Where I Live: Almost (Olmos) Park …OR Should I Stay or Should I Go? Choosing Between Urban and Suburban

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A neighbor's witty sign defines the neighborhood as "Almost Olmos Park." Photo by Georgina Morgan.

A neighbor's witty sign defines the neighborhood as "Almost Olmos Park." Photo by Georgina Morgan.

Georgina MorganI’m standing over the stove cooking while my husband mows the lawn outside. For a brief moment, it appears he’s Ozzie. I’m Harriet.

He works outside the home; I’m a stay-at-home mom. He brings home the proverbial bacon; I fry it up in the pan. Cleaning and household chores? Well, I’m just better at it. It’s 2013, but we play these traditional roles well. Or do we? (Cue music.)

Let’s back up several years to B.Z. (Before my daughter, Zoe). My husband, Joe Diaz, is a traveling salesman (a.k.a., pharmaceutical sales representative) and I’m a creative artist (a.k.a., choreographer). He’s also an art collector and back then he served as president of Blue Star Contemporary Arts Museum, helping shape it into the prominent gallery it has become.

I was the executive director of San Antonio Dance Umbrella, promoting all dance genres. For many years, my studio was home to the only professional modern dance company in the city. We lived parallel lives supporting the arts for the greater part of 10 years. When we finally met, married, and had Zoe, we were older than Ozzie and Harriet (although I can boast I’m still in my 40’s; my husband, not so much, wink-wink).

Our home and Treehouse Dance Space – my post war era charmer nestled in the trees. Photo by Georgina Morgan.

Our home and Treehouse Dance Space – a post-war era charmer nestled in the trees. Photo by Georgina Morgan.

Fast forward to present day. He still travels about five days a week and I’m a Monday-thru-Friday-stay-at-home-mom. Our daughter is more like Punky Brewster than a Disney princess. And we live in the heart of the city, just north of downtown, in an apartment that was formerly my studio.

I bought the 2,600 square foot, two-story duplex in January 1997 and converted the upper apartment into a loft-like space for a dance studio (named Treehouse Dance Space because it felt like we were dancing in the trees). Downstairs is the living quarters and both floors boast maple hardwood floors (a dancer’s dream).

A neighbor's witty sign defines the neighborhood as "Almost Olmos Park." Photo by Georgina Morgan.

A neighbor’s witty sign defines the neighborhood as “Almost Olmos Park.” Photo by Georgina Morgan.

The neighborhood is small and quaint, nestled between Olmos Park and Monte Vista, with easy and quick access to all major highways. Like ours, most homes in the area have lots of “character” – another word for “old” – they were built between the 1940s and 50s. The lots are small but dominated by large shade trees.

The first owners built the property as a duplex in the 1940's. On rare occasions, I've received mail addressed to Ollie Poe. Photo by Georgina Morgan.

The first owners built the property as a duplex in the 1940’s. On rare occasions, I’ve received mail addressed to Ollie Poe. Photo by Georgina Morgan.

A pharmacist and his wife, Dennis and Ollie Poe, built this place and their names still grace my mail slot. The older neighbors tell me he worked at Olmos Pharmacy (before drugstore was converted into the restaurant/venue Olmos Bharmacy). I’m the third owner.

One of my favorite things about living in my ‘hood is the luxury of walking everywhere. Go one or two blocks in any direction and you’ll find some of the most longstanding and popular places to eat. On any weekday morning I’ll meet up with other mom friends at Panchito’s or Taco Taco. Lunch might find me at Jim’s or Hearthstone. I’ve ordered a milkshake or two at Olmos Bharmacy (and caught a few live late-night shows too). If I need a few items, I walk one block to H-E-B. My husband likes to cycle and usually treks around Omos Basin.

But our leisure time is not confined only to our ‘hood.

Sometimes we’re willing to hop in our car and make a short drive to other favorite hangouts within a five mile radius of our “Almost Park” home. Some afternoons I take Zoe to Landa Library and playground to play with friends. Friday nights are reserved for consistently delicious steaks from Josephine Street Cafe (make sure to ask for Camille or Esmie; they’re the best waitstaff on the planet).

