Where I Live: Highland Park

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Gregory Ripps walks in front of his home in Highland Park.

Gregory Ripps walks in front of his home in Highland Park.

“The only way I’d want to move is if we could take all our neighbors with us.”

I didn’t say that, but my mother said it one day when a possible route for Interstate Highway 37 threatened to force my parents to sell our home. As it turned out, the expressway route missed us by one block. (Most of the neighborhood is tucked just south of IH 10 and east of IH 37, split almost evenly by South New Braunfels Avenue.)

Mom had lived in a number of houses as a child and young adult. After she married Dad in 1949 and they moved into Highland Park, she planned never to move again. I, on the other hand, had different ideas when I was attending Trinity University as a junior. I would move to Alamo Heights, teach at the junior high school, and contribute stories to the North San Antonio Times.

Courtesy / Gregory Ripps

Gregory Ripps' mother watches him swing on a rope in the backyard.

My life took an unexpected turn when Mom died unexpectedly. The attention our neighbors paid to me, Dad, and Mom’s mother made me realize how lucky I was to live in Highland Park. After my grandmother moved into a nursing home and Dad remarried two years later, he generously left me with the house. I expected I would live elsewhere and this was the house I would return to on visits, but now it was mine. I never planned to keep the house indefinitely, but I never had a good enough reason to move elsewhere – at least not for long.

To be sure, Highland Park was a great place to grow up in the 1950s and 1960s. We knew all the neighbors on two blocks of our street, and half the neighbors on the street behind us. When I went out to play with any of the six children who lived nearby, Mom’s frequent reminder was simply, “Stay on the block.” All the neighbors kept an eye on us, and reports of our mischief or injuries often preceded us home.

The Highland Park neighborhood is nestled just Southeast of downtown San Antonio.

Courtesy / Google Maps

The Highland Park neighborhood is nestled just Southeast of downtown San Antonio.

It sounds like an old situation comedy, but our neighbors were like family. My parents shared a gate with one neighbor so they could access each other’s back doors. They weren’t the only ones; two other neighbor families purposely moved to adjoining houses. If we got bored, we’d simply walk up the street where we’d find someone to visit.

We didn’t lock doors or garages, and we left our bikes in the front yard or on the porch. We rarely went to a park; our backyards were full of things to climb up, swing on, jump off, and stretch our imaginations.

Of course, we could get permission to go off the block. We could walk to a corner ice house or to a little “mom and pop” store.  Later, we would walk to McCreless Mall. When we were in high school, we could take the bus downtown.

Gregory Ripps takes a walk on his street in Highland Park.

Gregory Ripps takes a walk on his street in Highland Park.

As I grew older, my circle of Highland Park acquaintances grew. Having an aunt, uncle, and two cousins on the other side of Highland Park didn’t hurt. (My cousins returned to live in Highland Park, by the way.) I began attending forums and hearings in my 20s. People would ask me where I was from. At first I told them the South Side, but that wasn’t quite enough. I began telling people I was from Highland Park. If they didn’t know where that was, I would tell them, and I became pleased to tell them. I often said it was the part of the big city with a small-town atmosphere.

Things change, but some of my older neighbors were still around when I married and my wife moved in with me. A lady who lived on the corner was the first neighbor to see me after I was born; 44 years later, she was the first neighbor to see my daughter after she was born. We moved to another city for new jobs when my daughter was 3, but after an unhappy year, I accepted another job back in San Antonio, and we moved back into the old house. Sadly, other nearby neighbors have passed away since then, but we have made new friends, and one of my wife’s best friends lives right across the street.

New neighbors weren’t always friendly. We suspected gang activity in two houses on our block in the late 1990s. Young people from these houses seemed to walk constantly between the two; at night, they would walk around, as if patrolling, walking through the alleys as much as the streets and sidewalks. One or two would stand near the street with a cell phone and have quick transactions with people driving by at all hours. Graffiti and other vandalism became common. But the neighbors took action. We watched out for each other and kept each other informed, calling each other daily. We also regularly called the police and other law-enforcement agencies about every curious happening. Then, one day, both houses were empty. We could sleep in peace again. It had been a worrisome time, but the trouble brought us closer together.

Most homes in Highland Park are single-family homes. A number of them have been passed from generation to generation. There are renters, of course, but people of modest means can find excellent values here. (I know a good-condition three-bedroom house that sold for $80,000 just a few years ago.) It’s not a bad place to own a first home, but I hope people stay. We like having yards for children to play in, porches for sitting on warm evenings, and garages for almost anything. Some houses are historically unique; some houses are, well, nothing special, but they are our houses. We don’t ask for much, except for fixed-up streets, sidewalks, and drains … and to be left alone by criminal elements, greedy developers, and urban planners who think they know what is best for us. We can be very neighborly and highly independent at the same time.

