Where I Live: Monticello Park/Deco District

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It's all about the details. Look at the yellow paint on the interior of the open windows. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

It's all about the details. Look at the yellow paint on the interior of the open windows. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

Jeff ReiningerLately, it seems like everyone in San Antonio has been talking about downtown and urban living. The Pearl Brewery and surrounding developments, along with King William, Dignowity Hill, Lavaca, Five Points, etc. seem to get all the attention. People always seem to leave out one of San Antonio’s first “suburbs,” Monticello Park.  “The Deco District.” “The 78201.”

[Click here for a full list of the “Where I Live” series.]

An eclectic little nook of the city buried between I-10, Fredericksburg Road, Woodlawn Avenue and Babcock Road, this sleepy little district is where my family and I have called home for the past four years.

Amazing stonework, circular entry – and check out that weather vane. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

Amazing stonework, circular entry – and check out that weather vane. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

Monticello Park is one of San Antonio’s first suburbs. Built on a former dairy farm that was purchased for residential development in the 1920s, this area contains a stunning collection of revival, English Tudor, colonial, craftsman and bungalow style homes, amongst others.

Map courtesy of decodistrict.org.

Map courtesy of decodistrict.org. Click to enlarge.

Within this 3.5 square mile district located just northeast of downtown San Antonio is also a cluster of condemned, neglected and forgotten dwellings that have certainly seen their better days. Home prices within the area vary from about $50,000 to over $400,000 within a block or two radius.

Monticello Park is also home to the architectural masterpiece that is Thomas Jefferson High School.  The facility was built in 1932 and was detested by many people at the time who thought the school a waste of money as it was built “out in the middle of nowhere.” Today, it rises from the ground like a monument to a time nearly forgotten – an era reserved for nostalgic photos and “Back to the Future” movie sets.

The beautiful and iconic Thomas Jefferson High School. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

The beautiful and iconic Thomas Jefferson High School. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

On the southern border of the district is Woodlawn Lake. This 30 acre man-made body of water was created in the 1880’s in hopes of drawing real estate developers to the area (40 years later that dream became reality).

Visitors “from the city” once traveled by streetcar to enjoy the many features this lake (and surrounding park) had to offer, and was often referred to as “the finest artificial lake in the South.”

Today, hundreds of people flock to the lake every weekend for barbecues and birthday parties, exercise and recreation, and simply to enjoy the beauty of the water and trees, all nestled well within the city.

The Woodlawn Lake lighthouse with downtown San Antonio in the distance.  Photo by Jeff Reininger.

The Woodlawn Lake lighthouse with downtown San Antonio in the distance. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

Everyday life in the Deco District is a little different than places I’ve lived before.  It’s where it’s okay to barbecue and gather in the front yard. The color of your grass and size of your flower bed isn’t indicative of the person you are. Garages are buried toward the back of the property and living rooms face the street, rather than the opposite in that of post-WWII homes.

The simple little abode my family calls home was built in 1926. It’s a slightly tight quartered two bedroom, one bath, cedar post pier and beam construction. When a cold north winds blows you can literally feel the wind zoom by your feet on the hardwood floors. The single-pane, wood framed windows seem to breathe with the climate outside.

It's all about the details.  Look at the yellow paint on the interior of the open windows. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

It’s all about the details. Look at the yellow paint on the interior of the open windows. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

What my home might lack in wall insulation it more than makes up for in detail and character.  My wife and I sometimes like to make up stories about who may have lived here before us and what events might have transpired in the near 100 year-history of this house.

What life may have been like here before these homes were retrofitted with air conditioning, I can’t imagine.  Our front porch that runs the full length of the home was probably used for much more than placing a few potted plants on and allowing a couple of chairs to gather dust.

The Deco District is honest, it’s real. It never tries to be something it’s not.

One of the many unique chimney's in Monticello Park. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

One of the many unique chimney’s in Monticello Park. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

Perhaps that’s because people can spot a counterfeit when it comes to community – they can tell when a place is trying create a false identity, rather than simply being what it was created to be, what it’s been all along.

The 78201 is a plethora of garage sales and curbside mechanics, bike-riding paleta salesmen and classic muscle cars, successful businessmen and elderly people trying to survive on disability and social security benefits. It’s neighbors helping neighbors and police helicopters flying overhead.  A combination of wealth and poverty, of purpose and survival, a microcosm of America.

So, will we live in Monticello Park forever?  I have no idea.  I’d be lying if I thought the idea of calling The Pearl or a loft in the heart of downtown home wasn’t tempting.  However, what I can say is that wherever my family calls home in the future, I hope that its community is as honest and as proud as the 78201 has been of itself for nearly a century.

Note:  My house is a three stop sign, zero traffic light, seven-minute drive from The Pearl, so that’s not bad either!


Jeff Reininger works for Morkovsky + Associates, Inc., an architectural firm in San Antonio.  You can follow him on Twitter @jeffreininger.  He is married to his beautiful wife, Katy, and together they have  three-year old son, Kingston.  Jeff is a long distance runner, who enjoys all the wonderful running trails that San Antonio has to offer.  He is also the co-founder of the site The Water Line.