Patrons enjoy music (and the unusually nice Spring-like weather) on the patio at La Gloria earlier this summer. Photo by Georgina Morgan.

Patrons enjoy music (and the unusually nice Spring-like weather) on the patio at La Gloria earlier this summer. Photo by Georgina Morgan.

Saturday is a perfect day to fight for a parking spot at The Pearl Brewery complex where we’ll gladly stand the wait time for a table at La Gloria and then walk along the river to San Antonio Museum of Art for an afternoon of art gazing.

Sunday morning breakfast before shopping at Quarry Farmers Market. Sunrise crepe for me and Strawberry Jam for mini-me. Photo by Georgina Morgan

Sunday morning breakfast before shopping at Quarry Farmers Market. Sunrise crepe for me and Strawberry Jam for mini-me. Photo by Georgina Morgan.

On Sundays I make the short drive to The Quarry Farmer’s and Ranch Market for pastured eggs and grass-fed beef. Lately, we’re eating gluten free so it’s become our Sunday tradition to order crepes for breakfast from Gluten Free Foods (Zoe gets strawberry jam and my favorite is the Sunrise) followed by a popsicle or a macaroon.

It’s a charmed life in the heart of the city. But every rose has it’s thorn, as they say.

The messy part of my ‘hood is the assisted living home (I use that term “assisted” loosely) on my block. Often times we’ll see men who suffer from mental disorders roaming our streets, from sun up to sun down. They’ve never hurt us physically, but they are a nuisance. On more than one occasion, I’ve called SAPD in the middle of the night to ask them to remove a resident off my front porch who’s forgotten where he lives. Sadly, last August, three men perished in a fire at their residence (a fourth man died at the hospital the next day).

The neighbors and I were angered, but not surprised, that such a tragic fate befell our wanderers. A few of us, including me, were interviewed by local media about the tragedy; most of us called our councilman in protest of their living conditions. The home had several code compliance violations and appears vacant at present (you can read/watch the WOAI story here).

If the “for sale” sign in the front yard is any indication that it has been shut down by the city, then our prayers have been answered. But rumor has it the owner is moving her operation elsewhere. And I still see one or two of the former residents walking the streets.

Zoe has fun on the slide at Landa Library and playground. Photo by Georgina Morgan.

Zoe has fun on the slide at Landa Library and playground. Photo by Georgina Morgan.

So should we stay or should we go? Like most families who have young children, we’ve contemplated moving to a suburban neighborhood with newer housing (although Castle Hills is as far as I’m willing to go).

Our home lacks efficiency of space and contemporary amenities. Our safety and health are always in the back of my mind (we’re living with old wiring, lead pipes, lead paint, asbestos).

The sprawling lots in Castle Hills are very attractive, especially when most come with swimming pools. The homes tend to be ranch style, with expansive square footage (I always dug the Brady Bunch home). And the traditional mom in me wants her kid to run amok in a large backyard.

But moving means no longer being in close proximity to the lifestyle I’ve grown accustomed to for the last 16 years. Plus, I know my husband secretly wants to stay in this little pocket of the woods. And truth be told, so do I.

Upon closer observation, our lifestyle is not very traditional, and never has been. We’re just plain old urbanites. The solution might be in remodeling this little gem into an urbanite’s dream space. I want a new kitchen. My husband wants walls for his art. As for mini-me, she just wants a treehouse.

 

25 thoughts on “Where I Live: Almost (Olmos) Park …OR Should I Stay or Should I Go? Choosing Between Urban and Suburban

  1. GM. stay. Make it work. We sold in Beacon Hill and are leasing a Brady Bunch home north of Bitters while we plan our home in Tobin Hill South. Beautiful place but no amenities or energy within a walk. Can’t wait to be HOME.

