping and quickly became a vision for other businessmen
and real estate developers to emulate.
Late 60s early 70s
The Casino Club Building and the Losoya Building are developed, as are
restaurants including the Big Bend, the Greenhouse, the Original Mexican
Restaurant and Stockman's.
The San Antonio Country opens with Gene Elder as general manager. Located
at 1122 North St. Mary’s, the business becomes San Antonio's LGBT
premier gay bar, discotheque, and hip hangout. That same year, Veltman
meets his partner Kenneth Garrett.
The San Antonio Country is closed after being bought by Valero Energy
in a much-publicized series of legal wranglings.
The Bonham Exchange opens. The new club is named after James Bonham, one
of the heroes of the Alamo. The Turnverein Building, as it was known,
was erected in 1891and had originally housed a German health club and
later served as a USO for military service members.
The San Antonio Conservation Society, in concert with Veltman’s
Aztec Development Partnership, bids to save the historic Aztec theatre
as a permanent home for the San Antonio Symphony. A 1986 municipal bond
to buy it and the Majestic fails to pass.
Hap Veltman and Bernard Lifshutz buy the Blue Star Distribution Center,
a compound of run-down tire warehouses, as a home for contemporary arts.
The first Blue Star exhibition opens on July 1, featuring 56 works by
27 local artists, both unknowns and established. The showing includes
artists like Richard Thompson, James Cobb, and John Tweddle. The art show
draws over 3,500 visitors during the following month and has since become
an annual event.
Gene Elder, curator at the Happy Foundation archives.
The Happy Foundation is established in Hap Veltman’s will. The LGBT
archive still exists today. It is housed in the Bonham Exchange and curated
by Gene Elder. "The goal is to save the history of the LGBT communities
and create a resource facility so that people doing research can find
information on who and what we were, and what we did to change the world,”
December 3, 1988
Arthur Hap Veltman dies of AIDS at the age of 52. He is survived by family
members Kenneth Garrett, Wade Strauch, his mother Florence, and brother
December 4, 2006
The San Antonio Hotel and Lodging Association unveils a plaque dedicated
to Veltman noting his significant contributions to San Antonio’s
Riverwalk. The commemorative effort is spearheaded by Texas House Representative
Ruth McLendon Jones and District 1 City Councilman Roger O. Flores. The
plaque is located under the Crockett Street Bridge, across the river from
the Hyatt Regency Riverwalk Hotel.