Where I Live: Saint Cecilia

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Renovated homes for sale in Saint Cecilia.

You’ve heard of King William, the historic neighborhood south of Cesar Chavez Boulevard that gives our city delightful events like the Fourth of July canoe and kayak regatta and the King William Fair. You’ve probably heard of Lavaca, the self-proclaimed oldest neighborhood in San Antonio, also south of Cesar Chavez but east of King William. A bit further south and you find Lone Star to the west or Highland Park to the east. But directly south of Lavaca, bound by railroad tracks to the north, I-37 to the east, I-10 to the south, and Roosevelt Avenue (the southern extension of South St. Mary’s) to the west, you happen upon the lovely neighborhood of Saint Cecilia. It’s where I live. (For the visually inclined, here is a thorough but somewhat mind-boggling map of historic areas in San Antonio from the City.)

A Houston-area native, I moved to Saint Cecilia after college in 2010 where I share a home with three friends and two dogs. My college roommate and now-landlord, Jenna-Beth Lyde, chose to make an investment in the near-downtown home even though she works Alamo Heights. “I love historic homes and wanted to live in a culturally diverse area that really felt like a community. The up-and-coming Saint Cecilia area so close to downtown was the perfect fit for me,” she explained. My other two housemates, who work in Stone Oak and the UTSA main campus areas, and I agree, even though their against-traffic commutes to work range anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes (a stark contrast to my paltry 1.2 mile trek to Accion). Built in the year 1900, the location, size and layout of the little house in Saint Cecilia are just right.

Renovated homes for sale in Saint Cecilia.

Ours is a neighborhood of old pier and beam houses with large porches and functional alleys; of neighbors who know each other and share plates of barbecue on Sundays; of daily visits from the bicycling paleta man and ice cream truck; and of multigenerational families. There are small backhouses or casitas in the backyards of many area homes, ours included.

The neighborhood’s namesake is the nearby Saint Cecilia Catholic parish. The school associated with the parish closed at the end of this past school year, relocating  and merging with another parochial school due to the declining enrollment and tuition debt, two problems that Catholic schools around the nation are facing. Three firms, C.S. Fowler, Empire Reality and W.A. Baity, developed houses in the early 1900s. According to the City’s Office of Historic Preservation website, the first residents of the area were mostly of English and German descent, with Hispanic families and individuals becoming a significant presence in the 1940s and increasing to nearly 100% of the area’s population by 2002.

A once-grandiose house fallen into disrepair.

Here and there, you see renovations taking place on homes in my neighborhood, with realty signs popping up just before or soon after. The mix of old and updated in Saint Cecilia makes for an unexpected and interesting aesthetic. Next to a smaller restored home with an immaculately xeriscaped garden and Vespa parked out front, you might find a large but dilapidated house carved into an informal multi-unit rental property with impressive Ionic columns hinting at the structure’s past grandeur.

 

L.T. Wright House on Wilkens Ave.

Architecturally significant in Saint Cecilia is the L.T. Wright House on Wilkens Ave. designed by George Willis, a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright. The restored Prairie style home stands out among the predominantly Classical Revival, Craftsman, and Bungalow style houses in the neighborhood.

As with any older, un-gentrified and lower-wealth neighborhood, there are buildings that have fallen into disrepair, plenty of stray animals and more litter than you would find in King William. Those superficial signals considered, it doesn’t surprise me when first time visitors to the area ask if my housemates and I feel safe. Without hesitation, my answer is yes. We have neighbors who know our names, cars and dogs, and who come tell us if we have left the gate ajar. A police officer lives across the street, and even with my unimpressive athletic abilities, I could literally throw a rock and hit either an elementary school or a church. The only time I’ve felt at all unsafe was during my singular visit to the neighborhood pool, when I foolishly tried to swim laps in the midst of a barrage of cannonballing children. Lesson learned. The pool is yours, kids.

My main complaint is the stray population of cats and dogs, the ubiquity of which is both saddening and a nuisance. (There also was the one unfortunate season when some sort of children’s dance troop across the alley rehearsed to the first fifteen seconds of “Apple Bottom Jeans” by T-Pain on repeat for two hours every Sunday, but now that that’s over, it makes for a good story.)