This post has been republished with permission from The Water Line, read more: “The Water Line: A New Blog About What Defines Us in San Antonio.”

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Click here for a full list of our “Where I Live” series.


17 thoughts on “Where I Live: Monticello Park/Deco District

  1. Los Angeles Heights in the house! Love my hood. Love that there’s a La Fiesta down my block. Love that I have Texas ice house at a minutes reach or fruit cup stand on a hot summer day!

  2. This is a fine article, but wish you could have mentioned details about the large number of artists and musicians who live here, not to mention Bihl Haus Arts hosting the On/Off Fredericksburg Tour. Maybe at another time….

  3. I live in 78201 too – up toward Hillcrest, closer to Babcock – in a gorgeous 1959 ranch. It was restored beautifully by the previous owners. They kept the original hardwood floors throughout along with built in cupboards and dressers in every room. We LOVE our home and our wonderful neighborhood and neighbors. (I could sing the praises of our house and ‘hood for days!)

  4. i love this delicious and very appealing piece about Monticello Park! Thanks for singing the neighborhood’s praises. It’s always fun to drive through those streets very slowly, staring at the lovely architectural elements described here.

  5. Neighborhoods like Montecello Park and Neighbors like you help make San Antonio a great city. In Houston, newcomers would be fighting for property rights to tear down historical homes so they could build McMansions.

    Thanks for making our city special!

  6. Thank you all for the kind words. I enjoyed writing this, because it’s where I spend the majority of my time. Beverly Prado, I would love to know more about the artists and musicians in the neighborhood – I don’t really know any of them apparently.

  7. This is also an excellent neighborhood for biking. I live just south of the Deco District, by the lake. At Woodlawn Lake Park, we have a swimming pool, exercise equipment, and a walking path. No need for a gym! We have bike lanes and routes that allow residents to have an easy commute to downtown jobs and schools (and, if you want a Pearl experience, it doesn’t take much longer to bike there than drive). It’s a great place to live. Thanks for the article!

    • In 2015, not only has this vision not been achieved, it seems to have been dramatically altered. At least, there’s no timeline or funding allocated yet to build the trail along Alazan Creek to downtown (connecting envisioned Martinez Creek trail work with Apache Creek and San Pedro Creek trail) as planned 2009-11 and supported by County voters in subsequent elections based on this widely promoted vision of Westside Creek connected trails.

      Too bad, as an Alazan Creek trail would have allowed cyclists and walkers a safe, beautiful and healthy (3mi) path from downtown to this year’s July 4th Fireworks at Woodlawn Lake. Ideally, there will finally be a connected trail to Woodlawn Lake along Alazan Creek and connected to Apache Creek and Martinez Creek trails for downtown and Westside students, workers, seniors, residents and visitors in 2016. #saspeakup.

  8. Jeff, I’m replying to your response to Beverly Prado. Monticello Park, along with Jefferson, Woodlawn Lake, Los Angeles Heights, Beacon Hill, Keystone and Alta Vista are the neighborhoods at center stage of the annual On & Off Fredericksburg Road Studio Tour, presented by Bihl Haus Arts (2803 Fredericksburg Road. The tour, in it’s 7th year, is set for February 22 and 23, 2014. This year more than 80 featured artists at 50 locations will participate on the tour. The accompanying tour catalog contains a 2-3 page essay with photos on each of the 7 neighborhoods, plus a full page bio of and an artwork by the participating artists.

    Visitors are invited to explore these neighborhoods during On & Off Fred in an exciting way on Saturday, February 22, 11 am to 6 pm, and Sunday, February 23, noon-5 pm, when artists open their home studios, cooperatives and pop-up storefronts for this spectacular annual event. From reclaimed former neighborhood grocery stores to intimate backyard sanctuaries, the studios on the tour provide the environments in which area artists create a variety of hand-made artworks, such as metalworks, large ceramic sculptures, jewelry, fashion and fiberart and textiles, one-of-a-kind light fixtures, art photography, hand-crafted furniture and a variety of paintings in various styles. Demonstrations, hospitality, and opportunities to purchase art directly from the artist are all part of the On & Off Fred experience.

    The accompanying full-color 116-page tour catalog ($10 advance) is available starting Feb. 5th at these local businesses: BIG GRASS (637 W. Hildebrand), BRAND NEW 2ND HAND RESALE BOUTIQUE (702 Fredericksburg Road), DECO PIZZERIA (1815 Fredericksburg Road), FIRST MARK CREDIT UNION (122 Donaldson Ave.) & VEE’S SALON (1022 Donaldson Ave.), at the WOODLAWN THEATRE (1920 Fredericksburg Road) before and after performances, or by mail from the website ($15, includes postage). They will also be available during the tour for $15 at Bihl Haus on Feb. 22 and 23. The online catalog ($5, online only) will be available Feb. 1st at http://www.OnAndOffFred.org. Hope to see you on the tour!

  9. I live in Monticello Park and still trying to figure out how you can drive to Pearl in 7 minutes with zero traffic lights and only three stop signs. Every route I can think of has several traffic lights and stop signs just to get out of the neighborhood.

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