Bonham Exchange History

turner hall

When you walk through the halls of the Bonham Exchange you’re not just walking into the hottest night club in San Antonio – you’re literally traveling back in time.

Our history extends back to 1891. That’s when Turn Verin, a German athletic association, whose purpose was the improvement of the mind through the development of the body, purchased the land our beloved Bonham sits on.

On April 18 of that year, architect James Wahrenberger and builder Adam Maurer set out to erect “Turner Halle” for just under $35-thousand. The building would contain a bowling alley, a gymnasium and a grand ballroom for formal events. The 20-thousand square foot facility would be covered in pressed Chicago brick and lined with Kerrville limestone and granite.

Nine months later, on January 30, 1892, a luxurious and festive grand opening party was held. It was covered by the then, San Antonio Daily Express, which would later become the San Antonio Express News. It was lauded as “An affair worthy of the occasion and eclipsed in elegance anything witnessed in local social circles for many years.”

However, the founding family, the Turners, faced some struggles in the coming decades as their children did not share their love and enthusiasm for fitness, the essential interest in the athletic association. Nonetheless, the Turners had ideas for expanding the Halle.

In February of 1929, plans were drawn up to add on an additional 10-stories. That expansion would also include a 3rd story swimming pool, basketball courts, office space, club room and a “male” dining room.

However, a few months later the Great Depression hit and the Turners struggled to keep up their loan payments to the bank. In 1932 they defaulted on their loan for the Halle.

The United States government purchased the property ten years later for $90-thousand to house a new USO office downtown. But with all the anti-German sentiment flourishing during World War II, many of the historical and memorable German markings of the old “Halle” were removed from the décor. The stone marking “Turner Halle” was also taken down outside and many of the ornate stained glass windows depicting “Stars of David” inside the ballroom were boarded over. And the final architectural insult – the gorgeous brick exterior was painted a drab olive green. Decades later, during restoration, the sandblasting to remove the paint would destroy the patina and waterproofing of the brick.

The USO used the Bonham building for almost 30 years and then relocated to Hemisfair Plaza in the 1970’s. After that the government turned it into a storage facility for the downtown post office.

However in 1980, downtown developer Arthur P “Hap” Veltman was scouting the area for a new location to replace his previous gay nightclug “The San Antonio Country,” which had recently been purchased by the Valero Corporation in a much publicized event.hap

He fell in love with our Beloved Turner Halle – choosing the building for its beauty and history. That began a costly renovation process of the long, long neglected building.

The Bonham Exchange opened its doors to club patrons in July 1981 with a great, grand party – similar to the Halle’s original opening nearly a century prior and we have been going strong every since.

Hap was a great man with a great vision. And the world truly lost a visionary with his rather sudden and untimely death in December of 1988. He entrusted the club to two beneficiaries in a life estate – Kenneth Garrett, who still heads the club today, and Wade Strauch, who was also lost to an untimely death in 1992.

Today the Bonham Exchange is over 120 years old and has been in business as San Antonio’s premier downtown hot spot for over 30 years.

We have been host to many big name entertainers over the years, including, but not limited to: Tina Turner, the Ramones, the Bangels, Iggy Pop, Bronski Beat, The Thompson Twins, Simple Minds, Georgia Ragsdale, Debra Harry, Black Box, Martha Wash, Taylor Dane, Ru Paul, Real Life, Pamela Stanly, Suzanne Westenhoeffer, Lonnie Gordon, and Ministry.

We have also had celebrity events and sightings with such stars as Helen Reddy, Puff Daddy, Prince, Patrick Swayze, Dennis Rodman, Charles Barkley, Ashley Judd.

Not to mention cast parties with touring Broadway Shows such as: Greater Tuna, Will Rogers Follies, Hello Dolly!, Buddy theBuddy Holly Story, Fiddler on the roof, The Phantom of the Opera National Tour I & II, Jesus Christ Superstar, South Pacific, Swing!, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, BLAST!, Mamma Mia!, Cats, Grease, Singin n the rain, La Cage Aux Folles, Chicago, Cabaret, Les Miserables, The Producers, Aida and 42nd street. Also the Moscow Ballet and The Nutcraker Russian Ballet.

If you look around you’ll see we recently (2012) went through a massive renovation. We restored, replaced and refinished over 10-thousand square feet of hard wood floors. We re-carpeted, re-painted, re-wired, re-plumbed, re-decorated and re-vamped your favorite Wednesday through Sunday hangout.

We don’t like to drop a dollar figure on exactly how much this massive renovation cost us – trust us it was pricy – but let us just say – you, our customers, patrons, friends and family (and when you’re here you’re family) were worth it. For without you we wouldn’t be here.

There would be no need to re-model. No need to re-stock the bar. No need to spin tunes, keep the dance floor open. No need to just be.

Our Mission: At the Bonham Exchange we strive to not only provide a safe venue for music and dancing, but to change with the times. We hope to expose people to new ideas and to maintain a space where ALL individuals can get along and enjoy each other’s company regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, age, or sexual preference. We invite you to come out, be whoever you want to be and have a great time without fear of criticism. This is the legacy of the Bonham Exchange, as envisioned by Hap Veltman.


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