HistoryThe History of the Bella Space

Bella On the River is only one block from San Antonio’s historic Main Plaza where settlers from the Canary Islands (called Isleños) arrived in 1731. The Isleños built their homes on roads leading to the plaza, including the thoroughfare now called Commerce Street that ran east to Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo). Among the Isleños were members of the Curbelo family who once owned this land and built small stone houses here that backed to the river.

Prominent merchant, banker, and Irishman John Twohig opened his business on Bella’s site in the middle 1840s. His store faced Commerce Street and his office overlooked the river. Twohig constructed a suspension bridge to connect his office with his house on the opposite bank (see image below). Small businesses adjoined John Twohig’s store along Commerce Street in the mid to late 1800s. These included a barber shop, tailor shop, bar, jewelry store, and produce stall. Because periodic floods devastated downtown property, there were no businesses at the river level.

This changed with the completion of flood control gates (just outside Bella’s door), a bypass channel, and upstream dam–all in the 1920s–and an underground flood control tunnel in 1998. The now-famous River Walk, with its landscaped walkways, footbridges, and water features designed by local architect Robert H.H. Hugman and built by the Works Projects Administration (W.P.A.) opened in 1941.

It was not until the late 1960s that Kelly’s Pub (later Guido Kelly’s) opened next to Bella’s location, becoming the first business at this end of the River Walk. By the early 1970s Bella’s space housed a cocktail lounge called the Den. It was followed by a Mexican restaurant, Club Omega, and in the 1990s by Lube’s Art Studio. Dolores del Rio restaurant was located here from the late 1990s until 2010.

Bella On the River opened in this historic space below John Twohig’s office on 26 May 2011.