Tower of the Americas from Saint Cecilia.

Located about two miles south of downtown with access to bus stops on Presa or Roosevelt no more than three blocks away, my neighborhood affords ideal proximity to the center of the city. Brunch at Tre, happy hour at El Monty or The Friendly Spot, Gartenfest at the Beethoven and NIOSA in La Villita are all easily bike-able or bus-able, but by living in Saint Cecilia rather than in an even-closer apartment, I have the additional benefits of a fenced-in backyard, plenty of room for golf clubs (should I decide to take up the sport), endless parking space, a view of the Tower of the Americas

A perfect view.

(and the Fourth of July fireworks) from the end of my street. I get way more bang for my buck in terms of square feet per dollar, and a friendship with three generations of the wonderful family next door, all just blocks from Roosevelt Park (which, I should add, hosts at least one moon bounce birthday party every weekend… awesome) and the Mission Reach of the river.

Beyond all the conveniences, my neighborhood has given me so much more than I expected or could have hoped for: A true sense of belonging in a community that is historic, comfortable, beautiful, and markedly and pleasantly different from anywhere else I’ve experienced in San Antonio.

Another beautifully restored home in Saint Cecilia.

An update (7/25/12): Several neighbors have commented, noting that they’ve heard our area referred to as “Roosevelt Park.” The Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association website, though somewhat infrequently updated, shows a map of the Roosevelt Park neighborhood, which includes the area that the City’s Office of Historic Preservation designates as Saint Cecilia. Nicholas Fuqua in the City’s OHP indicated, not surprisingly, that vernacular names for neighborhoods or areas often don’t match up with the official City designations and boundaries, and that pockets of named areas sometimes exist within larger historic neighborhoods (like Denver Heights within Dignowity Hill, he said). One neighbor also shared her own nickname for the area: “soSo,” short for “south of Southtown.”

Miriam Sitz works for Accion Texas Inc., the nation’s largest non-profit microlender. A graduate of Trinity University, she blogs on Miriam210.com and sells handmade goods on TinderboxGoods.com. Follow her on Twitter at @miriamsitz. [Click here for more stories from Miriam Sitz on the Rivard Report.]

36 thoughts on “Where I Live: Saint Cecilia

  1. This is great! Cheers to multi-generational living and diversity. I think it does something for the soul.
    I love that the area is taking the name Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians! I think there’s something to that.

  2. Wow, what a wonderful neighborhood! I’ve never heard of it before, and I considered myself somewhat literate on our city’s historic neighborhoods. Now I have a new place to explore! Thank you for sharing this.

  3. Love that others are finding and taking pride in this area…the diamond in the rough that it is. It saddened me to hear that my former school was closing. It’s a loss for the students and for the community as a whole. Needless to say, having gone to school at STC, I was able to become extremely familiar with the surrounding area through after school walks with friends, field trips to Roosevelt Park and Buckhorn Saloon (prior to its downtown relocation), summer swim at the park pool, and walks to Bob’s Corner for after school snacks (they had THE best steak fries!). The area is one that holds a special place in my heart and I hope that re-newest interest will bring back it’s vibrancy.

    • Love your comments Cassandra, thanks for sharing. It’s too bad about the school closing. The parish has played an important role in the history of the neighborhood!

  4. Hi Miriam,

    Delighted to see my neighborhood featured in the Rivard Report; pretty taken aback to see it labeled the Saint Cecilia neighborhood. I’ve lived there now for almost eight years and have never heard it called that.

    When I moved in, I jokingly named it soSo, for south of Southtown, then learned that it was known as Roosevelt Park, and there was even a long-standing Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association.

    While I’m delighted to learn in the comments that St. Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians, I have a huge problem naming our hood after a Catholic saint. And while I’m sad that the Archdiocese closed the school, I certainly won’t miss the offensive billboard on the property I have to drive by every day that says “Thank Goodness Mary was Pro-life.”

    Super curious who told you it’s called the St. Cecilia neighborhood, and who else who lives there has heard/used it.

