Where I Live: Laurel Heights

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Don Mathis stands outside his Laurel Heights home and the pomegranate and loquat trees that produce on his property.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Don Mathis stands outside his Laurel Heights home and the pomegranate and loquat trees that produce on his property.

Since my dad was a lifer in the Army, we moved every two years; sometimes just a few blocks away, but sometimes as far as Arkansas or Washington, D.C. When I got out on my own, I resolved to put down roots – but it didn’t happen right away.

When I was 19, someone asked me “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I replied, “Oh, I’ll probably get married, have some kids, settle down, buy a house.” It didn’t happen. Around age 24, someone else asked me the same question. I gave them the same answer.

So at age 29, I came to the realization that I didn’t have to get married and have some kids to settle down and buy a house. I could buy a house first – and if I wanted to settle down, marry someone, and have some kids later, that was OK, too.

When I started looking for my dream home in 1979, my expectations were totally unrealistic. I wanted a two-bedroom with off-street parking, somewhere between Broadway and Blanco, for $30,000 or less. I looked at houses every week for a year before I found “the Plain Jane on Main.” It was just a few thousand more than I planned, but it was the right size and in the right area.

Don Mathis stand at the back door of his home sometime in the 80's.

Courtesy / Don Mathis

Don Mathis stands near the back door of his home in 1982.

I named my home Agarita-Ville, partly because Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” was a popular song when I moved in, and partly because it’s adjacent to Agarita Avenue in Laurel Heights. My one-story bungalow is nestled in a residential area of two-story homes from the 1920s and 1930s.

It’s about a mile or so to three expressways, several parks, and a couple of libraries. It is right in the middle of the college corridor; San Antonio College is just down the road, Trinity University is not too far, and the University of the Incarnate Word is not much farther.

Downtown is just 10 minutes away, and I take full advantage of shows at the Majestic, the Empire, the Aztec, and the Tobin Center. Two bus lines on San Pedro, one on McCullough, and the No. 90 on Main Avenue are just blocks away. It’s a good area for bicycling, too.

My driveway has never been paved, and crunching gravel announces a friend’s visit. I look at the permeable surface as kind of a bioswale. If it was covered in concrete or asphalt, rainwater would flood my shed. I use a clothesline (call it a solar dryer), and my neighbors have never complained.

Agarita-Ville is near the top of a hill, so summer breezes are squeezed and the gusts accelerate (kind of like pinching a water hose, it comes out faster). And the screen door always welcomes such a breeze.

I can see fireworks when they blast them from Hemisfair or Fort Sam Houston. And I can hear the bands softly in the distance when they play at Alamo Stadium or the Sunken Garden. If it sounds good, I may bike over to see.

I sleep with the windows open, and sometimes in the winter – when the trees shed their leaves and the north wind blows – I can hear jet planes warming up their engines at the International Airport.

Another sound puzzles me, though. I can sometimes hear the train toot its whistle on the railroad tracks near Blanco Road. But, at other times, I can hear another train blowing its horn from the east. And sometimes, these trains “talk” to each other. The engineer on one choo-choo probably can’t hear the horn from another train miles away, but that’s what it sounds like. I imagine these locomotives are arguing with each other – or maybe they are making love calls.

Don's home following a rare snowfall in the mid '80s.

Courtesy / Don Mathis

Don’s home following a rare snowfall in the mid ’80s.

When it’s time to eat, good restaurants abound. I have my choice of Greek, Italian, seafood, or Mexican. And if I want something quick, I’ve got sandwiches, burgers, pizza, or barbecue. Over on Broadway, I can dine on Chinese or Vietnamese.

I love the variety of specialty shops on Main Avenue. Zebraz is a gay and lesbian department store; Hogwild sells new and vintage records and CDs; and Monterrey Rustic features hacienda and western-style furniture. A handful of bars and coffee houses round out the ambiance.

San Antonio is evolving and expanding. But due to gentrification and aging friends, I have lost four adjacent neighbors. After two years of continual barking, the new neighbor’s dog finally got used to me.

The biggest problem I have with the neighborhood is on-street parking. A fellow down the street removed his driveway to have a bigger yard. Another fellow tore out his driveway to build a swimming pool. I guess many of the five-bedroom homes in the area now have a driver in each room.

Nonetheless, most houses were built with a garage access from the alley. On-street parking gives a cluttered look to the otherwise wide streets. And, if people park their cars on both sides of the street, it hinders traffic. City codes in Alamo Heights do not allow parking on residential streets from 2 a.m.-5 a.m. I would welcome such a rule in Laurel Heights.

My neighborhood is charming, vibrant, and picturesque. When I get tired of all the nearby amenities, it’s less than a three-hour drive to the beach, the Hill Country, a lost swamp, a maple forest, the Southwest desert, or Mexico.

I think I’ll stick around for a while.


6 thoughts on “Where I Live: Laurel Heights

  1. Hey neighbor! I view on-street parking as a fact of life in the inner city. When these homes were built, families generally had only one car. I’m not so concerned about the aesthetics of on-street parking so much as I am always concerned about drunk drivers hitting cars parked in the street in the middle of the night (and sometimes in broad daylight too). But a bigger objection I have is when homeowners plant trees in the City right-of-way where there should actually be a sidewalk. Now that’s not neighborly at all…

  2. What a warmhearted piece! I love how you celebrate the simple, sturdy things, Don. A beautiful testimonial to home, and our city, and I hope you get some great new neighbors soon.

  3. What Naomi said.

    Also, I love your description of the connectedness — and evening breezes — you feel in Laurel Heights. It’s the same thing I brag about living over here in Beacon Hill. And the location can’t be beat. See you around, I hope.

  4. We need to return to the forest and the prairie. Wherever that can be done will give hope to keeping this planet in a comfort zone. Don, I met years ago and he is a good man!

    • Sadly, there are currently to many Homo sapiens on this planet to make it feasible for us to return to the forest and the prairie. And at this point in our civilization, going back to that status would be ugly. Very ugly indeed…

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