Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Denver Heights, one of San Antonio’s oldest neighborhoods, flourished around the turn of the 20th century with churches, small businesses, and the arts.
While the neighborhood still remains a tight-knit community, in recent years it has become a blend of well-maintained homes, abandoned houses, aging structures in disrepair, empty lots, and small industrial businesses.
Soon, however, 18 homes on the 100 and 200 blocks of Harding Place will be fixed up by an army of volunteers on May 13 as part of Rehabarama, a new effort led by the City’s Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) to observe Preservation Month in May.
More than 100 people – residents, local contractors, and students – have signed on to carry out a range of improvements on the mostly decades-old houses. Rehabarama is the latest initiative in the City’s efforts to aid longtime homeowners who, due to income, age, or disability, have trouble maintaining their houses, especially in older, inner-city neighborhoods.
Communities like Denver Heights have, for the most part, languished because of a lack of significant, sustained economic investment from the public and private sectors, said architect and Denver Heights Neighborhood Association member Alan Neff.
“I think [Rehabarama] is good. It’s addressing a need. This community has gone decades without investment,” Neff said. “There haven’t been programs like this here. They seem to be happening more in places like King William or Dignowity Hill. It’s good to see some community investment here.”
Rehabarama will serve several purposes, according to OHP Director Shanon Shea Miller.
“It’s one day of community service,” she said. “This will really showcase the different kinds of work the volunteers can do in one location.”
Miller described Rehabarama as an avenue for members of The Rehabber Club, which the OHP helped create in 2016. The club is building and nurturing a network of do-it-yourself repairers, craftspeople, contractors, historic homeowners, realtors, and other residents interested in helping to revitalize local, historic, and preservable structures.
In addition to networking, Rehabber Club members undergo training and certification. During Rehabarama, “club members will get to [work ] on historic homes — porch repair, siding, window repair, as well as painting and scraping,” Miller said.
Denver Heights was chosen for the inaugural rehabbing event because the neighborhood has not seen much in the way of organized home rehabilitation efforts, Miller said. The neighborhood, located near an existing historic district Knob Hill, has potential to become a formal City historic district in the future, she added.
Some Denver Heights residents have expressed interest in becoming a historic district in the past. However, no one from the neighborhood has recently petitioned to begin a process toward designation.
For Miller, the people and structures around Denver Heights collectively provide a rich heritage worth protecting. The City Council on May 4 approved historic landmark designation for 26 churches in the Eastside, including some in Denver Heights.
“[Denver Heights] is a great example of the different types of homes and buildings that exist in the area,” Miller said.
Rehabarama has received financial and in-kind support from numerous local businesses, individuals, and organizations, such as Guido Building Materials, developer David Adelman, and Frost Bank. Every little bit of help from the public and private sectors toward revitalization is a good thing, Neff said.
“There’s lots of synergy about the location,” Miller said.
Despite being located close to downtown, the neighborhood’s economy has seen little progress from activities around the Alamodome or St. Paul’s Square. The same goes for the Eastside Promise Zone, an economic revitalization program, Neff said.
Neff hopes initiatives such as Rehabarama and S.T.A.R. (Students Together Achieving Revitalization) – a partnership among OHP, UTSA College of Architecture, San Antonio College, the Historic Preservation Association (HPA), and local contractors – help to preserve neighborhoods against gentrification. He said speculation among developers has been increasing around the area.
“People need to be cognizant of the fact that improving your home can lead to us having a clean, safe, walkable neighborhood,” Neff explained, “but we don’t want to have a clean, safe, walkable neighborhood just so it can be attractive to investors. It’s a double-edged sword.”
Home-rehab aid programs offered by the City, Miller said, are meant to help preserve neighborhoods and help homeowners stay in place. With the S.T.A.R. program, volunteers do minor exterior home repairs and maintenance to eligible homeowners in local historic districts.
More than 100 local homes, including some in Knob Hill and Dignowity Hill, have been improved through S.T.A.R., Miller said. The City has similar initiatives for disadvantaged homeowners, such as Councilman Roberto Treviño’s Under 1 Roof program. The pilot program helps eligible homeowners in select District 1 neighborhoods to repair their worn or damaged roof with high-reflective shingles, resulting in lower energy costs.
In the grand scheme of things, fixing up 18 homes during Rehabarama may not seem like much, Miller said, but such assistance programs can foster community spirit and show struggling homeowners that they are not alone.
“Things may seem daunting, but it’s amazing what can happen when you get so many volunteers together,” Miller said. “[Rehabarama] doesn’t fix everything, but it’s a start to show the homeowner what else needs to be done.
“It shows hope is out there.”
Sign-in for Rehabarama volunteers, which will include refreshments, will be from 7:45-8:15 a.m. at Pittman-Sullivan Park. The park also will host a free, family-friendly block party for volunteers and the community at large after the day’s work is done.
The block party, which is an official event of Preservation Month, will include food, music, a screening of the movie “Cars,” and other child-friendly activities.
Those interested in volunteering at Rehabarama can email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.