After growing up in a log cabin, Andy Fish developed a lifelong interest in historic buildings. About a month ago, he saw the Keystone Hotel building for the first time, and he closed on his purchase of the property on Thursday.
A local landmark, the Keystone Hotel was built between 1856 and 1870 by the Gracy family. Over the years it was known as the Gracy Hotel and the Star Hotel, along with its more familiar name.
Fish purchased the 8,620-square-foot building and its 0.419-acre property from local resident Michael Bradle. The new owner plans to renovate the building, mainly for private use, while preserving its most historic features.
The structure has not been used commercially since the closing of Lampasas Federal Savings in the 1990s.
Fish is an Austin native whose fulltime work with Texas Legislative Service involves informing businesses and agencies of state legislation.
He has collected and restored Model T Fords but has not taken on a project like the Keystone Hotel before.
Around age 10, he helped with some roof work on his childhood home, an 1850s-era cabin that was hauled from Smithwick to downtown of the capital city.
Fish had been through Lampasas occasionally, but until recently he had never seen the Keystone Hotel.
He mentioned the possibility of using the building for weddings or special events and meetings. But Fish said he has no intention to “flip” it and no need to use it commercially.
“To the extent that somebody might ask, ‘Hey, can we have a meeting there?’ or what-ever, we’ll consider it at that point,” he said.
Fish envisions the local landmark more as a place for family gatherings with his four children or a weekend getaway.
The new owner hopes to start repairs and upgrades around New Year’s and to have the building livable by August. Some of the first steps will be securing doors and replacing approximately 21 windows that were damaged by vandals. With work done by a general contractor, Fish also plans to add new wiring, HVAC and plumbing.
He also would like to remove an exterior wall on the south side that encloses a long porch and second-story balcony. Fish sees the porch as an iconic Texas fixture. Its cedar support beams, which Fish says date from the 1870s, will be retained but not for structural support. In their place he plans to put steel beams, boxed in with wood.
A large room on the west end of the structure will be turned into a ballroom, Fish said. That room contains a well from the pioneer days, covered up with only a piece of plywood.
Fish explained that the well was placed indoors to prevent the Indians from poisoning it and to ensure a steady drinking supply in case of a siege. Those were well-founded fears, according to early accounts of the city’s pioneer vs. Indian clashes.
The hotel builders’ teenage son, Jimmy Gracy, allegedly was murdered by Indians – along with his friend, Prince Ryan, in the 19th century.
A newspaper account says the hotel provided refuge during an 1873 flood “that all but erased the new town from the map.”
Those anecdotes illustrate the rich history that Fish hopes to preserve.
“Too many great historical structures, people have so little respect for,” the Austin man said. “We’re sanitizing history, and when we get rid of our history we will make the same mistakes twice.”
He prefers to “recognize things, like this building, that are phenomenal, and preserve it and still make it relevant to this day.”
A modern twist that Fish plans to add is a plexiglass covering over the well and light it from the bottom, so people can walk across and view the well. He compared that to an existing feature of the Santacafe in Sante Fe, New Mexico. He would first need to clean out some debris and silt that has filled the eight-foot well.
“We’ll see if I strike water or oil first,” Fish said.
The ballroom most likely will be used for informal dancing. Fish mentioned that he and his son tour in a country band.
The two-story building has 10 bedrooms, each with a fireplace, plus a lounge and a kitchen. Bathrooms were added in the 1920s.
Fish plans eventually to have 12 bedrooms, including a master suite and a smaller suite, and to turn an old boiler room into a wine cellar.
A friend recently bought an old hotel in San Saba, along with a garage that contained a 1924 Model T Ford. On the trip to help his friend crank up the car, Fish passed through Lampasas.
Over the past year, he had been looking for an old building in which to store Model T’s. Just a block off the city’s courtyard square, Fish caught his first glimpse of the former Santa Fe Depot.
Fish has rebuilt a steam engine before and said: “I’ve got a passion for rail, too.
“And then I turned around and saw this” – the Keystone Hotel at 404 E. Second St.
It seemed like the ideal location for what Fish sought, on a street lined with historic buildings. Across the street from the Keystone Hotel is the former post office, built in the 1930s and turned into a home in recent years by retiree Joe Corcoran.
Fish said he has gotten a great reception from local residents when they hear his plans. Todd and Nona Jane Briggs of the Courtyard Square Association invited Fish to a Christmas party the organization held last week.
“I mean, it was a love fest,” Fish said of the community’s reaction.
The new owner hinted that he may reveal more plans for the building in the future. He also would like to learn more about its past.
“I wish it could tell me the stories it knows,” he said.