    Regardless, thanks for highlighting soSo!

  5. Miriam, thanks for the post. I pretty much grew up at the neighborhood’s other (and older) church, St. Paul and graduated from Brack, so I spent a lot of time in and around the neighborhood in former years. It’s great see people moving into the neighborhood who value it and are contributing positively to it.

    Tracy, to the best of my knowledge, the “St. Cecila” designation comes from the City’s office of historic preservation: http://www.sanantonio.gov/historic/Surveys/St_Cecilia.aspx. Though I can’t quite muster your level of outrage (you do, after all, live in a _city_ named after a Catholic saint), I agree that I had never heard the neighborhood called St. Cecilia until
    I saw it on the OoHP website. My recollection is that, to the extent that ‘hood was called anything at all, it was referred to as Roosevelt or Roosevelt Park. “So-So” is pretty awesome, though.

    • Haha! touché, Tim, you got me on the city. But I think there’s still time to save this ‘hood from the same fate…

    • Bingo, Tim, that’s where it’s from. The name Saint Cecilia is also used on this City map, which I linked in the original article: http://www.sanantonio.gov/historic/Docs/36_Sq_Mi_Map-9-20-10.pdf.

      I spoke today with Planner Nicholas Fuqua in the Office of Historic Preservation who indicated, not surprisingly, that vernacular names for neighborhoods or areas often don’t match up with the official City designations and boundaries, and that pockets of named areas sometimes exist within larger historic neighborhoods (like Denver Heights within Dignowity Hill, he said).

      • Nice! Yeah, CB’s my dad. My wife and I have lived in New England for about a decade, but I try to keep tabs on SA. I especially enjoy the Rivard Report. Keep up the good work!

        • Pastor Carlos? My daughter went to St. Paul’s for daycare until she was almost four. She loved going to see Pastor Carlos on Wednesdays! Some of her first words were “Happy, happy happy… Jesus!” (throw arms high into air.)

          St. Paul CDC is a great day care/child development center, I can’t recommend it enough.

          • That’s awesome, Tracy. (Your post conjures distant memories of Wednesday mornings at St. Paul’s….) It sounds like the CDC is still doing really good work.

  6. The city may claim the name endures, but I also have lived in the neighborhood for 8 years and have never heard it called Saint Cecilia. Heck, I even live on the same street as the church.
    And I don’t feel entirely safe in the neighborhood any more. Read my comment on Augie Ray’s story about why he is leaving San Antonio. It would have been more appropriately placed on this commentary, but that’s what I get for late night/early morning commenting!

    • Hi Laura, I read your comments on Augie’s story. Yikes! Fortunately, I haven’t had any experiences like yours (knock on wood), but your anecdotes serve as valuable reminders that it’s a mixed bag, living in an older, less affluent neighborhood like ours.

  7. Just checked out the OHP’s St. Cecilia page. Interesting that St. Paul’s has been there longer, but the ‘hood is supposedly named after St. Cecilia’s.

    Does anyone know if the church will remain active even though the school is closing down?

    Also, a correction: The billboard’s exact message is “Mother Mary was Pro-Life… Thank Heavens”

    • Yes, the church Saint Cecilia is still operating even though the school closed. They have Saturday and Sunday mass in English (Sat 5p, Sun 8a and 10a) and Spanish (Sun 12p). And btw, Tracy, love soSo! Haha.

      • I just drove past the church — was sad to see it’s not the 1919 building… Wonder what happened (and when) to the original?

        Let’s just go with soSo. Give those SoFlo folks to the west a run for their hipster faux-NYC designation.

        • Just checked out the map you linked — interesting! Love the “St. Cecilia’s Annex” section across Roosevelt. Random that it doesn’t include Yellowstone. And who knew our lil’ ole hood had the power to annex?

          Also noted that the section above Grove is yellow, below it is blue, signifying, I guess, how the school district cut our little hood in two when it razed those beautiful brick houses to extend the Robert B. Green Elementary property for a playground.

          I like the little playground, but it’s a huge bummmer that they had to cut the neighborhood in half to make it happen.

