Where I Live: Denver Heights

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Giles Gonnsen is constructing a porch on the front of his Denver Heights home.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Giles Gonnsen is constructing a porch on the front of his Denver Heights home.

When I was assigned to Lackland Air Force Base in the summer of 2016, I asked my military friends where I should live. The unanimous response: the far Westside near SeaWorld. New homes! Good schools! I spent one day looking and quickly decided the area wasn’t for me. Those communities all required cars to get around, the traffic was bad, and what you were able to finally drive to were a bunch of strip malls.

That’s fine for some people, but as a young, single military officer, I wanted to be closer to the city’s action. I wanted to live in an area where I could leave my house and walk somewhere cool, a neighborhood that features local businesses, not chains. As a handyman, I also wanted an old home that I could fix up.

Almost immediately, I found Denver Heights on the near Eastside of San Antonio. It’s just a one-mile walk to Southtown, and a little more than that to get to downtown – perfect. The area has affordable homes and an active neighborhood association, and I read about a new development, Essex Modern City, coming soon. In an amazing bonus, Denver Heights is home to the one of the largest MLK Day celebrations in the United States. I bought a 1930s Craftsman home and broke out my power tools.

Some of the adults on my block don’t speak English, but that doesn’t bother me – I’m fluent in Spanish because of my job. My neighbors here are the best ones I’ve ever had – anywhere. I’m within a few blocks of a bakery, a Thai restaurant, and many taquerias. Pittman-Sullivan Park is a five-minute walk. In short, I love it here.

That’s not to say the neighborhood doesn’t have its problems. City Council District 2 has some of the worst-quality streets in San Antonio, and Denver Heights is no exception. The City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements Department rates streets on a scale from 1-100, and parts of my street received a 7. Large metal supports for transmission lines are set in people’s front yards; in more affluent parts of the city that would never happen.

Almost all bus stops around here are uncovered, the few bike lanes are in sore need of repainting, and there are no B-Cycle stations. (Perhaps students at St. Philip’s College would like to use bikes, the same way students at San Antonio College and UTSA downtown can?) The recently passed City bond is supposed to address some of these issues for District 2, and I hope it does. My street lacks curbs or sidewalks, but a cost estimate for installing sidewalks is being formulated.

The newly elected councilman, Cruz Shaw, is engaged and responsive, and he genuinely cares about his constituents.

In terms of amenities, the local H-E-B lacks many of the healthy food options found in other locations. Many of my friends don’t shop at the store on Houston Street and New Braunfels Avenue, because it simply doesn’t have the food they’re looking for. Yet for those without cars, this is the only option.

Some claim crime is an issue in the area, and my shed was burglarized when I left it unlocked. However, I have never felt unsafe going for a walk at night, which is something I do frequently.

Homes are being rapidly improved in the area, something that would be a positive development if the sales were to new homeowners looking to join the community. Some – myself included – are, but a quick search on Airbnb for “entire homes” in Denver Heights reveals close to 50 houses that have been bought, flipped, and turned into short-term rentals. The City is attempting to address the issue of Type 2 short-term rentals (homes that are not owner-occupied), but is only taking serious action in historic neighborhoods for now.

Giles Gonnsen walks across his self-constructed back porch at his Denver Heights home.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Giles Gonnsen walks across the back porch he built at his Denver Heights home.

Denver Heights is close to a lot of amenities. Want to take a yoga class? Walk to Southtown. Local brewery? Freetail is just under the highway. Library? In the heart of downtown. Coffee shop? Merit Roasters or White Elephant are a quick bike ride away. Movie theatre and shopping? The Shops at Rivercenter are close by. Farmer’s market? The Urban Farm Stand on Presa Street has a lot of great options, and is set to expand soon.

Many great local businesses are close, but few are within Denver Heights’ boundaries. For a neighborhood so full of history and so close to downtown, it is amazing how it gets overlooked time and time again.