My home may not be in a “preferred” neighborhood, and it may not be much to look at, but I would rather have a humble house than a $300,000 home I intend to sell before I ever pay for it. I would rather know neighbors and have neighbors know me than live in “splendid isolation.”

Maybe Highland Park isn’t unique, but it is my neighborhood.

A scanned print shows 211 Astor Street as it appeared shortly after Gregory Ripps' parents bought the house in 1949 (left) and Gregory Ripps stands in front of his home today (right).

(From left) Courtesy / Gregory Ripps and Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

A scanned print shows Gregory Ripps' home as it appeared shortly after his parents bought the house in 1949 (left). He stands in front of his home today (right).

28 thoughts on “Where I Live: Highland Park

  1. I enjoy reading these “where I live” articles. One suggestion. Include a city map that indicates where the neighborhood is. I know where McCreless Mall is because I grew up in Eastwood Village (find THAT on a city map) but others may not.

    • Great reading about Gregg’s upbringing in a SE side neighborhood like I did. Brings back memories for me during late 60’s. By the way my neighborhood was Eastwood Village (Jarbet Street), so I do know where that is without a map!

  2. Mr Ripps expresses what most of us who live in Highland Park feel very well. I know my neighbors, they are good people. We have laugbed together, cried together, and shared our lives together. Nice article

  3. This series is one of my favorite things about the Rivard Report. I love getting to peek into different neighborhoods around town, including “regular” neighborhoods like Highland Park. Thank you for this article!

  4. I thought your name sounded familiar. I went and dug out an old newspaper clipping from the North SA Times that my mother had saved of a picture of me and my two grade school friends ‘performing’ in the St. Peters talent show, March 1973. And the photo byline is by Greg Ripps.

  5. I bought my first home as a single mother of three in the 1200 block of McKinley. My brother had a home on Kayton, my mom on Greer and my sister on Astor. I love Highland Park and still own homes there. I passed that home to my stepson whi lives there.

  6. Thank you for your story. I drive that area a lot in my work for the SAISD Foundation and my visits to the schools there. I think often about how welcoming the front porches are and how the designs of the homes encourage community. (Few fences and few garages like the home I grew up in in Virginia). The neighborhood makes me think of my childhood, simpler times and true affordability. It also makes me wonder when and why much bigger homes in closed off, gated neighborhoods with 6ft fences, tightly closed gararges and no front porches became the ideal home in San Antonio. Recently, I have been in conversations with more than a few people who have inherited their family homes in older neighborhoods, moved back in, and are deciding to stay and possible raise their own family there. Could be an exciting trend for our city…

  7. Very well said Mr. Ripps. That’s how I feel about my neighborhood, although not in Highland Park. Developers now want to come in into older neighborhoods and build apartments and call it affordable housing, mixed income and who knows what else. Affordable housing should be in every section in the city of San Antonio.

  8. Mr. Ripps, thanks for the memories.
    I also grew up in Highland Park, over east of New Braunfels Avenue and, judging by the pictures you posted, preceded you there by a few years. We referred to your location as “the new” or “postwar” area (yes, readers, WWII), but luckily you still had the same freedom roaming the neighborhood as we did as kids. Except for school time, it was up early for us; out of the house after breakfast; roam, on foot or by bike; maybe go to somebody’s house and make something, a skateboard out of discarded roller skates or a slingshot from old inner-tubes; roam; stop in at somebody’s house for a quick lunch, maybe reading some magazines or comic books while there; out again; get up a game in the street or on a vacant lot if someone had a ball; roam the alleys; maybe build something, a treehouse or clubhouse, with old boards and tin spotted behind a garage; maybe snack on pecans or Japanese plumbs while over the fence; then end the day playing kick-the-can or hide-and-seek out in the street in front until dark and a mother’s Suppertime call was replaced by a father’s.
    Sounds idyllic, and was, and sounds impossible now, and usually is. Back then only two mothers on our block had outside jobs. They were busy all day, but with open doors and windows it was hard for us to get out of eyesight or earshot for long. Mothers knew the people on the block, and the other kids’ mothers, and kept their numbers by the phone. Now, with most mothers working, houses closed up to keep cool, and sporadic contact with neighbors, there is no way kids can roam, jump fences to grab a snack, or go up to a house and drink from the hose. They would be arrested, and their parents contacted by Protective Services. And of course no way to play in the street. Traffic was was light then; few families had more than one car, some none. And people were used to pedestrians, and kids out playing. Now drivers are in a hurry, and even if kids were foolish enough to try to play in the street, they couldn’t because so many cars are parked there.
    Though it may sound like it, this was not intended to be a lamentation of times lost. Many things are better now, if some worse; I fully realize that. As our noted philosopher Tim Duncan likes to say, “It is what it is.” I’m just glad to hear that some of the longer term residents of Highland Park like Gregory Ripps are coming together with newer residents to try to maintain a close-knit community that avoids some of the isolation and protectionism of many of our newer upscale developments.

