Where I live: The Vistana

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The Original Angelus Funeral Home on Houston Street

By Ellie Leeper

The roots of urban enthusiasm in my life are unique in that they were planted early. I have been a downtowner since birth—literally. I was born in the Metropolitan Methodist Hospital on McCullough Avenue in May of 1989. A few days later, my parents brought me home to one of the most interesting living spaces I have, to this day, ever seen—the third and fourth floors of the Reuder Building on Alamo Plaza.

I spent the first three years of my life in the Reuder Building, which awarded me the title of “first baby raised on Alamo Plaza in 100 years.” As a baby and a toddler, I definitely lived “urban.” I was baptized in St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on East Commerce, learned how to shop from my stroller at Rivercenter Mall with my mother, and played outside on my tricycle in the gazebo on the Plaza with my father. I lived my “terrible two’s” as a downtowner as well.  The Hyatt parking garage on Losoya was witness to many of my tantrums.

The Original Angelus Funeral Home on Houston Street

Leeper’s great-great-grandparents ran the Angelus Funeral Home on Houston Street for decades.–Photo via UTSA Digital library.

Sooner than later, however, the first of my two younger brothers was born and my parents moved us to a home in Monte Vista where we spent the next 15 years. However, our parents managed to never let us forget our downtown roots, because they are urbanites at heart—after all, they met in Manhattan. My mother was living her 20’s in the big city, and my father was living his 30’s at the Reuder as a downtowner here in San Antonio, already working to transform it into a more livable and workable city center.

Leeper Family, 1990: Ellie was born, raised and still living downtown

Leeper Family, 1990: Baby Ellie was born and raised downtown.

When my parents married and my mother moved to San Antonio in 1983, downtown San Antonio was kind of a snooze. So, she took matters into her own hands (as most New Yorkers do) and started some big traditions that we still celebrate downtown, such as the Christmas Tree Lighting on Alamo Plaza. My father added quite a bit to the tourism industry downtown as well, with his Lone Star Trolley company.  At the time, it set the high standard for guided historical tours downtown. My parents, of course, worked on many more projects together over the years, but the important lesson that they taught me and my brothers was that if you want change in your life, you must make it.

So now…having graduated from Trinity University in May of 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and having worked for Ben Brewer at the Downtown Alliance for eight months, I have started to make change in our center-city through my job as the Director of Young Professional Relations at DTA. In my spare time I also work as a founding member of LOOP (Leadership Organization of Professionals).

Like most young adults graduating from college who want to leave their home town, and like most of my peers from Trinity, I also wanted to leave San Antonio. I considered Austin, Dallas, Los Angeles–even New York. I wanted to get out of town and explore what other cities had to offer. When I was hired at Downtown Alliance, I was grateful to have a full-time job, but also a little discouraged because I knew that I would be spending another several years in San Antonio.  Having been here, however, and having been thrown into this new and exciting Young Professional movement and urban revitalization of our center-city, I have found that living here and jumping into being a part of this change has been gratifying and stimulating, offering me more than I ever thought possible in San Antonio.

Part of “walking the walk” as a millennial hungry for an urban lifestyle means that you have to be an urban pioneer. When I was looking for my new home, I knew it had to be downtown. I now have a studio apartment in the beautiful Vistana. Mr. Ed Cross and his team have truly made a gorgeous gem here near Market Square. I wake up in the morning and raise my shades to reveal a sunny deck with a sparkling pool, equipped exercise facility, and professional business center. If I step onto my patio and turn right, I can see many of our iconic downtown edifices.

The Vistana view from Santa Rosa Boulevard.

View of the Vistana from Santa Rosa Boulevard. Photo by Carolina Canizales

This carries personal meaning for me, because I am living just across the street from Market Square, where my Italian great-great-grandfather, Mr. Francesco Pizzini, had his spice store when he and his family settled here from Rovereto, Italy in the 1800s. The plaque that reads “Pizzini’s” can be found on a building wall in Market Square. My great-grandparents, Henry and Elvira Guerra, owned and operated the Angelus Funeral Home at 602 W. Houston Street for decades. They were true leaders in the community and were responsible for much progressive change, such as making the “Hispanic” version of many prestigious organizations in San Antonio. These examples of civic engagement are a consistent thread in my family.

Aside from a familial history in this neighborhood that is five generations strong, I live a spoiled life of convenience, thanks to The Vistana.  I can exit our building onto Houston St. and walk 12 minutes to work at the Downtown Alliance office near the Alamo. I sometimes ride a B-Cycle home from work in the evenings as well, which is always exciting. On the weekends, I walk to evening entertainment with my beau and my friends. Zinc, Acenar, Soho, and Ocho are among my new favorite haunts, and I know there are many more places to be explored in the near future.  In addition to the late-night scene, as an arts-enthusiast I very much enjoy the ability to walk to performance venues downtown—The Majestic and the Lila Cockrell.