  2. Some areas are more suitable for certain families or individuals and lifestyles. When you have children, you start to make sacrifices to provide the best for them. I’d love to live downtown, my business would thrive there I’m sure. But what I want more is my child in the best schools and the safer neighborhoods. I leave my longing to be somewhere that might better suit me as an individual alone, and make my decisions based on what’s best for my children. If we could make all of San Antonio just like the better parts then great, until then…

  3. I live in Beacon Hill….Love my home, neighbors, and very close proximity to Downtown. My kids love their school (Monte Vista Montessori). The neighborhood association is very active and working hard to making this a great place to live. If person just changes their mind set from the burbs to the city, it is a great place to raise a family!

  4. We provide the best for our children, making sacrifices, which means living in a much smaller house in Southtown than we could afford in the ‘burbs, dealing with repairs, and all that comes with old (un-restored) houses. Meanwhile, our children are thriving in an amazing community, one where we have “extended family” not related by blood (we have no relatives in Texas) but by a common sense of community. Our kids have the option to go to a very good school, one in which the parents in the neighborhood are heavily involve (where they can become fluent in Spanish). They get even more exercise than usual because they walk everywhere – to school, to their friends’ houses, along the riverwalk, to shops, to historic sites. No need to get in the car for everything. They are surrounded by art and diverse people and culture. No worries about safety, since everyone knows everyone else and looks out for each other.

    What, really, would you be giving your daughter if you moved? More space? To do what?

  5. There are small quaint inexpensive houses all over San Antonio, I’m living in one. Only $600 a month for a 3 bedroom 2 bath and it’s behind a school that was rated in the top 5 best schools. Kids walk home from school every day and we have neighborhood patrol and great neighbors. If there is a concern about safety or health, there are options. San Antonio is bigger than some realize. Of course there are positives and negatives to any situation, just find the best solution for you. All anyone can offer is perspective and options.

  6. Ah, you make me long to move into the city! I’ve never had that kind of convenience, but I think I would really like it. I am out in Converse, with a huge yard, and no sense of community whatsoever. I want to build a little homestead, and our town laws prohibit chickens, so I either need to move closer in or further out.

  7. Not to.. BUT….

    why would you risk your child’s safety to live in a place you like…and you can afford to move.

    makes no sense. seems a bit selfish.

    • What is this “risk to child safety” that you’re assuming, and how did you estimate its magnitude? The most significant data I’m aware of on this topic indicates the biggest risk to child safety is having to ride everywhere in a car.

  8. Stay if at all possible! Remodel to create the space you want and to make it safer for all of you. I wouldn’t give up my Olmos area garden lifestyle. It’s green, completely walkable, bikeable, calm/quiet and beautiful. And I’m hopeful that Restaurant Tribeca Di Olmos (the 4th incarnation close to OP roundabout) will make it! Jean Francois (used to own Tost) is doing a great job. Let’s meet for their great happy hour soon!

  9. Urban and rural living each offer their own advantages, and the tradeoffs between city and country deserve thoughtful consideration. But SUB-urban living pretends to combine both, without really achieving either. It ends up being metropolitan congestion with redneck culture.

  10. One thing we would acquire is space (both indoor and outdoor). When I was single, 2600 square feet was plenty big for me. Now there’s three of us (plus art); it’s tight. But if I find the right architect/designer, perhaps all our space issues would be solved and we could maintain the urban lifestyle to which I’ve grown accustomed. The right solution will present itself. I’m certain. 🙂

  11. 2600 SF sounds massive to me!

    I know far too many people who went to the ‘burbs because people told them that was the place to raise kids, regretted it, and have (or are trying to) move back into town.

  12. Everyone is different. I have lived all over SA. I lived in Ausitn for 10 years, 3 of those years across from Whole Foods downtown in a 705sqft apartment for 1200 a month. That was awesome living. I was by everything within walking distance, even lady bird lake, without even having to cross a street. When I moved back here I looked for similar living and found nothing and they wanted more money then where I lived in Austin. San Antonio’s hipster spaces are all self created. Southtown, Pearl, soon to be Lonestar Brewery, Quarry (aka Artessa (yes I lived there for a bit, one of the best experiences, talk about being able to walk every where)). Austin has a much more organic feel to their spaces with East 6th street (east of 35) feeling the most forced.

