Where I Live: Government Hill

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A home in Government Hill, San Antonio. Photo by Grant Ellis.

A home in Government Hill, San Antonio. Photo by Grant Ellis.

Government Hill is a work in progress.

Oddly enough, I wrote and re-wrote that sentence at least a dozen times. It’s not flashy, but it’s true. Government Hill is a work in progress. The operative word, of course, being “progress.”

My wife and I used to own a house in Southtown, in the Lavaca Historic District, which we loved, but we sold it a few years ago to move to McAllen for work. Ours was a short-lived Rio Grande Valley experience, and in late 2011, when my job brought us back to San Antonio, we already felt as if we had been priced out of our old neighborhood. Houses on Florida Street, where we once lived, were listing for much more than what we’d bought and sold for. It’s amazing what can happen in the real estate market in such a short period of time.

So, in 2012, my wife, our two daughters and I bought an old house in the historic section of Government Hill.

The kitchen renovation process in Grant Ellis' home in Government Hill. Courtesy photo.

The kitchen renovation process in Grant Ellis' home in Government Hill. Courtesy photo.

We spent four months renovating the house before moving in, and basically spent the entire next year working on it as residents (a wholly rewarding but exhausting experience).

Over the course of time we’ve come to learn and appreciate so much about our neighborhood. It helps that we have close friends who live nearby and that we’ve made new friends since moving in as well.

And all the activity occurring up and down the nearby Broadway corridor brings with it much hope and promise. There’s a lot to like here.

A home in Government Hill, San Antonio. Photo by Grant Ellis.

A home in Government Hill, San Antonio. Photo by Grant Ellis.

For starters, I love our old house. Built in 1890, it’s rich in history and, well, all the special quirks that come with old houses.

Original door fixtures from Grant Ellis' home in Government Hill, built in 1890. Courtesy photo.

Original door fixtures from Grant Ellis' home in Government Hill, built in 1890. Courtesy photo.

It was obvious when we bought it that the house needed some help, but my wife and I have always been suckers for old homes and we realized its potential immediately.

Old hardwoods which had been covered with three layers of laminate flooring in some rooms have been unearthed and refinished. Spacious 11-foot ceilings which had been recessed with cheap materials have been returned to original height.

A few of the old windows, besieged by wood rot over the years, have been restored. We painted every room in the house ourselves.

A vacant house in Government Hill, San Antonio. Photo by Grant Ellis.

A vacant house in Government Hill, San Antonio. Photo by Grant Ellis.

Government Hill was once a grand old neighborhood. Established at the end of the 19th century, it served as home to many of the families stationed at nearby Fort Sam Houston, which opened in 1845.

Government Hill neighborhood, indicated on Google Maps with a dotted red line northeast of Downtown.

Government Hill neighborhood, indicated on Google Maps with a dotted red line northeast of Downtown.

The neighborhood borders Broadway to the west and New Braunfels to the east, with Fort Sam and I-35 to the north and south, respectively.

Most homes are modest, one and two-story houses, with small but accommodating porches and sizeable yards.

There are a handful of wonderful old mansions interspersed throughout the neighborhood. One of these, the Lambermont, is available for rentals and parties. Though many of Government Hill’s older historic homes have fallen into disrepair over the last few decades, it is comforting to see a few residents, new and old, taking the time to begin restoration efforts.

It’s a work in progress, to be sure, but we’re headed in the right direction.

Hawthorne Academy in Government Hill, San Antonio. Photo courtesy of SA Charter Moms.

Hawthorne Academy in Government Hill, San Antonio. Photo courtesy of SA Charter Moms.

My wife and I have always believed in public schools, and one of the reasons we selected Government Hill is because it feeds into Hawthorne Academy.

Hawthorne is a K-8 public charter school located one block from the Pearl complex on Josephine St. The Core Knowledge Curriculum that the school has adopted appeals to us for many reasons, and we like that both teachers and parents appear engaged and supportive. We’re confident our girls will do well there.

What I like the most about Government Hill, though, is its location. My wife and I both work downtown, and our offices are a short, 10-minute commute from the house. Typically, I take the bus downtown every morning; if I wanted to, I could ride my bike. The neighborhood is located just across Broadway from the Pearl complex.

My family and I frequently enjoy the Saturday farmers market, and we can’t keep up with all the new shops and restaurants that continue to fill the burgeoning space. Some of our most difficult weekend decisions are whether to grab a cup of coffee at Local Coffee or Bakery Lorraine. The neighborhood is just up the hill behind the 1800 Broadway apartments and the new Casa Blanca lofts. We’re a stone’s throw from the River Walk and Brackenridge Park, and all of our friends in the area are very excited that the new Children’s Museum is moving in just down the street. It’s a great time to be part of such dynamic change.

A young girl peers over Lake/Flato Architects' model of the future Do Seum (San Antonio Children's Museum). Photo by Iris Dimmick.

A young girl peers over Lake/Flato Architects' model of the future Do Seum (San Antonio Children's Museum). Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Which isn’t to say that everyone will appreciate the changes as much as we do. We recognize that. Urban renewal can create problems for established, long-time residents, and new neighbors aren’t always met with open arms. But if what’s happening along Broadway can help improve Government Hill by enabling homeowners to fix up and repair old dilapidated houses, and by removing the seedy element that still exists on some of our streets, I’m all for it. Government Hill isn’t perfect. It has its flaws, like most San Antonio neighborhoods. But, like our old house, it’s got lots of potential.

There are other things, of course, that we enjoy. Like the beautiful old Fort Sam buildings along Grayson Street. And historic Fire Station No. 5. And Tank’s Pizza. And the redbud trees along Mason Street that bloom bright pink and purple every spring.

Fire Station No. 5 in Goverment Hill, San Antonio. Photo by Grant Ellis.

Fire Station No. 5 in Goverment Hill, San Antonio. Photo by Grant Ellis.

So yeah, I like Government Hill. I realize there’s still a lot of work to be done here. I know it’s a neighborhood in transition. It is, in every sense, a work in progress. But again, that’s the key word here. Progress.

Huge strides are being made in the neighborhood and along adjacent commercial corridors. These changes will be welcomed by some and criticized by others, but the changes are inevitable. It may take a while before the long term effects are really felt here, but there are great things happening in and around Government Hill that I am glad to be a part of.

*Featured/top image: A home in Government Hill, San Antonio. Photo by Grant Ellis.

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9 thoughts on “Where I Live: Government Hill

  1. Y’all insist that the Camp Bullis Inn do the right thing and rehab the caliche block L-shape house on Grayson. Roof burned. They got SACS money but still have not fixed. CoSA needs to charge them with demolition by neglect. It’s a real shame. I know the stonemason who would repair it. That caliche cannot take many more years of neglect by owner;/

  2. Talk to CoSA. Talk to SACS. I’ve been aware of that house since late 80’s when I started searching for my caliche block L. It’s a damn shame. It was hanging in and then the fire which has exacerbated tremendously. We helped CoSA force the Beethoven long ago to rehab the burned out house on Alamo near Liberty Bar’s new location. You and your DHNA friends can do this. Let me know if I can help;)

  3. With that being said… Why do all the windows & doors of both refurbished homes featured have bars on them?

  4. Great read! I’ve followed some of the homes that have been revitalized in this area over the past couple years since this has been written and the results have been astonishing. The neighborhood is still a work in progress but the Architectural beauty is still preserved in most of these homes.

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