  9. Readers, I read my posting and realized I didn’t express my thoughts as well as I like, so here is an edited re-write, with an expanded conclusion:

    Mr. Ripps, thanks for the memories.

    I also grew up in Highland Park, over east of New Braunfels Avenue and, judging by the pictures you posted, preceded you there by a few years. We referred to your location as the “new” or “postwar” area (yes, readers, WWII), but luckily you could still freely roam the neighborhood like we did as kids.

    Except for school time, it was up early for us, eat breakfast, and out of the house; then just roam, on foot or by bike; maybe go to somebody’s house and make something, a skateboard out of old roller skates or a slingshot from used inner-tubes; roam some more, then stop in at somebody’s house for a quick lunch, and maybe read some magazines or comic books while there; out again, and if somebody has a ball, get up a game, in the street or on a vacant lot somewhere; then roam the alleys, and maybe start building a treehouse or secret clubhouse with old boards and tin spotted behind a garage; then end the day playing kick-the-can or hide-and-seek out in the street in front until dark, or when one of our mother’s Suppertime calls was finally replaced by a father’s sterner tone.

    Sounds idyllic, and was, and sounds impossible now, and usually is. Back then only two of my friends’ mothers had outside jobs; the other mothers on our block were at home. They were busy all day, but with open doors and windows it was hard for us to get out of eyesight or earshot for long. They knew the people on the block, and the other kids’ mothers, and kept their numbers by the phone. Now, with both parents working to keep up, houses closed tight to keep cool, and sporadic contact with neighbors, there is no way kids can roam free, jump neighbors’ fences to grab a handful of pecans or Japanese plumbs, or go up to a house and drink from the hose. They would risk arrest, or worse, and their parents would likely be contacted by Protective Services. And for sure, no way to play in the street. Traffic was light then; few families had more than one car, some none. And in residential areas, drivers were used to yielding to pedestrians and kids on bikes or out playing. Now drivers are in a big hurry, or distracted, and even if kids were foolish enough to try to play in the street, they couldn’t because of all the cars having to park there, the driveways already full.

    Reading back over this, it sounds like more of a lamentation of times lost than I intended. Admittedly, I do think it a loss that the “maybe’s” are now long gone from most kids’ lives, with parents’ concerns having narrowed children’s’ choices down into safe, carefully structured multiple choices. And overall, I think our city’s trajectory of change since my halcyon childhood days has been uneven, with negative downswings seeming to follow every upward progression. But things do change, the times have changed, and I must admit that many things are better now, or at least easier, which I do appreciate.

    And as Tim Duncan likes to say, “It is what it is.” I’m just glad to hear that some longer-term residents of Highland Park like Gregory Ripps are coming together with newer residents to try to maintain a friendly, close-knit community that avoids some of the extreme isolation and protectionism of many of our newer upscale developments.

    • I enjoyed reading your not-too-dissimilar experiences. Yes, some things are impossible for kids to replicate today. One thing comes immediately to mind. We’d run around the block, playing army with some rather real-looking toy guns (no red barrel ends). Today
      we would be arrested … or shot in a drive-by! Regardless, I hope we can maintain some of that old sense of community.

  10. I love buying homes in Highland Park! My partner and I purchase homes, typically from folks who are in a distressed situation like divorce, abandonment, probate, bankruptcy, etc. and strive to make the home as it was when it was built. Occasionally, we’ll add a bathroom if space allows. Our goal is to economically revitalize San Antonio communities and embark on win-win situations for buyers and sellers. We’d be happy to meet with anyone looking to sell their home in Highland Park!

