People & History

Escape to the San José

Liz Lambert left her job as a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in 1994 and returned to her native Texas to work in the Attorney General’s office in Austin. She used to hang out at the Continental Club on South Congress Avenue with her friend (club owner) Steve Wertheimer and fantasize about the rundown old 1930s hotel across the street. In those days, South Congress was a bad part of town and the hotel was a haven for drugs, crime, and cyclical poverty. In a stroke of luck or destiny, Liz approached the owners on a whim to find out they had just put the property up for sale. She bought the hotel thinking she’d renovate it one room at a time, but reality set in and she ended up running the hotel in its existing state as a low-rent residential hotel for several years while she worked on funding to renovate. In the course of chronicling her experiences with the residents of the hotel on video camera, she ended up making a documentary called “Last Days of the San José” that casts an interesting light on human relationships in gentrification and urban renewal.

Once funding came through, Liz worked with celebrated San Antonio architecture firm Lake/Flato on the transformation of the motor court property into its current incarnation as a great example of Texas minimalist style and Liz’s unique design voice. From bed platforms made of reclaimed native hardwood to custom saddle leather chairs by artist Jamey Garza, from granite pathways to the impeccably curated landscape designed by artist Mark Word—the San José’s design reflects a voice that is proudly local and uniquely Texan.

Along the way, a love for music gave birth to the South by San José Festival, which grew from three bands on the asphalt of the old motel in 1998 to a 5 day festival in the parking lot with attendance in the thousands and headliners like Built To Spill, Billy Joe Shaver, Alejandro Escovedo, The Black Angels and countless other local and touring bands concurrent with the SXSW festival in Austin. The Hotel San José and Jo’s Coffee  host a variety or regular and special events throughout the year.

Since then, Bunkhouse has established a reputation for building memorable experiences that offer more than just a good night’s sleep and a great cup of coffee. A passion for design, tireless attention to detail, and a commitment to creating authentic culture have earned our properties a unique place in the hearts and minds of those who visit us. Our work is rooted in the communities in which we exist, and we believe above all else in creating an awareness of and connection to a sense of place in all that we do.

Our celebrated portfolio of hospitality projects includes: Hotel Saint Cecilia, Austin Motel, Hotel Magdalena, Carpenter Hotel, Fair Market, and Jo’s Coffee in Austin; Hotel Havana and Ocho in San Antonio; The Phoenix Hotel in San Francisco, California; Hotel San Cristóbal in Baja, Mexcio; and Shady Villa Hotel in Salado, Texas.