A new documentary about Arthur “Hap” Veltman and the San Antonio Country nightclub will have its premier on June 23 at the Bonham Exchange.
The film by Noi Mahoney is titled Hap Veltman’s San Antonio Country. One promotional announcement on Facebook described the feature as “the story of the extraordinary life of Hap Veltman and the gay nightclub that kick-started San Antonio’s gay civil rights movement.”
Mahoney is a freelance journalist and filmmaker who graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. He has worked as a journalist for newspapers in Florida, Maryland and Texas. In 2015, he shot, edited and directed the feature documentary Austin vs. San Antonio.
The San Antonio Country opened just in time for Fiesta in 1973 at 1122 North St. Mary’s. It was in business until 1981 when the property was sold to Valero Energy Corporation, which went on to build their corporate headquarters on the site.
Gene Elder, the archivist for the Happy Foundation who died recently, was the manager of the club at the time.
Veltman lived his life as an openly gay man. He was an attorney, entrepreneur and, a downtown real-estate developer, restaurant and nightlife impresario, arts advocate, and historical conservationist. After the Country closed, Veltman opened the Bonham Exchange. He died of AIDS in 1988.
Veltman’s Country operated out of a one-story stone building situated along the San Antonio River. It had several large rooms including a disco and a game room with pool tables. For a time, Veltman also owned a motel next door to the bar, the Rio Lado, that offered the Country’s patrons a place to take their one-night stands.
At the time the Country opened, military police and SAPD used to make visits to the city’s gay bars mostly to intimidate patrons, who are described in police reports as “suspected homosexuals.”
The military police were particularly interested in identifying gay soldiers and airmen who would be arrested and eventually drummed out of the service.
Elder told Out In SA in a 2014 interview that in December 1973, San Antonio police raided the Country after a military policeman accused a patron of pushing him and then called the SAPD for backup. “It was one of most crowded nights of the holiday season, ” Elder said. “There were 15 police cars and a paddy wagon.”
The raid on the Country and the presentation of Fairies Fiasco – a response to the raid performed by the employees of the bar – are chronicled in Elder’s book, Murder by Collage with Found Object.
Elder said that at some point, the visits by military police ended without much explanation. Ironically, the San Antonio Country was never put on the military’s off-limits list.
Noi Mahoney’s “Hap Veltman’s San Antonio Country,” screening on June 23 at 6 p.m. at the Bonham Exchange, 411 Bonham, San Antonio.