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We arrived in San Antonio on the first Monday in 2011, relocating here from Silicon Valley so my partner Brian could help build the next generation of Cloud technologies at Rackspace. On Thursday, exhausted from unpacking and settling into our rented house on Barrera Street, we wandered down the block to have a drink at La Frite. Little did we know we were stumbling into the weekly “Lavaca and Friends” Happy Hour. Two hours later, we’d met about twenty of our new neighbors and had dinner with two other couples; thus began our infatuation with Southtown. In October, after 18 years as renters, we became first-time homebuyers, purchasing a home on Vance Street.
What drew us to Southtown in the first place? Frankly, moving to Texas as a gay couple gave us some serious pause. We figured that living near downtown in a major American city would put us in the midst of the urbane, progressive community we sought. We also assumed that the seventh-largest city in America would offer us the amenities we’d come to enjoy from 18 years of living in similarly-sized metro areas, and that those amenities would be found largely in and around the downtown area. Correct on all counts, as it turns out.
While here for his interview, Brian was told we should look at King William. Online research confirmed that an area called “Southtown” was on the rise — home to a diverse population, attracting creatives and professionals, young families and retirees, featuring historic districts with beautiful old homes being restored and interesting new developments being planned. Of course, the gays love gentrifying neighborhoods, so we were intrigued.
A very busy weekend visit to the city three weeks before we were due to move here took us all around downtown and left us frustrated after two days of searching. On the last day, as we visited the last house on the list of properties presented by our Realtor, we fell in love with the house next door, a yellow Folk Victorian with white trim and a red porch, nestled in the shadow of the Tower of the Americas. Alas, it was not on the market. Or so we thought. Serendipity intervened when the tenant appeared on the porch, moving her household goods out — into the house we’d arrived to view! A call to the leasing agent revealed that the house we’d come to see was spoken for, but the house that captured our attention would be available for rent in three weeks’ time. Success!
So that’s how and why we arrived in Southtown. What kept us here? How did we decide, in 10 short months, to double-down and commit to the area as homeowners? Quite simply: the people.
From the warm reception at that first Happy Hour, to the community of regulars we love hanging with at The Monterey, and everywhere in between, we have been drawn into a network of friendly, caring, engaged neighbors. We enjoy living in a neighborhood where everyone knows your name and folks notice when you’re absent. The kind of place where neighbors rally to raise funds to replace a tricycle stolen from a local fellow who lives with a disability, but uses his limited mobility to run errands for folks even less mobile than he. Southtown offers a sense of place that is truly a rarity in today’s busy, busy, busy world that’s so focused on online interaction that real-life relationships take a significant hit.
The house we purchased, an updated Folk Victorian built in 1938, sits on a small lot in the Lavaca Historic District (download a map). Our corner of the neighborhood comprises a mix of land uses: retail, commercial, restaurants, bars, and residential all coexist harmoniously. Only half a block off S. Presa, and a block from S. St. Mary’s, our house sits directly across from the PikNik convenience store and the laundromat that shares its parking lot. Taco Haven is (dangerously?) situated just three doors down, and Mario’s automotive repair business sits kitty-corner from us. Mark Bliss’s namesake restaurant occupies a beautifully renovated and repurposed old Humble Oil filling station just a couple of blocks down the street. Other close neighbors include Bubblehead bubble tea house & hookah, J&O Cantina, and not one, but two restaurant supply houses, which sometimes come in handy when we’re preparing to entertain! Brackenridge High School, Alamo Street Eat Bar, The Friendly Spot, Bark of Southtown, Southtown 101 Bar, El Sol Bakery and the Mission Reach are just a stone’s throw away. Behind us is solidly residential all the way to César Chávez.
This wonderfully eclectic mix of businesses and people, including the parade of neighbors passing by our house on their way to these establishments, exercising their dogs (or themselves!), or just taking a stroll through the ‘hood combine to create a vibrant urban pulse.
The Lavaca Neighborhood Association promotes interaction between neighbors with regular meetings and neighborhood gatherings like its Annual General Meeting/Pot Luck Supper, bi-monthly membership meetings, a summer Watermelon Social and October’s National Night Out Block Party. Online, neighbors interact via NextDoor Lavaca.
Various groups of neighbors have created hyper-local recurring events like the First Thursday round-robin dinners and the Southtown Wineaux wine tasting meetup. A nationally award-winning master home brewer is known to share his creations at neighborhood events and another neighbor hosts an annual art show in her backyard. Fourth of July is marked by a Reds, Whites and Brews party, and pop-up restaurants exist in the forms of the Special Projects Social and the Southtown Supper Club.
Many neighbors give selflessly of their time, talents and treasury to foster various civic and charitable causes. The Southtown Lions Club, the Friends of Bonham, and the Cannoli Fund for Dogs and Cats are just a few causes near and dear to the locals.
Other folks may come to Southtown to party and play, including the thousands who flock here every First Friday of the month. We, on the other hand, are fortunate enough to live smack dab in the middle of it all. And we just love it.
Oh, and those concerns about moving to Texas as a gay couple? Blown away.
Hugh Donagher builds web sites and consults on social media strategy for small businesses and nonprofit organizations in the neighborhood and beyond. He occasionally blogs at Texas Yankee and Alamo City Cocktails. He and his partner are charter members of the Southtown Lions Club and they can be found out and about at many of the establishments and events going on in Southtown.