    I currently live over by trinity right by you. I have even walked by your place, or at least the place in the photos. I walk all over olmos park. I go to Taco Taco as you talk about. I have also been chased by dogs while running on the San Pedro side of McCollough. I also take walks past the Olmos Dam and into Alamo Heights.

    That all said, personally I am not a fan of this space. While it is nice, it is a bit overrated and wayyy over priced.

    The same could be said about the Ventanna Apartments downtown. They are great for a while, but once you get used to the fact that there is only the riverwalk it begins to feel super overpriced at 1,400 a month for a 800sqft apartment.

    As for the crime, well it is every where. I remember moving back here, parking my new BMW 3.35 coupe (for which I sold after dealing with the horrible Dealership here, they are lame, you all should do an article on San Antonio dealerships and profiling) in front of my sisters 400K gated community northside home and it was broken into. It happens every where. I have had guns pulled on me on the highway by punk Audi driving teenage stone oak bros on 281. Crime here becomes very relative. I even was shot at across from UIW at the Bill Miller, they blew out the glass door I was standing next to…

    So yeah, crime is every where.

    Personally I am saying NFG to trying to live a subpar hipster life style and instead am buying a 120K home I can pay off with a 15 year note with my middle class income and leaving this hipster rat race to build a “urban” environment to the ones willing to go into more debt so they can wear their DC shoes, sip their lattes and have locally grown urban gardens (for which are inherently being polluted by being downtown).

    I will wear my DC shoes some where off 410 and show up for your parties downtown…

    But like I said everyone is different. While I am pretty snarky with this post, I do believe San Antonio’s downtown is truly transforming and a new space is being developed. I am just “over it” in terms of being on the forefront of that movement.

  13. Even being deluged with hipsters isn’t going to make me love 32 years of King William and the vicissitudes of an 1887 limestone any less.

    Stay, Georgina, stay. There are wonderful architects here who can help you. Don’t you have a parking structure behind your house??? Couldn’t it be converted somehow into living space? I should remember this after parking beside it for Pilates and yoga for three years, but don’t.

    We have this town made of tiny small towns and that is probably what I love best about San Antonio. I enjoyed your article very much. Well done.

  14. We went from 3700 sf on 0.7 acres with a pool in Castle Hills to 2000 sf in 0.13 acres in King William and have never looked back. Castle Hills especially inside 410 has a lot of appeal and character with some cool mid-century modern homes as well as standard ranch homes, established trees and huge lots. It approached walkability as we could walk to Target, Dough, Alamo Drafthouse, and even North Star Mall. Wait, where was I going with this? Yes, King William is even better with more locally owned businesses, the river with its wildlife and trails, and feeling of expansiveness and access to downtown. We sometimes miss more room for ‘stuff’ but our livable space has expanded with our move.

  15. Also walking to the new farmer’s market at the Blue Star over the river and seeing the ducks, great blue herons, and cormorants, this also feels like the most rural place I have ever lived.

  16. There are many forms of social “dis-ease.” Where urban neighborhoods have “in your face” homelessness, and the socially maladjusted or disenfranchised, gaping holes in streets, poor zoning enforcement, amongst other things-suburbia has it’s own set of social disease. While in some ways the affectations may be somewhat obscured to an untrained eye, altogether there is the same potential for harm.

    I think it was pointed out earlier in this discussion the more obvious issues being the stress of “driving, and commuting.” The people on the roads up toward 1604 and surrounding areas are horrifying. Driving has become increasingly more dangerous. The days of “South Texas hospitality,” where people would change lanes for the one who was in an obvious hurry are gone. Now, everyone is a hurry, and generally for no good reason-where proof of perceived importance is a visible duel on the streets and freeways… This, apart from the absence of trees, the lack of soulfulness found from historic and established neighborhoods, and the mass trend of growing “ant-hills,” are what thwart my interest in even venturing that direction for an errand.