          • I know, that little annex is funny. The extended playground always throws off first time visitors (and many a GPS) when trying to get to my house.

            I’ve added an update to the main article reflecting all this great discussion!

          • I believe (if I’m reading the map correctly) the blue means that the city’s considering a historic designation for the southern half of the neighborhood. Is there actually much architectural difference between the two halves?

  8. At 9:30 tonight, while grilling, we heard a shotgun fire. Again, it’s getting old. I would love to take my dogs for a walk after dinner, but between gunfire, strays and stray men circling people in the park, I’m not willing to take the chance.

  9. Its great that new young people are moving here, but I really wish that they would bother to learn local history before making statements like Lavaca being the “self proclaimed” oldest neighborhood in San Antonio.

    Lavaca is the oldest existing neighborhood in San Antonio—the northern part being what remains of the neighborhood demolished for HemisFair in the 1960’s—and the south eastern end of La Villita. Check out what remains of the architecture that hasn’t been SUPER SIZED on Lavaca Street and you will understand that.

    Its also amusing to hear all these great new names COSA keeps coming up with. Not too long ago, this was called PRESA REAL. What happened to that?

    I agree also about that the offensive sign by that Church.

    I am glad you are here, Miriam, and contributing to the area, which has such a long history of intentional neglect by this city. I also wish there was more editorial oversight on this blog, so that new comers who perhaps don’t understand or have knowledge of San Antonio’s very long history don’t make mis statements that undermine their writing.

    • Hi Roger, thanks for your comments. I put some thought into how to phrase my description of Lavaca, settling on “self-proclaimed” not with the intention to cast doubt on that claim, but to avoid painting a debated and fairly ambiguous superlative as absolute fact. La Villita is also self-proclaimed online as “San Antonio’s first neighborhood” (http://lavillita.com/index.php/history). Elizabeth Porterfield in the City’s Office of Historic Preservation indicated to me that the earliest settlements in San Antonio are in the La Villita area, but that other very early development can be found in Dignowity Hill and (of course) Lavaca, among other areas. How one defines “the oldest neighborhood” is a great question, but not one I attempt to answer with this “Where I Live.” Next time!

      I haven’t heard of Presa Real. I welcome you to expand on that name and its history.

      Biased toward my own work though I may be, I will respectfully disagree with you on the point that any alleged misstatement undermined the rest of my writing. You loved the part about the cannonballing children, don’t deny it!

      But in all seriousness, I’m glad to be here, too, and pleased that you’re reading, Roger. Thanks again for your input. It’s always my hope that conversations like these after the articles end continue to shed light.

  10. Oh, and SOso is not exactly short of South of Southtown. Its ironic–and reflective of the hookers and gunfire one occasionally encounters on this stretch of S. Presa—not too far from my home in “Baja Lavaca”—a name I coined.

    • In my update to the post where I mention soSo, I was making reference to Tracy Idell Hamilton’s comment from July 25: “When I moved in, I jokingly named it soSo, for south of Southtown…” You’re right about it being ironic but, in this particular instance, it is actually being used as a shortened form of “south of Southtown.”

      To each his own, grandmother said as she kissed Lavaca.

      • INdeed, to each his own. God bless your Grandma, Roger. Again, we’d love to see your very strong opinions about life in the ‘hood articulated in a post for the Rivard Report. Bring it. Open invite.
        –Monika

  11. Well as I above read Tracy moved in only 8 years ago….and way before that we called it So-So because it is, well, So-So. It’s never had any relation to Southtown. Saying it comes from some reference to Southtown—itself an artificial construct with no relation to anything anymore—is sanitary and sounds cute but why not own the truth and be proud of it? P

    The one common theme of this entire blog is one I would describe as “colonial”—I’m so glad you white missionaries have come down to spread civilization to us!

    Personally, its all the ‘hood to me, but I agree to each his own—

    • Roger, how about it? Why not put your very strong opinions about life in the ‘hood down in a blogpost for the Rivard Report? Open invite.
      –Monika

  12. Monika I appreciate the offer, but I am already past due on a free article for a medical textbook, to be totally honest.

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