Except for a few years spent away at school and then trying to establish a career, I have lived in Alamo Heights my entire life. My wife Suzi and I lived off of Austin Highway, then off of Oblate Drive for a while, but my mother’s house still seemed like home base. So much so that, when we had an opportunity to move into the house next door, we jumped at it.
My parents moved into the Cottage District of Alamo Heights when I was a few months old. About a year later, the house next door came up for sale. It had a better layout for my parent’s needs, so our family moved one door over. That was the house I grew up in and now live next door to. The neighbors down the hill don’t have to worry about me claiming any more homesteads, though. This may be the third consecutive house in a row that I’ve lived in on this street, but Suzi and I can’t envision going anywhere else.
My neighborhood was built in the 1930s through the 1950s. By the late ‘60s, the first round of families had mostly come and gone, and young children were scarce. I was lucky to have someone to play with just a street over. His house had a large back lot that led to the Alamo Heights Swimming Pool and the Judson Nature Trails. The nature trails offered hours of exploration for adventurous kids. Today they are manicured and underbrush has been cleared, but in the early ‘70s, they were dark, forbidding, and great for exploring.
Go off trail and you could make your way to the Olmos Soccer Fields or to the upriver side of the Olmos Dam. Another friend lived near Cathedral Park, home of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas. When we weren’t playing Frisbee on the beautiful, open hillside, our self-forged trails along Olmos Creek led us to mischief on the downriver side of the dam. This was when Olmos Drive went across the top of the dam. It was a completely isolated playground.
Today there are families all over the place. The graduating class at Alamo Heights High School has doubled since I attended. Our neighborhood of two- and three-bedroom cottages is appealing to young families looking for good schools.
Alamo Heights is fortunate compared to our neighboring cities of Olmos Park and Terrell Hills in that we have a thriving commercial corridor. Broadway Street, starting at the southern city limits at Burr Road and extending north to Austin Highway, is home to an array of shops and restaurants. Central Market has become a destination shopping experience for area foodies. Suzi is a great cook, and it is so convenient to have such a selection at our neighborhood grocery store.
Head past the amazing Dionicio Rodriguez faux bois bus stop and have a drink and bite to eat at Cappyccino’s. It is perfect for a couple’s night out. The Broadway 50 50 is the place to go for burgers and a beer, while Chela’s has finally graced us with a place for tacos, which I will put up there as some of the best in the San Antonio area.
We definitely have boutique shopping down pat. Sloan-Hall is a great little shop and has the added bonus of being housed in the iconic old Mobile gas station, which still has the neon Pegasus flying overhead. It also happens that it was built by my great-grandfather, Robert McGarraugh Sr.
For all its amenities, the most appealing aspect of Alamo Heights is the location. I suspect anyone who lives inside Loop 410 would say the same thing. It’s even more so for Alamo Heights. Loop 410, Interstate 35, and especially U.S. Highway 281 are just minutes away. Barring traffic or a Far West Side destination, I can be almost anywhere in San Antonio within 15 minutes.
We were one of the original suburbs, situated in the hills to catch the breeze. Our old house was built in 1929 and is perfectly situated to take advantage of the wind. We added air conditioning when we moved in but often don’t need to use it until well into May. With the windows open, the breeze flows through, and I can annoy friends by talking about electric bills well below $100.
Of course not everything is perfect. Just like many other areas in and around San Antonio, Alamo Heights immediately brings up a stereotype image. And like all stereotypes, that image is both correct and false at the same time. If you’re looking for pompous, you’ll surely find it. But there are so many more people doing good quietly than there are those who advertise it. Very often it’s that pleasant, unassuming neighbor you chat with from time to time and later find out is a behind-the-scenes mover and shaker.
As dynamic as our commercial corridor is, the landlords need to pay a little more attention to their properties. Some buildings have been well-maintained, a few have recently been spruced up, but too many need some TLC.
Some years ago, our city hall engaged the community and came up with a comprehensive plan for our city. Citizens, architects, engineers, and planners all came together and developed a vision for Alamo Heights’ future. Thankfully the City is beginning to implement parts of the plan. Broadway is being reclassified from a state highway and the Texas Department of Transportation is relinquishing control to the city. Community meetings have been announced to discuss a bond package to improve Broadway. Hopefully that, along with the City of San Antonio’s Broadway project, will inspire Alamo Heights government, citizens, and commercial landlords to work together and develop something special.
Today Broadway is technically walkable, but not pedestrian friendly. The road is wide and crosswalks are often too short. I regularly see an elderly person stranded on the median. Angled parking is awkward, and dangerous when backing out. I know improvements take time, but I’m anxious. The potential is so obvious. Off the commercial corridor, the nature trails building is finally being renovated. Improvements were just approved, and construction started to renovate the swimming pool. It had been closed for several years but an enterprising resident struck a deal with the city and brought it back to life. It is now a community hub once again. We can hear kids splashing and squealing from our front porch. The long blow from the lifeguard’s whistle signals my favorite 10 minutes of the hour: adult swim.
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Our neighborhoods are great for walking. There’s a reason so many running groups utilize our streets. Baby strollers and bicyclists abound. Whether you are looking for steep hills, moderate inclines, or the flats, Alamo Heights has something to offer everyone. I’ve been enjoying the front porch a little too much lately, relaxing and content to wave at the passersby.
My resolution this year is to get back out and enjoy all this community has to offer. The former columnist Roddy Stinson used to proclaim, “Alamo Heights, where the streets are paved with gold and the water tastes like cherry wine.” Not really, but we’ll accept the backhanded compliments. Alamo Heights is a special place, and I make no apologies for feeling privileged to live here.