  11. Rubin, it’s people like you that are driving up the taxes in Highland Park! I have been looking at homes in HP. They are marketed as newly updated only to find it to be not only a bad remodeling job but also overly priced. Stop up-taxing homes in friendly neighborhoods do your bidding where people want a pricey house. Give buyers like Gregory and others have an opportunity to buy a home in HP to call home. His story reminds me of my childhood on the south side, same story but different location. I did look to buy a home in HP only to discover that Rubin & his Partner(are others) already did a makeover and now the home is overpriced to match the high taxes. I am still looking who knows where I will end up but I’ll have to beat flippers to the punch …

  12. Great neighborhood Highland Park. I started out life on Fair, started my family on Bailey, and now over 20 years on Greer with two oaks, two pecans, and wish I had sunlight enough for solar panels. We have great neighbors, several relatives within blocks, and live not far from our church and the church where I was baptized. Now working downtown, it’s only a 10 minute drive. SA is home!

  13. Thanks for sharing your story, Gregory. Like others have mentioned, I really enjoy the “Where I Live” series.
    I do have one request, though: I often hear the phrase “greedy developer” as if that is something you’d see printed on one’s business card, but I can’t help but wonder if Highland Park would even exist if it weren’t for one of those developers. I’ve never heard someone referred to as a greedy realtor or a greedy ice cream purveyor or a greedy truck driver. So, can we agree to stop using the term “greedy” to describe the people who build our neighborhoods? (And, no, I’m not in real estate).

  14. Ray, I don’t consider all developers greedy, and I certainly don’t condemn anyone for being motivated by profit. However, I resent government programs that promote a building project current residents don’t want and the developer would avoid if it wasn’t for government incentives.

    • At the risk of going slightly off topic here, I find it odd that “government incentives” are good for some things and bad for others. Corporations routinely receive tax breaks by local and county governments in order to bring down the cost of locating in a certain community–many big box stores still get these breaks, for instance, despite bringing little net property tax revenue to the city. You could also say that the government incentivizes driving, as fuel taxes and registration fees don’t actually come close to covering the cost of maintaining all our roads and highways. It is also a government program that incentivizes homeownership through one of the largest subsidy programs around, the mortgage interest tax deduction. Yet, you resent a program that brings down the cost of building homes for working families so that they, too, can live in the neighborhood you have long enjoyed?

      • I think we could have some really interesting discussions, but I’d rather not have them here. I would like to make two points: 1. I think there are far too many government incentives, regardless of whether I benefit. 2. I am not opposed to people moving up to four neighborhood, and I am not against affordable housing per se, but I am against a scheme to build apartment complexes in a predominantly single-family neighborhood.

  15. And Greg can certainly attest to that, having just led Highland Park Neighborhood Association througha public hearing with 200 residents present to discuss the request of a developer who wanted public monies to build almost twice the number of units allowed on that land.
    Highland Park was one of the first neighborhoods to apply for conservation district status years ago, but the City did not process the application, thus leaving it vulnerable to those who see it only as their current spot of preference for “flipping houses”. Because Highland Park was developed in what the City planning department refers to as the “original” city limits, it has some old features which are now considered highly preferred methods of sustainable earth-friendly living. Yet these sought-after features are the very ones that some “investors” have eradicated in the last year, thus lowering the valuenof the entire neighborhood by irresponsible acts such as pouring concrete all over the driveway and even backyard. This immediately increases urban stormwater runoff and flooding in the neighborhood and decreases water percolating into the ground to our heritage trees.
    In 2000 when the Highland Park NA, Highland Hills NA, and Southeast Highland Hills Good Neighbor Crime Watch formed the Highlands Community Alliance to work with City planners and develop the Highlands Community Plan [published April 2002 and available on sanantonio.gov website], neighbors began realizing they had common values. City planner Carol Haywood pointed out during one exercise that we all preferred a $30,000 house with heritage trees over a $600,000 without trees.
    Some people do leave Highland Park for neighborhoods where houses have more bathrooms [jokingly referred to as “going Republican” by many who remain] but what keeps most of us here in the same community through the inevitable urban difficulties such as Greg described is the commitment to community.
    Gregory Ripps is one example: a neighbor who has always sought to maintain the community beyond his own personal space. For years when he commuted to work at Camp Mabry in Austin, he volunteered as HPNA treasurer so that he could still support the neighborhood association even when his work prevented him from attending meetings.
    When the City planning department began the Highland Park historical project, Greg unearthed a 1900 newspaper advertisement which shed light on the way the houses were developed and marketed in Highland Park. The many neighbors like Greg who do what they can to support the neighborhood year after year are really what makes Highland Park a community.
    Thank you, Greg, for sharing!

