Where I Live: River Road Historic District

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Stephanie Marquez / Rivard Report

(left) David Schmidt and Mimi Quintanilla inside the house in which she was raised.

My father bought this house as a wedding present for my mother in 1955. In the late 1950s and 1960s, it seemed that every family had four to eight children, and the neighborhood was alive with kids playing games and riding bicycles down to the low water crossing at Woodlawn Avenue and River Road. At that time, all the streets went through to St. Mary’s Street, and we could walk up to Mr. Henry’s Ice House and to the parochial school at Our Lady of Sorrows or any of the several public schools.

Stephanie Marquez / Rivard Report

The front of the home Mimi Quintanilla’s father purchased in 1955.

I remember our neighborhood protests in what ultimately proved to be a vain attempt to stop the U.S. Highway 281 construction. As a result of that highway construction, our neighborhood was bisected and what we now call the River Road Historic District has evolved as somewhat of an island cut off from the surrounding city by U.S. 281, the San Antonio River, and Brackenridge Park.

Our streets and yards are shaded by mature oak and pecan trees. Automobile traffic is slowed by narrow streets, many of which are only a block long. River Road residents and neighbors enjoy leisurely bicycle rides and walks, with or without dogs, up and down the quiet streets and through the park. Chance encounters with our neighbors give us the opportunity to visit with each other and to catch up on neighborhood news. In River Road, nobody remains a stranger for long.

Illustration / Rivard Report - Google Maps

The River Road neighborhood is shaded in blue.

Except for the years in graduate school and the beginning of my career as a museum professional, I’ve lived in my house in River Road my entire life. My husband David, who has traveled the world and lived many places, has lived in our house longer than anywhere else.

Two of my closest neighbors, like me, live in homes that once belonged to their parents. A sense of continuity and shared history binds us as neighbors. We share stories of people and events and even old photographs that we find as we sift through boxes and bins. Recently my neighbor showed me a photograph taken from the front yard of what is now her house showing me as a child playing with my siblings in front of my house after one of San Antonio’s rare snowfalls.

I worked for the San Antonio Museum Association and the Witte Museum for decades before starting my own museum consulting practice. My husband David worked at our neighborhood school, Hawthorne Academy, for sixteen years, first as a teacher and then as assistant principal. We enjoy living and working in our neighborhood and always look forward to casual visits by neighborhood kids who come by our house for paletas or just to say hello. We frequently encounter young people at the YMCA or in the grocery store who remember us from our work at the Witte and at Hawthorne. Working with and advocating for young people has always seemed to be a natural part of improving our neighborhood.

Twenty-five years ago, the off-ramp from northbound U.S. 281 exiting on to St. Mary’s Street was bordered by just a bare chainlink fence. With the help and support of the neighbors, the River Road Neighborhood Association, and TxDOT, we planted over 170 trees along that fence line. After the initial years of watering during drought and trimming along the sidewalk, we now have a green belt that helps to shield the neighborhood from traffic and noise. This project is just one example of the River Road neighborhood’s involvement in the stewardship of Brackenridge Park, the San Antonio River, and the general environment of our neighborhood.

Our neighbors are active participants in the community, both on the local and city-wide level. Many of us are determined advocates for preservation and respect for the historic character of our neighborhood and the city. A strong sense of community is reflected in our neighborhood events, both formal and informal.

We gather together for the neighborhood Easter egg hunt and Fourth of July parade, the annual holiday party, and potlucks, where we share food, music, and conversation in the shade of our beautiful trees. We work together in the lush neighborhood garden, bursting with flowers and edibles. We certainly have our differences of opinion, as all communities should, but we share our love for our historic neighborhood and its character. 

It is easy to talk about our great location in the city, bordering the river and parkland. It is just a short drive or bicycle or bus ride to downtown and all of the museums and amenities nearby along Broadway. The airport is a few minutes up U.S. 281.

Like many neighborhoods close to downtown, we are faced with challenges brought on by development and growth. Preservation of the historic character of our beloved neighborhood is an ongoing concern. Ultimately, it is the people we live around that define the character of our neighborhood. We River Road residents are a collection of individuals who nevertheless share a pride in our historic neighborhood and a sense of community that has become all too rare. There is no place that I would rather call home.


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