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.
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.
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.
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.)
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
(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.
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.]