I’m not saying all of these things should be in Denver Heights; I’m saying we need more amenities in Denver Heights.  And if they’re going to be just outside its borders, then the bike lanes, sidewalks, and bus stops need to be improved so residents can easily and safely get to them. If the City took care of these things, I’d venture to say even more businesses would come here on their own.

Ultimately, I love living in Denver Heights. I have seen a lot of improvements in the short time that I have been here. My hope for the future here is genuine, as is my concern for the longtime residents and the best neighbors I have ever had. Being in the military, I will eventually get stationed in some other part of the world, but this little community and the people in it will always be home for me. I am proud to be a part of this wonderful community called Denver Heights, and I am committed to doing my part to make it better.

Giles Gonnsen sits at the dining table in his Denver Heights home.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Giles Gonnsen sits at the dining table in his Denver Heights home.

24 thoughts on “Where I Live: Denver Heights

  1. Thank you for writing this article—a positive witness to us all. If we use our gifts as you do, all of our neighborhoods would improve, and not just with amenities.

  2. Thank you for writing such a great article about our neighborhood. I’ve lived here just a year now & love it. Yes there are some unpleasant issues but not any worse than anywhere else I’ve live. I’m very excited to see its growth & hope the city stay invested.
    I’ll keep my eye out for you as I often walk or bike around DH, Southtown &Downtown.
    Also, thank you for your military service.

  3. Fantastic!! Just 5 years ago, Dignowity Hill is what Denver Heights is now!! It’s wont take long! You’ve done a wonderful thing. Thank you!!

  4. Couldn’t agree with you more on just the HEB issue. We live in Highland Hills and love it. Its Not to far from you and often travel to the other side of town to purchase better food. Hopefully this will be corrected sooner rather than later for the betterment of our community.

  5. Thank you for your article. I live not far from you and I love it. I work downtown and love bring close to SOUTHTOWN and
    The Pearl. Yes. We need better sidewalks and a much better HEB!

  6. My husband and I have lived in the neighborhood for two years. I completely understand every point you have made with your article. We absolutely love our neighborhood and our neighbors. Most of our neighbors have been in the neighborhood for 40+ years. We’ve lived in several large cities such as Austin and Nashville and have never had better neighbors than what we have now. It would be exceptional to have more amenities in Denver height as I do believe it would increase businesses coming to this side of town. Thank you so much for your service And thank you so much for writing the article.

  7. I agree with just about everything you said. We have the same problem in my neighborhood and I have to travel across town to get my groceries because the HEB in my neighborhood lacks healthy options. HEB needs to put more effort into giving older, poorer, neighborhoods healthier options. ( District 5 )

    Thank you for your military service.

  8. Thanks for the glowing report on Denver Heights! We moved to the Deco District a year ago, and love being close to everything in a Hispanic neighborhood, with great neighbors, in a 90-year-old renovated house. We don’t know why more people don’t live close to downtown, where so much is happening.

  9. I enjoyed your article. My husband and I are so glad we live inside the 410 loop. We only wish we had the skills and physical stamina to make improvements on “this old house.”

  10. I don’t understand why this is news. A new white resident that has no problem buying a house living on the east side. Residents here have been demanding these changes for years and it’s only finally coming because of interested from more wealthy folks. I almost feel like rivard report is trying to partially play in the real estate game so that’s why they chose this. This is only going to bring unwanted attention to a community that has been forgotten by the city and now displaced by spill over from dignowity hill

    • Geez, thank you for saying this. The other comments made me pretty sad – knowing this community has always cared about their neighborhood and worked to see changes for themselves and their families (not new folks wanting to shift the demographic). Consciousness towards families that have lived in this neighborhood for generations is lacking in this commentary and I have to also suspect some ulterior motive from Rivard Report. Really? This seems like a tone deaf real estate ad.

  11. The best part is that he’s not bothered that his neighbors speak Spanish. I would probably be pretty bothered if my neighbors didn’t speak English. But this white guy here, he’s clearly pretty progressive!

    Or was it regressive?

