Where I Live: Dreamhill Estates

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Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Winnie Dominguez walks down the path in front of her home.

As my husband Joe and I made the turn off of Babcock Road, I entered a hidden oasis in the middle of the Medical Center. Oak trees, hundreds of years old, shaded the streets, deer grazed in the bamboo stands and neighbors waved to us as they walked their dogs. That was my introduction to Dreamhill Estates.

Joe found Dreamhill Estates while running with some friends. While the group always met at the Medical Center, they usually pulled off the track in short order, to run in Dreamhill Estates, where its oaks provided relief from the scorching sun in the dog days of summer. People were friendly and cars were scarce. At the time, Joe and I were renting a house in a nearby neighborhood where we were more acquainted with our neighbor’s cat than with the neighbor himself. By contrast, Dreamhill was a real neighborhood.

We looked for over a year at every house that came on the market in Dreamhill Estates – which were few and far between. A lot of people wanted to live in Dreamhill Estates, including families who had lived here for three generations. Then one day, Joe came home from a run and said he had seen a sign on a house that was for sale by owner.

The following day we went to look at the house and my breath left me as we drove into the driveway and saw the 200-year-old oak tree that dominated the back yard. After I composed myself, we went inside to find a standard 1950s house, with hardwood floors and a pink tile bathroom. The house did not exactly knock my socks off, but I was excited about the possibilities, nonetheless. After all, we were not just buying the house, we were buying the neighborhood. When the owner accepted our offer, I almost fainted. We were going to be Dreamhill Estates homeowners!

After a month of repainting, pulling up and replacing three generations of contact paper in the kitchen cabinets and finding an appropriate shower curtain to compliment the pink bathroom, we finally moved in. Next stop, Home Depot for flowers and a water hose with a drinking fountain attachment for the runners in the neighborhood. We found the appropriate attachment, purchased a huge flat of pansies and spent that first Saturday planting them in the front beds, only to wake up on Sunday to find they had all been eaten by the deer! Lesson learned…over and over again, as it turned out.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Winnie Dominguez’s bathroom is covered in pink tile.

On that first weekend, we also had a visit from one of our neighbors, welcoming us with personal delivery of a neighborhood phone directory, some tasty treats, and a reminder to be sure to join the neighbors for the next neighborhood event. Yes! We had made the right decision (except for the pansies).

Now that I have lived in this funky old house (which still has the pink tile bathroom) for 30 years, I continue to know that our decision was the right one. While the neighborhood, its beautiful trees, diverse and abundant wildlife, and varied house designs continue to make me proud of our neighborhood, it is having real neighbors that is the key reason for our continued satisfaction.

Dreamhill neighbors are joined together by our relationships with one another, not by a set of covenants created by faceless developers. Our neighborhood association is voluntary, but most neighbors are members. Our minimal dues are used by the neighborhood association to put on the events that have come to define our neighborhood – an annual Easter Egg Hunt, Fourth of July Parade, Halloween Hayride, and Christmas Party – and, until recently, to pay the utilities at the neighborhood clubhouse.

Until recently a ramshackle clubhouse, which was built by neighborhood volunteers between 1948 and 1950, had been the anchor of the neighborhood. In the last few years, we made the tough decision to tear it down to make way for a new meeting place, which we did not yet have the money to build. Since that time, we have continued to raise money for a new Neighborhood Resource Center which will not only provide a new clubhouse for Dreamhill Estates, but will also provide intergenerational educational opportunities and a meeting place for San Antonio groups outside the neighborhood.

Like the neighbors in 1949, the current neighbors have stepped up to volunteer, lending their time, treasure, and talent to the herculean effort. After years of annual pledge payments, conducting endless impromptu raffles and well-planned auctions, selling commemorative tiles, and participating in the Big Give and Birdies for Charity. And after fighting permit denials, satisfying byzantine platting requirements, and weathering cost escalations, we are finally ready to break ground (even though we will have to continue to raise money for the interior build out).

While cleaning out a closet in the clubhouse, we discovered a notebook containing the minutes of the neighborhood association beginning with the first meeting, on Aug. 21, 1946.  The acting secretary reported in the minutes that “22 property owners of Dreamhill Estates met at the home of Mr. George Pierce for the purpose of organizing an association.”

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Winnie Dominguez reads through a notebook containing the minutes of the Dreamhill Estates Neighborhood Association beginning with the first meeting on Aug. 21, 1946.

Reading the minutes through 1956, we observed an association of neighbors solving the challenges of providing water, garbage collection, mail delivery, and fire protection to their tiny rural neighborhood and watched as they dealt with the same issues we grapple with – plans for construction of the neighborhood clubhouse and fundraising activities like its annual Fall Fair, which one neighbor described as “not just a peanut affair,” prompting me to laugh out loud.

I realized, after experiencing their journey through these minutes, that I live in Dreamhill Estates not just because of the efforts of our current neighbors, but also these past participants in the history of Dreamhill Estates. All of these folks have made it possible for us to participate in a neighborhood where neighbors still volunteer their time, still look out for one another, and still work hard to maintain the traditions that harken back to a less complicated time. I am part of that legacy and proud to be a Dreamhill Estates neighbor.

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