San Antonio's first suburb, King William was settled in the 19th century by prosperous German merchants who displayed their wealth through extravagant homes and named the 25-block area after Kaiser Wilhelm of Prussia. (The other residents of San Antonio were rather less complimentary about this German area, which they dubbed "Sauerkraut Bend.")
The neighborhood fell into decline in the middle of the 20th century, as the affluent abandoned the inner city for prosperous neighborhoods and suburbs to the north. Property values, and hence investment, fell. King William could easily have been lost but was saved largely through the efforts of one man, Walter Mathis, a local investment banker. He bought his house here in 1967 and then purchased several others in the '70s. To these he made structural repairs to arrest the decay and then sold them with interest-free loans to other preservationists wanting to live in the neighborhood. By the 1990s it was again flourishing. Mr. Mathis's house, Villa Finale, is now a National Trust property (the only one in Texas) and is open to the public. So many houses have been restored that the area has become popular with visitors. Though tour buses frequent the area, if the weather's agreeable, it's much more pleasant to be on foot here than on a bus. You can stroll down tree-lined streets and admire the old houses and their various architectural styles.
Stop at the headquarters of the San Antonio Conservation Society, 107 King William St. (tel. 210/224-6163; www.saconservation.org), and pick up a self-guided walking tour booklet outside the gate. Tip: At the Visitor Center for Villa Finale, 122 Madison St., you can get a pamphlet with instructions for a cellphone audio tour of the neighborhood. If you go at a leisurely pace, the stroll should take a little more than an hour. If you want to see Villa Finale or the Steves Homestead Museum, you need to do a little planning, but the Guenther House is easily accessible and doesn't require a guided tour. If you're staying downtown and are a good walker, you can get to the neighborhood in 15 minutes by following the recently completed extension of the River Walk. It's a pleasant hike. If you're hungry, choose from quite a few options for lunch in the neighborhood and on South Alamo Street.