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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 conservationist.

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 achievements.

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 spotlight.

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.

September 1988
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,” says Elder.

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 Robert.

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.