The view from Ellie Leeper's apartment at La Vistana

The view from Ellie Leeper’s apartment at the Vistana, Photo courtesy the Vistana

On a typical date night, my beau and I leave from The Vistana and walk down Houston Street to a nice sit-down dinner before stopping by The Majestic to catch a Broadway show or a San Antonio Symphony performance, and then we walk to one of our favorite spots for post-show cocktails or dancing.  Thanks to the Amigos and the Downtown SAPD Foot Patrol, we feel safe walking late at night.

The Vistana has proven to be a great place to call home. Residents there have created a kind and cheerful culture. I am always wished a good day or a fun evening in the elevator, and I never feel alone or unsafe here. The amenities are wonderful—the hot tub wins the prize. Coming home and being able to relax and reflect in the bubbling hot tub while looking out at our surrounding center-city is unique and special. Thinking about the many generations of the paternal side of my family who have made change in this neighborhood and in our center-city inspires me to continue working hard to make San Antonio into the thriving urban center that it has the potential to be.

Ellie Leeper is a graduate of Trinity University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. She now serves as the Director of Young Professional Relations at Downtown Alliance San Antonio. She also serves as Associate Editor for the Society Diaries Magazine. In her spare time, she explores her passions for the performing arts by acting, singing, and dancing on stage here in San Antonio. Connect with her via Facebook , Twitter , or LinkedIn.

16 thoughts on “Where I live: The Vistana

  1. oh, and a note to Gail Collins…regarding her new book on Texas and her disappointment in the Alamo Shrine’s “not much to see”. Dear Gail, come to the Alamo and meet Ellie Leeper. She can teach you how to approach a sacred battleground and you will learn to “see” what is no longer there. Or, you could pick up a history book on The Battle of the Alamo or its original mission history and maybe sit still long enough in front of the limestone facade to feel the strength of the people who built it, lived in it, worked in it and died in it.

  2. Marvelous article, Ellie. It brought to mind how as a child, I always envied the folks who lived and worked downtown. It seemed to me to be such a convenient and exciting way to live, being smack in the middle of city life – so alive! I see I wasn’t wrong!

  3. Ellie, What a superb article. Having known your father and Henry Guerra, I especially enjoyed how you connected all those dots over so many decades. Those guys were the true urban pioneers. Good job. — RR

  4. Tia Marina–send Gail my way. I will teach her about the Alamo, just like your father taught Queen Elizabeth!

    Tia Graziella–Thank you for reading! It is very calm down here compared to life in the big city, but it is fun 🙂

    Elizabeth–Thanks for reading! San Antonio is a special place rich with history.

    Bob–I am so glad you enjoyed the read! It’s an honor to follow in the footsteps of the great urban pioneers in my family tree 🙂

  5. Ellie: Reading your article, I saw touchstones of my life in San Antonio jump off the page. Every Saturday my Tia Juanita would take my grandmother to the Market Square area to buy fresh vegetables and fruit. As many of us grandchildren as could squeeze in the car would ride along. One of my own favorite stops was Pizzini’s because it had to be the most exotic place on earth in my mind. All those spices. All those aromas. We did not dine at Mi Tierra because my 4’10” grandmother marched into the restaurant kitchen one day and declared it was not clean enough. We cousins were stricken! All those lights! All that pan dulce! Then again, on a sadder note: my father’s funeral when I was 12 was at the Angeles Funeral Home. My wonderful days as the Eloise of the Gunther from the age of two were gone. My father had a store in the Gunter where the parking garage is now. He had allowed me to have the run of the hotel lobby. Mind you, “HE” allowed me, not hotel management. If a five year old were permitted to roam unaccompanied up and down Houston Street visiting shops and peering in windows and crossing streets, CPS would relieve the child’s parents of their custoday, but those were the days. No wonder I ran away from kindergarten at the old Ursuline Academy to the Gunter. Downtown was a wonderful place then. Maybe on the way to hipness now, but safe and exciting then. Thanks for your article.

    • Maxine, thank you so much for your comment! How wonderful–I can’t wait to share with my family. I hear Pizzini’s was quite the establishment. I wish it were still around!

  6. Ellie, I loved your article. I knew your folks when they lived downtown and were so very active in promoting downtown living. Also, we lived across the street from you in Monte Vista – we were at the Bushnell for 10 years. I also had the privilege of knowing your grand dad, Henry Guerra – what a wonderful gentleman! Haven’t kept up with your folks, but I know they must be incredibly proud of you! Thanks for keeping up the family tradition of living and promoting downtown. We have a great downtown but are sorely lacking in permanent residents. This is something that a group of us (including your parents and Margie & Charles Kilpatrick) were trying to push in the late 80’s & early 90’s. So glad that it is finally a priority. You really can’t have a great city without downtown residents, not just tourists. Keep up the good work!

  7. Rebecca,
    Thank you so much for your sweet comment! I appreciate that you took the time to read this article, and I have passed on your salutations along to my parents :)I definitely miss living in Monte Vista, what a lovely place to grow up. Hope to run into you downtown sometime!

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