“I’m going to live here!” My friend looked at the vacant lot that was once Victoria Courts where homeless folks had made a camp. “It makes me feel like home,” I insisted.
We’d just walked back to our car parked on Labor Street, having been to the Folklife Festival. It was 2002. A few months before, I attended my first King William Fair, parking on Vance Street. I already knew that day I wanted to move to Lavaca.
After a brief stint in the Medical Center when I first moved to San Antonio, I was renting off Tezel Road. Not that there were many places to hang out in 2002, but I’d spend weekends in Southtown.
One Sunday, I was having coffee and reading the Current at Espuma, when I saw an ad for a rental on Sadie Street. The floor was sloping, there was no central air, but it had huge windows, fresh paint and refinished floors. One night an opossum made a hole in the floor and joined me inside. I was home.
Despite Lavaca’s “rough” reputation, I found elderly neighbors who kept an eye on me, making sure I was safe. I walked everywhere. I became a regular at The Beethoven. It was a quiet place, where the members in their 60s mixed with our small group of 20- and 30-somethings. A newcomer would be noticed and welcomed. So, when a young, attractive Swiss walked in, he was noticed.
I married him.
One hot Friday in October when we were house hunting, the “For Sale” sign appeared at our Lavaca dream house.
The dream took the form of a leaking roof, falling foundation, dilapidated porch, cracked walls, and overgrown jungle, but the original 1908 details were intact. We spent Thanksgiving 2004 toasting our new home, wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into.
Despite its condition, the house had been much loved. We were only the third family to live there in almost 100 years. If these walls could talk, they’d have quite a story to tell. We just hoped the ghosts were friendly.
Today, though, it often still looks like a construction zone. Our home in Lavaca has become a gathering place for neighbors, school friends, community leaders, and host to many parties.
But it’s not really about the house. When I first moved to Lavaca, I found a community of families who had been here for generations. Those families welcomed me, they shared their histories.
Gloria Rodriguez was born here in the 1950s and still lives in her childhood home. Julia Medina moved to Lavaca as a newlywed in 1939 and has lived here ever since. She played the piano, windows open, music wafting through the street, while her neighbor sang opera. I think of her every time my teenage neighbor plays his drums and another plays his guitar. I’m just waiting for someone to start singing.
While the community has evolved since I first arrived, its century-old heart has remained. Most of our neighbors know each other’s kids. They have many honorary aunties and abuelas in the neighborhood, though the teens may be less thrilled about the watchful eyes on them.
Once vacant shops are now vibrant businesses, and the owners wave to us as we walk by. Not long after our neighbors opened The Friendly Spot in late 2009, I stopped in to say hi. I was 38 weeks pregnant. Two days later my son was born. We’re pretty sure he came early because he couldn’t wait to go back.
Burger Culture and Señor Veggie know our orders by heart. There are so many amazing places to eat, we don’t get to many as often as we’d like. The Southtown Supper Club was born in Lavaca. The brainchild of our neighbors Hugh and Brian, it celebrates local chefs and was profiled on the PBS show, “One Square Mile” in 2014.
One of my favorite parts of the day is walking with the kids to our neighborhood school, Bonham Academy. It’s so fun to see all the other families along the way. We’re greeted by Ms. Linda and Ms. Rose, the crossing guards who have been almost daily fixtures in our lives for nine years.
Our neighbors take trips together, go camping together, watch our pets. They take bike rides, bring meals when we’re in need, check in on our teens when they’re not answering their phones. When my daughter was 18 months old and my husband was out of the country, I had emergency surgery. My neighbor kept her overnight until my husband returned. My kid was thrilled to have a sleepover with her “big sister and big brother” next door. The community that is Southtown has become our extended family.
There is another side, though. As a neighborhood, Lavaca, like all of Southtown, is straddling the benefits of revitalization with the costs of gentrification. Many of us struggle to keep up with the property taxes. Housing values have skyrocketed out of range. Some blocks have been inundated with whole-house short-term rentals, forcing out long-term renters. It’s no longer possible for a family earning 80 percent of Area Median Income to buy a “fixer upper” as we once did. We continue to push for affordable housing units to be mixed with the newer market rate housing. But as the neighborhood becomes more appealing, affordable housing becomes harder to find.
While we struggle with the cost of these changes, I remember our 105-year-old neighbor, Julia Medina, who told us she loved Lavaca when she came in 1939. She’s loved it through the next seven decades and loves it now. Lavaca, and all of Southtown, is home. We love it, too.
The Lavaca Neighborhood Association will be celebrating A Day In Southtown with Art in the Park on October 12.