Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Sixty years ago, the Nix Hospital welcomed me to San Antonio. Like many natives, I mourn the closing of the Nix Hospital, but as a downtown transplant, I am fascinated to watch what will evolve in that majestic building.
It took me 45 years, but, after exploring cities like Houston, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., I finally returned to my roots to reside on the San Antonio River.
Before my return to San Antonio in 2004, I lived for three and half years along the Potomac River in Washington. I immediately fell in love with the ebb and flow of changes in that urban space intertwined with nature and wanted to continue that experience in San Antonio.
My first downtown residence was at the Toltec Apartments, next door to what was then the Municipal Auditorium. My third floor “villa” overlooked the Maverick Carter House, what was to become the Radius Center and Pharm Table Café, El Tropicano Hotel, and all the action of the Municipal Auditorium.
In the early downtown days, to say it was dicey to wander about was an understatement. My car was broken into three times, Travis Park was a place to avoid, street lighting was sketchy, the Grand Hyatt was only a proposal, and the Museum Reach and Mission Reach were still concepts.
My return was to be for a year and then I was to venture off to another “real city” with more active urban spaces. Five years later, I was still at the Toltec but had a front-row seat to the early Tobin Center construction, the opening of the Museum Reach, the Travis Park transformation, improved downtown lighting, and a safer and more active downtown. I was ready to invest in my urban space.
Not much was available in 2009, but I was fortunate to be a first condominium owner at the Judson Candy Factory Lofts. My unit, which I now keep as a rental property, is in the Granieri Building, a two-story, century-old structure that was painstakingly renovated into eight units. While I was now south of downtown, my Flores Street balcony allowed a spectacular downtown view, and the rooftop offered a breathtaking 360-degree city view.
I was early in the Southtown evolution, but my eight years at the Judson allowed me to witness the first H-E-B downtown store, development of South Alamo, Lone Star, the Second Saturday Art Walk, Cevallos Street, an explosion of development at Blue Star Arts Gallery, and more and more housing bringing great downtown neighbors to downtown, Southtown, and the River Walk.
The more friends I made, the better my housing network developed. While the Toltec and the Judson had me just a block or two off the river, my goal was to live on the river’s edge. One evening after a round of margaritas at the beloved El Mirador, I was fortunate to get a lead on a condominium at La Cascada, the first residential high rise built on the river. Within a month, I was a new owner there.
My home now has a balcony overlooking the river, a view of downtown, and a constant watch of the action at the Alamodome and Tower of the Americas. I have lived through the Decade of Downtown and welcome all the urban explorers that are making our urban neighborhood a community of engaged residents.
My backyard is literally the San Antonio River. Thanks to the San Antonio River Authority and the City of San Antonio Parks Department, the San Antonio Police Department Bike Patrol, Park Police, and Centro San Antonio, I enjoy pristine landscaping, a healthy ecosystem, and a safe neighborhood. Certainly, it is not perfect, but more times than not, downtown is the safest, friendliest neighborhood I know. I treasure the comments from friends in upper zip codes after a visit to The Saga or a stroll from my place to a nearby restaurant about possibly moving downtown.
Most days I am out for my walk or bike ride at 5:30 a.m. and back home to watch the sunrise on my balcony with a cup of coffee. We are a dedicated group traveling the River Walk before dawn, and there are plenty of neighbors and tourists taking in the quiet of the predawn river to keep us safe.
My mornings have involved a warning to watch out for the tarantula crawling along a wall near the Chamber of Commerce (it was huge!); nearly running into a family of foxes crossing King William Street; ducking an early morning owl; and watching a raccoon scamper up the steps of the River Walk to street level. If my river exercise happens later in the day, I am greeted by a variety of hawks, turtles, snakes, and birds – we even have a wandering rooster patrolling the area.
Our downtown still has growing pains to deal with as we navigate the scooters, street closures for constructions, and the ever-elusive parking space. We need an improved public transportation system, a greater variety of corporate business in residence, and continued support for our public spaces.
Within the next few months, construction will start on four different residential housing buildings within blocks of my address and La Villita will expand with three new restaurants. Watching Hemisfair Park, Main Plaza, and other open spaces evolve energizes our neighborhood.
To think I have lived downtown for 15 years seems impossible. Time sped by as all these changes evolved, and I am so grateful to be a participant in the downtown development. To witness the transformation in my hometown is a nonstop adventure.