I live in King William.
Just saying those words conjures up a variety of responses. While everyone may know where it is, many native San Antonians have never been here. The community is relatively small, but it has a great impact on the city.
Like many, I am not from Texas. Our work lives took my husband and me around the world before we had children, and San Antonio is one of those serendipitous stops along the way that stuck. We were attracted to the climate, cost of living, and environment for our kids – and we never left.
The first house we ever owned is in Terrell Hills, a relatively tight enclave of San Antonio culture and not typical of the city. We spent all of our young energy on renovating a home while continuously seeking the adventure we knew from living overseas. We eventually found it in King William.
Buying a home in Texas’ first historic district is not as straightforward as it sounds. You inherit a mantle, the weighty responsibility of carrying forward the past into the future for everyone to enjoy. It’s not your home, it’s King William’s heritage that you are entrusted to carry on.
While the ticket for entry in our old neighborhood – the secret handshake, if you will – may have been knowing the right people, in King William it is collectively celebrating our heritage, sharing house stories, and commiserating and empathizing over the historically mundane. You’re a great neighbor if you know how to find cheap wavy glass, old growth forest longleaf pine flooring, or doors.
We have a different vocabulary here. I park the car in a carriage house, open the transoms for more air, and spend weeks every other summer repairing and repainting my balusters, corbels, and cornices. We learn the names of the prominent first residents – Joske, Steves, Kalteyer, Groos, Pancoast, and Guenther – and the architects who built for them: Alfred Giles, J. Riely Gordon, O’Neil Ford, and Atlee Ayres.
I can practically hear the folks on our street in 1860: Another house going up? Or when the first bicycles came down the street: There goes the neighborhood. When cars became the norm, I am sure the old horses took their time passing on. We hear, too, about the last day that the man came along to light the gas street lamps. In that sense, the voices of today are still relevant and probably not much different.
Change can be the enemy of historic neighborhoods. To those who live here, it is a lifelong quest to preserve the residential neighborhood, often vigorously and contentiously. Everything from new buildings, highways, developments, transportation, building materials, and decorating trends changes how much the homes cost, how they are used, and the popularity and usefulness of the community.
King William’s fortunes have risen and fallen over the decades, but one thing stays the same. There is constant friction between growth and the technologies that interrupt and improve the way of life and keeping the look and feel of our homes and streets without becoming the place that time forgot. (Dockless electric scooters, anyone?)
Many people outside of historic districts blanch at the thought of dealing with a government entity that tells us exactly what we can and can’t do to the outside of our homes and property. (We used to.) I can tell you that it’s not so bad once you understand what the historic designation aims to achieve. This is our past, our present, and our future, preserving the culture and our collective memory. Now we embrace it.
Today it’s more than an old home to us. We’ve accepted the mantle of preservation, preserved the outside, while updating the inside into a modern, super-efficient, soulful mix of past and present, with the most up-to-date technologies available. We are a part of something bigger here, making a real contribution to the preservation of the neighborhood and also doing our part for the environment.
So, alongside of the need to make downtown denser, to develop the San Antonio skyline with new offices and apartments, there is an oasis from that growth right here in King William. We fight a different battle, one that keeps us old, young, and relevant.