The King William Historic District is just south of the central business district of San Antonio. It comprises parts of some twenty-two blocks with seventy-nine historic structures, most dating from the second half of the nineteenth century. The district, bounded roughly by Barbe Street on the south and the San Antonio River on the west, was originally part of the labor de abajo, or lower labor, assigned to the San Antonio de Valero Mission. After the mission was secularized in 1793, its lower farmland was divided into equal tracts for the fourteen Indian families in the vicinity. This area became the southern part of the historic district. The most famous part of the historic district is an area between Alamo Street and the San Antonio River. Between 1853 and 1859 streets were laid out, including King William Street, the district's major thoroughfare, which is said to have been named by Ernst Hermann Altgelt in honor of Wilhelm I, King of Prussia. The area was annexed by the city of San Antonio. The rest of the historic district developed after the King William area. There were a few houses on Cedar, Alamo, and the south sides of both St. Mary's (Garden) and Pereida streets in 1873. Gradually development moved south, and by 1902 Adams, Wickes, and Guenther streets reached as far as Barbe Street. Over the next several decades the King William area became the residential heart of the city's thriving German community. During the decades after the Civil War, many of the city's German business elite built houses there, among them the Groos, Joske, Kalteyer, and Steves families. Prominent non-German residents included family names like Chabot, Van Derlip, Oge, James, Norton, and Blondin. The earliest surviving structures in the historic district from the 1860s and 1870s are simple one-story buildings with thick masonry walls, shutters, and porches. Later structures feature various Victorian high styles, including Second Empire, Romanesque Revival, and Italianate. The area also features the works of many of San Antonio's best late-nineteenth-century architects, among them Alfred Giles and James Riely Gordon.
During World War I, when anti-German sentiment ran high, King William Street was renamed Pershing Avenue, but the name was changed back after the war. The original German families began moving out of the area during the 1920s, and after World War II many of the houses fell into disrepair. Many of them were divided into apartments because of the housing shortage. San Antonio city officials, recognizing the unique historical and architectural significance of the King William neighborhood, designated it a historic district in 1968, and in 1972 the area was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Since that time, many of the houses have been restored. The King William Association, a private nonprofit organization made up of residents and others dedicated to the preservation of the architectural heritage of the area, organizes tours and coordinates conservation efforts.