“You know that’s the Victoria Courts, right?”
So goes the common refrain when I tell people that I live at the apartments at U.S. 281 and Cesar Chavez Boulevard, across from the Institute of Texan Cultures.
I'll then explain that the Victoria Courts, the infamous prison-like Section 8 housing, was closed and demolished in 1999, and I have been living in the new development project area Victoria Commons at HemisView Village for three years. I love it – and I’ve never felt safer.
Just a hop from Lavaca (Victoria Commons is technically within the Lavaca neighborhood boundaries), a skip from Southtown, and a jump from King William, HemisView Village is a mixed-income apartment complex. The Village is made up of three interconnected buildings and a fourth separated building, a pool, a gym, trash chutes instead of dumpsters, and gated/attached parking garages. The apartments are only accessible with security passes and a remote for the garage.
Open-ended hallways with a few public balconies keep the common areas light, airy and cool. Many apartments, mine included, look in on U-shaped shared courtyards protected by a coded lock from the public sidewalk by Cesar Chavez.
And, yes, it was a transition for all of us when Durango Boulevard became Cesar Chavez.
About 100 of the units are public housing that are leased through the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA). Many multi-generational families with several children live at the complex. I pay market-rate for my unit, the smallest of the one-bedroom options, and while it is comparatively affordable, I am still a young professional paying more than the recommended 30% of my income to live there – especially after rent has risen in my three-year stay.
I moved in the summer of 2010 when the buildings were just being completed and HemisView was offering a good deal on rent. The complex is kept quite clean, the staff are responsive, and it’s rarely loud (caveat: I don’t live by the pool, which is small and constantly full of kids. We really need to implement Adult Swim.)
The unit was definitely a good deal and I also have had the rare opportunity to be the first tenant in my apartment – I even got to choose my location: second floor, convenient access to garage and laundry, mid-way between both street entrances, and a balcony glimpse of the Alamodome at no extra charge (compared to the apartments with a view of the Tower of the Americas and the rest of the San Antonio skyline). My balcony looks on to Cesar Chavez Boulevard with a glimpse of I-37 overpass.
They say in business the three things that matter for success are: location, location, location. HemisView has got it going on. The Friendly Spot is less than one mile (0.6 miles). Blue Star art/living/retail complex is about one mile. That’s between three-and-a-half and six blocks away, using the average city block in New York City as a standard.
The distance is quick and easy, something I remind my friends to try to convince them to walk when we go out for a night on the town. The comparison rarely works with my car-centric San Antonio friends.
Living in close proximity to the heartbeat of the city has its ups and downs. The convention center, La Villita, the Alamodome, and our eponymous Hemisfair Park, I often get a firsthand glimpse of major city events – each of which has its own characteristics and impose on the neighborhood in different ways.
The Rock’n’Roll Marathon is an impressive sight to behold, but good luck getting anywhere during it. Fiesta, of course, is just fun – as long as you’re the one stumbling home at 1 a.m. – not the one trying to go to bed early for work. A sighting of the El Rey Feo, the "second Fiesta King," cavalcade of black SUVs zooming noisily down East Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard is also worthwhile, just like spotting quiet lines of horse-drawn Cinderella carriages making their way back to their stables after an evening of showing visitors the city.
However, the constant sound of hundreds of buses, cars and even limos backing up Cesar Chavez for hours before and after the recent George Strait concert was just plain annoying. The cannon blasts and drumlines at the Texas Folklife Festival and AsianFest at 10 a.m. can be a bit much.
More fun, though just as startling, was a first-rate fireworks show from an Instituto Cultural de Mexico event in January. Nothing like sitting down for dinner and hearing sonic booms rattling your walls, wondering if you need to look for a bomb shelter. The impromptu neighborhood gathering was a fun way to spend a Tuesday evening, especially since I’d spent New Year’s Eve out-of-town and missed out on the amazing view from the roof of our parking garage. I suspect, however, that if I had small children in need of bedtime by 9 p.m., I’d have a different opinion.
The biggest imposition is road construction – which, when compared to struggles of some neighbors and other neighborhoods, isn't really that bad.
Access to the neighborhood is restricted where Labor and Indianola both meet Cesar Chavez. The “Closed to Through Traffic” barriers work decently at keeping out unwanted traffic, but I always worry I’ll accidently knock one over when I drive through the narrow opening. I still see streams of people who clearly don’t live here walking from the apartment area over to whatever the event is.
Security is highest during NIOSA, and I’ve been stopped by officers while driving taking a forced detour from S. Alamo Street down Barrera Street to my home. (Not quite as sexy as the time my friend was stopped by Secret Service in Hyde Park because she lives so close to President Obama’s Chicago home, but still...) During peak event times, the sight of orange road barriers blocking the turn into my neighborhood becomes the bane of my existence.
Overall, easy access to Southtown and downtown without the hassle of having to manage a house and property is one of the best aspects of living at HemisView. Living on the second floor of an essentially "gated" community provides a protective bubble for a young woman living on her own in the middle of an urban carnival.
Jill Reddish is a communications professional who works for Texas A&M University-San Antonio and with the San Antonio chapter of the American Marketing Association. A graduate of Trinity University, she is an advocate for San Antonio’s Southtown neighborhood(s) and Texas beer, and will choose a book over a movie any time. Follow her on Twitter at @MyJillieBean.