Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
When we bought our house in 1997, we had already lived in the neighborhood for nine years – first in a duplex and later in an apartment. We moved here when our first child was almost four because it was near a playground of a nice school. Since then, the area has gotten even better. We live in the Cottage District of Alamo Heights.
When this section of San Antonio was built, in the 1920s, it was at the end of the streetcar line. Just off Broadway Street, halfway between downtown and the north segment of Loop 410, the location is still very convenient. We can get just about anywhere we want to go in 15 minutes. The airport is two exits away, and when I travel, my husband doesn’t leave the house to pick me up until I let him know the plane has landed. The zoo, botanical gardens, the McNay, the Witte, and the DoSeum are all just a five-minute drive away, and we can get downtown along multiple routes in ten minutes or less.
Around the corner from our house is a community garden with picnic tables, a tree swing, and a Little Free Library. Down the street Cambridge Elementary School just remodeled its playground. In the other direction, we can walk to a dog park, baseball fields where all of our children played, nature trails with beginner bird-watching walks once a month, a city park with a short stretch of the Howard Peak Greenway Trail, and the community swimming pool (the snack bar serves wine).
If you walk toward Broadway, you will find Local Coffee, Bird Bakery, Bike World, and a variety of small shops and offices. In fact, one building was built by my grandfather. Barry Framing used to be Alamo Heights Dry Cleaners, which he owned and operated from the 1930s to the 1980s.
Need groceries? Five H-E-Bs are within a ten-minute drive, plus Central Market, Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Target, Walmart, and at least three farmers’ markets. But there’s no need to go to the store if you can just text your neighbor to ask for a couple of eggs, which happens all the time. A tank of gas lasts us two weeks.
When I come home from work each day, I have to take the corner slowly, because, more often than not, there are kids (and adults) playing in the street. We have legendary block parties. National Night Out used to be huge (the switch to October from August took some wind out of our sails). Halloween is epic. Several blocks get barricaded to vehicles so pedestrians can be safe. People set up haunted houses in their yards and bring food trucks and paleta carts. Once I had my son’s jazz quartet play live music from our front porch. There are so many trick-or-treaters everyone just sits outside and gives away candy while enjoying all the costumes. Few doorbells need ringing.
This Christmas we had a block party, too. A neighbor arranged for Santa to arrive – in a white convertible – and Beethoven Maennerchor singers (one of the neighbors is a member) caroled while everyone enjoyed hot cocoa and homemade cookies. We decorate our houses for Fiesta, and welcome the Pooch Parade every April.
There are many stereotypes about Alamo Heights, but we are more diverse than you might expect. While some areas of Alamo Heights have million-dollar homes, the Cottage District is more modest, with smaller homes closer together. The houses are expensive per square foot, yes, but we make trade-offs. Our house has a single bathroom, no garage and no closets.
I’ve met so many neighbors in my 32 years raising three children here. Everyone is accepting of others. You will cross paths with some wealthy people – we didn’t find out our kid’s little league coach was the CEO of a major corporation until the end-of-season party – but I’ve never felt pressure to drive a fancy car or carry an expensive handbag.
Living in a 98-year-old house can be challenging. It is not very energy efficient. Keeping up with repairs can be daunting. The proximity of neighbors means less privacy than in newer neighborhoods. Being centrally-located is a plus, however we experience our share of noise from highways, trains, planes, helicopters, and emergency sirens. There are no bike lanes on the streets, and sidewalks are inconsistent. Animals like skunks, possums, raccoons, and even coyotes sometimes wander away from the nature areas and into our yards.
But if I have an idea for improving my neighborhood, I can make it happen. There is no HOA, and no Historic district rules, but having our own city government means we can have an impact. Last year I sent a message through social media and the assistant city manager for Alamo Heights called me back the same day. We talked for 20 minutes about plans for a more walkable, bike-friendly infrastructure. My neighbors set up the dog park and the community garden on their own, with the City’s blessing and support. I have spoken at City Hall meetings several times, about fluoride in water, National Night Out plans, and architectural guidelines for planned construction that would replace historic homes.
We moved here, initially, for the schools, and were not disappointed. It has been a wonderful place to raise a family, to make life-long friends, and to enjoy a healthy, active lifestyle. Now that our children are grown, we thought of moving. But we like it here. Our four grandchildren definitely enjoy spending time here. Plus, the house is finally the right size for our family of two.