It's all about the details. Look at the yellow paint on the interior of the open windows. Photo by Jeff Reininger.
Jeff Reininger

Lately, it seems like everyone in San Antonio has been talking about downtown and urban living. The Pearl Brewery and surrounding developments, along with King William, Dignowity Hill, Lavaca, Five Points, etc. seem to get all the attention. People always seem to leave out one of San Antonio’s first “suburbs,” Monticello Park.  “The Deco District.” “The 78201.”

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An eclectic little nook of the city buried between I-10, Fredericksburg Road, Woodlawn Avenue and Babcock Road, this sleepy little district is where my family and I have called home for the past four years.

Amazing stonework, circular entry – and check out that weather vane. Photo by Jeff Reininger.
Amazing stonework, circular entry – and check out that weather vane. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

Monticello Park is one of San Antonio’s first suburbs. Built on a former dairy farm that was purchased for residential development in the 1920s, this area contains a stunning collection of revival, English Tudor, colonial, craftsman and bungalow style homes, amongst others.

Map courtesy of decodistrict.org.
Map courtesy of decodistrict.org. Click to enlarge.

Within this 3.5 square mile district located just northeast of downtown San Antonio is also a cluster of condemned, neglected and forgotten dwellings that have certainly seen their better days. Home prices within the area vary from about $50,000 to over $400,000 within a block or two radius.

Monticello Park is also home to the architectural masterpiece that is Thomas Jefferson High School.  The facility was built in 1932 and was detested by many people at the time who thought the school a waste of money as it was built “out in the middle of nowhere.” Today, it rises from the ground like a monument to a time nearly forgotten – an era reserved for nostalgic photos and “Back to the Future” movie sets.

The beautiful and iconic Thomas Jefferson High School. Photo by Jeff Reininger.
The beautiful and iconic Thomas Jefferson High School. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

On the southern border of the district is Woodlawn Lake. This 30 acre man-made body of water was created in the 1880’s in hopes of drawing real estate developers to the area (40 years later that dream became reality).

Visitors “from the city” once traveled by streetcar to enjoy the many features this lake (and surrounding park) had to offer, and was often referred to as “the finest artificial lake in the South.”

Today, hundreds of people flock to the lake every weekend for barbecues and birthday parties, exercise and recreation, and simply to enjoy the beauty of the water and trees, all nestled well within the city.

The Woodlawn Lake lighthouse with downtown San Antonio in the distance.  Photo by Jeff Reininger.
The Woodlawn Lake lighthouse with downtown San Antonio in the distance. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

Everyday life in the Deco District is a little different than places I’ve lived before.  It’s where it’s okay to barbecue and gather in the front yard. The color of your grass and size of your flower bed isn’t indicative of the person you are. Garages are buried toward the back of the property and living rooms face the street, rather than the opposite in that of post-WWII homes.

The simple little abode my family calls home was built in 1926. It’s a slightly tight quartered two bedroom, one bath, cedar post pier and beam construction. When a cold north winds blows you can literally feel the wind zoom by your feet on the hardwood floors. The single-pane, wood framed windows seem to breathe with the climate outside.

It's all about the details.  Look at the yellow paint on the interior of the open windows. Photo by Jeff Reininger.
It’s all about the details. Look at the yellow paint on the interior of the open windows. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

What my home might lack in wall insulation it more than makes up for in detail and character.  My wife and I sometimes like to make up stories about who may have lived here before us and what events might have transpired in the near 100 year-history of this house.

What life may have been like here before these homes were retrofitted with air conditioning, I can’t imagine.  Our front porch that runs the full length of the home was probably used for much more than placing a few potted plants on and allowing a couple of chairs to gather dust.

The Deco District is honest, it’s real. It never tries to be something it’s not.

One of the many unique chimney's in Monticello Park. Photo by Jeff Reininger.
One of the many unique chimney’s in Monticello Park. Photo by Jeff Reininger.

Perhaps that’s because people can spot a counterfeit when it comes to community – they can tell when a place is trying create a false identity, rather than simply being what it was created to be, what it’s been all along.

The 78201 is a plethora of garage sales and curbside mechanics, bike-riding paleta salesmen and classic muscle cars, successful businessmen and elderly people trying to survive on disability and social security benefits. It’s neighbors helping neighbors and police helicopters flying overhead.  A combination of wealth and poverty, of purpose and survival, a microcosm of America.

So, will we live in Monticello Park forever?  I have no idea.  I’d be lying if I thought the idea of calling The Pearl or a loft in the heart of downtown home wasn’t tempting.  However, what I can say is that wherever my family calls home in the future, I hope that its community is as honest and as proud as the 78201 has been of itself for nearly a century.

Note:  My house is a three stop sign, zero traffic light, seven-minute drive from The Pearl, so that’s not bad either!

Jeff Reininger works for Morkovsky + Associates, Inc., an architectural firm in San Antonio.  You can follow him on Twitter @jeffreininger.  He is married to his beautiful wife, Katy, and together they have  three-year old son, Kingston.  Jeff is a long distance runner, who enjoys all the wonderful running trails that San Antonio has to offer.  He is also the co-founder of the site The Water Line.

This post has been republished with permission from The Water Line, read more: “The Water Line: A New Blog About What Defines Us in San Antonio.”

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Jeff Reininger

Jeff Reininger works for Morkovsky + Associates, Inc., an architectural firm in San Antonio. He is married to his beautiful wife, Katy, and together they have three-year old son, Kingston. Jeff is a...