    • Perhaps I was incorrect in my phrasing – I am excited to live in a multi-lingual area, and I’m fortunate enough to speak Spanish, so that I can communicate with my outstanding neighbors.

  12. Thank you Giles! Enjoyed reading about Denver Heights and your experience.

    Would you mind writing another article on where you live, but write down what you would recommend for Denver Heights from the SAISD, city, and county govts., if you were partnered with children? Maybe it wouldn’t be more than what your thoughtful and pleasing piece already mentions as needed or wanted. Don’t know if RivardReport.com will publish that (…please, Rivard Report? 🙂 ), but you could link us from here to, say, a blogging site, or Medium.com. Anyway, thank you again and good fortune to you, yours, and your neighbors [namaste]

  13. I’m glad you enjoy the neighborhood…but I’m extremely wary of the intent. Especially when you talk about the ease of doing stuff like taking ‘yoga classes’ and ‘trips to the local brewery’ and granola store shopping or whatever makes it unnervingly clear what the intention of this piece is and who you’re trying to attract. It sounds like you’re trying to get well-off people of a certain demographic who enjoy local organic fair trade whole foods to fill up homes in the neighborhood and take advantage of the currently low real estate prices in ‘the hood’ and to start replacing the current residents, until property prices become unaffordable to those quaint, lovely Spanish-speaking neighbors you have and they’re forced to move out of a neighborhood they could only live in because it fit their economic needs.

    Trying to fix the hood through programs is a good thing, trying to ‘fix it’ by filling it with Cupcake Shops and kicking out the current black & brown demographic to one a whole lot whiter & more financially well-off is very insidious.

    Please don’t try and make Denver Heights into an extended Southtown. That’s not what the Eastside needs. We don’t need to be another Austin.

    • Sorry you felt my intent was to change the demographics of the neighborhood – far from it. I’ll be at the neighborhood association meeting tomorrow, and happy to discuss ideas for the community.

  14. Awesome! I was born and raised here and it’s came along way!
    We are only growing and becoming better
    Thanks for sharing this neighbor!
    Denver heights is home!
    I’ have a new home coming on the market in the area and many more to come!
    Sell San Antonio and grow Denver heights one transaction at a time!

  15. I was a South San kid who spent a lot of time in Denver Heights at our grandparents’ house…925 Delaware St. at Hackberry St. …Herff Elementary
    was behind the houses. Those were great times…Hong Fong Store at the corner. A blue collar neighborhood where everyone got along…hellos and goodbyes up and down the street.
    Hispanic, Black, German, Chinese, and others all lived in the area. As in most cities, a major artery typically divides the classes. Homes west of Hackberry were large painted white homes with wrap around porches. They were Craftsman and Victorian for the most part.
    Let’s not make it a major area for regentrification. I’ve seen what Houston has done and it’s a mess….no zoning. No need for the affluent to push others out of their own living space.

  16. For those that want to discuss this with me, and other issues in our Denver Heights neighborhood, I’ll be at tomorrow’s Neighborhood Association meeting, 6 pm, at Tony G’s Soul Food. See you all there!

  17. Thank you for such an encouraging article. For all the negative feedback long time native San Antonian’s give regarding re-gentrification of older neighborhoods, I feel it is so short sided. I adore the architecture of Denver Heights, it is so sad that most of the wonderful homes have been neglected for so long that they require a great deal of time and money to be worth dealing with. If you truly LOVED this area as a local you would understand taking care of it is better than seeing a home literally fall down. Giles you are a hero (in more ways that one). I applaud your initiative. It takes money, time, and patience to restore a neglected home to livable standards. Your race, language, economic, education, etc. have NOTHING to do with enjoying the beauty of a wonderful old home in a downtrodden neighborhood. YES activism works!

  18. I had heard of Denver Heights but never lived there. I’m happy that folks want to restore these old homes and improve the neighborhood. I understand people sometimes are worried about gentrification, but sometimes you have to have new people coming in to show how special an area can and get them invovled.

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