    • To clarify, the project is not receiving public dollars, per se; the developer is applying through the Housing Tax Credit program, which allows private corporations to invest their own money in the development in exchange for a reduction in their corporate tax bill with the IRS. The Housing Tax Credit program is the largest public-private partnership for affordable housing in the nation and is not a direct housing subsidy. The residents of these properties earn income and pay rent as in any rental home, except that the corporate investment allows the builder to cap rents at a rate more affordable to families earning less than average. The rules set by the state for this program also help ensure the property is kept in good condition and that anyone who lives in the property remains eligible to live there. The program is also very competitive, meaning no more than a few projects will be granted the credits here in San Antonio this year.

      • There is a large unmet need for one type of housing in Highland Park, and that is housing that is 100% accessible to people with various disabilities.
        Even in new apartment projects, many developers include only minimum access, forcing persons with mobility limitations, for instance, to go through only one entrance tomget to their apartments, by placing steps on all the other entrances. When a complex of apartments makes only some of the apartments accessible, it segregates and separates neighbors. Neighbors who do not have wheelchair-accessible bathrooms do not invite their neighbors with disabilities, and then the person who is disabled and has a wheelchair-accessible bathroom has the burden of always being the one to host gatherings.
        Other common development problems include having access for wheelchairs only from designated parking spots reserved for cars with disability placards. When those spots are full and the driver uses another space, or when a person with mobility limitation is dropped off by friends or arrives by bus, then the resident has to travel past all the curbs in the parking lot just tomget access to the sidewalk and go home. Lack of common sense in applying universal design is evident in many nee developments, which are poised to continue segregating people with some disabilities well into the next century.
        Considering that people with disabilities have by far the highest rates of unemployment and poverty of any minority group, any development that ties eligibility to income would need to exceed the minimum legal requirements of the law for accessibility. But to be truly equitable and worthy of public support, housing should apply universal design without imposition of architectural barriers, and include common-sense access features such as Braille signage and signs that are clearly visible and understandable.

    • Rachel, you give me far to much credit. On at least two points I must set the record straight: I was never treasurer, although I have held a number of positions, and the newspaper ad for Highland Park dates to the 1920s. Thank you for all YOUR service to the neighborhood. I wish you could attend HPNA meetings, but for now we find ourselves locked into Wednesdays.

  16. I couldn’t be more proud of the place I grew up and the place I returned to. As a young divorced mother of a 5 year old,I never imagined I could be a homeowner. Statistics had the odds stacked against me. But, my house unexpectedly found me.
    My mother called me about a house she described as “perfect for me”. I laughed. But then I saw the house and,yes..it was perfect and I closed on a house without ever looking at another one…without ever being in the market for one.
    I’ve lived in my home for 16 years now. My son’s classmates lived down the street,my neighbor across the street is my best friend and nearly the entire block knows someone from my family or vice versa because we are all from Highland Park. My granny flat made for a great option to have some space for rent as needed and later served as the teen hangout and eventually my son’s first apartment. My parents still live in the neighborhood and my youngest sister lives here too…all within 6 blocks of each other.
    Because of great neighbors,like Greg, I can’t imagine where else I’d rather live. I see the Tower of Americas daily ,I’m 4 miles from work and less than 2 miles from Mission Reach and Southside Lions Park with a great trailway.
    Highland Park afforded me a place to call home and the concern I have for my investment is that I’ll get taxed out of it. Suddenly, the concern I had 16 years ago is brewing again. Once,I worried If I would afford a home to raise my son…now, we worry if I’ll be able to afford to retire, grow old here and pay the taxes.
    For as many incentives that are offered for new development, there has to be a creation of funds to reinvest in our aging housing structures. As homes become dilapidated and eventually torn down,we create vacancies and a perpetual cycle of wiping out historic neighborhoods and incentivising new development.
    Our school districts suffer…but we can leave that topic for another day.
    I appreciated what you had to share Greg and thank you for your service and leadership in our community.

  17. It’s so enlightening to see how I’m not alone, I too have been looking in HP area for a home to purchase at one time, and now to lease. I also lived in area first on Lyric off Southcross @ Goliad, then on Rigsby @ New Braunfels Ave. all were rentals with my 3 children. I can say them playing outside with all the neighbors was a daily event in all climates, and yes neighbors were all so friendly. We didn’t have a vehicle so going to HEB or Handy Andy which was at Mc Creless Mall we took the wagon and my toddlers rode on it while my eldest rode her bicycle which had a child seat to assist on return trip. We used to pick-up pecans, pomegranates and enjoyed nicely manicured lawns along New Braunfels St. I still have acquaintances in the area, so I will try again once my lease is up to go back to a place I felt comfortable. Thank you Mr. Ripps for reminding of the good old days.

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