    It seems to me you answered your own question with the fact that you mention your love and affection for trees, and your dream of a “tree house.” The landscape and location of 78212 with winding, hilly tree lined roads is excellent-I love the trees and charm of this area, and too, nothing is perfect anywhere… This combined with the current and evolving art culture seem to be a good fit for what you described as important? Additionally, the verve and commitment to re-claiming this area addressing the issues is hopeful and exciting-where people like you and your husband only add value to the effort. That being said, I have seen areas in the surrounding hill-country like Bulverde, Blanco, or Fredericksburg that have obvious merit, so I can see where it is a continuous puzzle.

    Comments similar to, “you need to think of your kids,” appear as evidence to a lack of experience to the history and realities that exist in actual suburbia. I grew up as a teenager when Plano was being developed where at the time and perhaps historically- there was the largest loss of teenagers due to drug overdose, and suicide in the history of the country. And I believe it came in two separate waves if my memory serves me? Not to mention that developers were famous for flattening the area of any tree prior to beginning their mass duplication of inefficient sameness. Social dysfunction simply does not escape suburban areas.

    The city is faced with many issues that I believe they are attempting to resolve. Unfortunately things do not happen overnight. The continuum is on a steady trend upwards. I have seen many improvements in the short time I have been here. The commitment of organizations like Snipsa, helping dogs and cats on the streets need more support, and they inspire and encourage me.

    The bottom line is, I do not believe you can fit a “square peg in a round hole.” If you are indeed a “Cultural Creative,” as Richard Florida defines in his book-“The Rise of the Creative Class,” as your description implied, perhaps you may have to continue your play solving “The Urban Rubic’s Cubic?” Either way, I believe there is a solution, and talking about is good for you and everyone else! -Jennifer Duaine

  17. I live in Tobin Hill North, literally one block south of Monte Vista. I grew up in Helotes aka the ‘burbs. I grew up driving everywhere, walking nowhere, and living in a bit of a bubble, considering parts of the city ‘ghetto.’ Needless to say I grew up a little naive as a result. My husband went to UT in Austin and owned a home 2 miles from campus. As an adult, I have become exposed to so many great things about my own city I never knew about. Now, we love owning our 1934 stone home and walking to Candlelight Coffeehouse or Tycoon Flats, or biking to the Pearl. My husband even bikes through Olmos Basin and Contour Drive to work sometimes and loves it!! Having lived a life in the ‘burbs, I can say I will never go back. There is too little culture, locally-owned places, and beauty. Plus, you don’t know what’s going on in your city way out there. I am much more involved in city matters where I live now. I want to expose my children to people of different backgrounds as well, and firmly desire them to grow up in reality. It is not selfish in the least to choose to raise your kids in an area that reflects who you are as a family are. As a mental health professional I can attest- mental illness is everywhere, including the suburbs. Yes, people of low socioeconomic status tend to have more mental illness, but fortunately in Midtown this is not nearly as prevalent as other areas of the city. The central core is pretty affluent but I also enjoy the vast mix of people here. I look forward to one day soon having children and walking to Landa Library, the playgrounds at Crockett Park and Brackenridge Park and the Kiddie Park and biking them in tow to nearby museums and places of beauty. I have found exactly where I want to be and I hope you do too.

  18. I would advise a move. I was surprised that you didn’t mention anything about schools in your article, but I am familiar with that area of town and it is served by Twain Middle School, SAISD.

    Not a good place for a smart kid to get the enrichment she deserves.

  19. Several of the most highly regarded private schools are located within this neighborhood. Not just for the city, but for the country.

  20. As someone trying to get a feel for the SA neighborhoods online (before my upcoming move), this article and comment section are gold. Thank you all for your insight!

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