There’s a certain magical sense of belonging when you find yourself living on a street that bears your last name.
Before I found my apartment in the King William neighborhood three years ago, I was about to give up on the possibility of living in one of the hippest parts of town. No dwelling I visited seemed to fit “just right” when upbeat real estate agents toured me through countless properties. No place fell within my limited recent-college grad budget. Some apartments were too big for one person, while others were too small.
It was the first time I was pursuing the idea of renting a place sans roommates. Frustration flared in my eyes. I wanted to live in my favorite historic neighborhood at the heart of San Antonio’s lively urban core. And I was stubborn. Stubborn is the word my parents always use to describe my innate drive when I’m passionate about something, good or bad.
“Ms. Guenther, I think I found a place within your budget range that you might like to see,” declared the fifth real estate agent I had made contact with. It is a small one-bedroom apartment on Guenther Street, she told me, right next to the San Antonio River. I looked through the images of the apartment and later perused its amenities, double-checked the price point, smiled at the thought of the street’s name, and thought: It must be fate.
And so it was that Rocío Guenther came to live on Guenther Street.
This special street became my anchor as I transitioned from my first job working as a general assignments reporter upon graduating from Trinity University, as I pivoted to international relations work, and finally landed a job in local government. My apartment on Guenther Street has been a constant for me these past few years not just because of the walls that house my belongings, but because of the neighbors I met who became like family, the long walks spent enjoying tree-lined streets featuring Victorian-inspired 19th- and early 20th-century homes, and the countless stories behind every door.
I will admit, the draw of a great selection of local restaurants in Southtown at a walking distance also adds to the quality of life here in King William. Not to mention late nights spent at The Friendly Spot Ice House watching a Spurs game at the front bar and sharing a laugh with the Newmans on humid summer evenings with a brew in tow.
There’s always something exciting happening in the neighborhood. First Fridays and Second Saturdays make the streets come alive with vendors, food, and local art. The crimson-hued Ruby City museum, which was designed by the world-renowned architect David Adjaye, recently celebrated its ribbon-cutting and was designated one of the World’s Greatest Places by Time magazine. This neighborhood is also where I experienced my first King William Parade during Fiesta and even fastened a multicolored flower crown on my head in celebration.
San Antonio’s southern urban core is also teeming with history. In the 1840s, after a group of Germans ventured to America and secured land in the Texas Hill Country, the King William neighborhood became the residential heart of the city’s thriving German community. Just last spring, a delegation of Germans from San Antonio’s Sister City in Darmstadt visited King William and toured the historic Beethoven Maennerchor. Among other activities, they also signed educational agreements with our local university, and talked about artist exchanges at Blue Star Contemporary. They even enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the Guenther House, a restaurant and museum which used to be family home, built back in 1876 by German immigrant Carl Hilmar Guenther.
It turns out that Carl Hilmar Guenther and his family hail from the town of Weißenfels, which is roughly two and a half hours away from the state of Hesse, where my German ancestors are from. Who knows if there is any relation. Someday I need to do some research and dig a little deeper to uncover more about my family tree.
My family history is complicated. I have always found myself at a loss for words when someone asks me where I come from. I’m an amphibian: someone who inhabits two environments, combining two lives. Ni de aquí ni de alla. I was born in Guadalajara, Mexico to an American father with German roots and a Mexican mother with Spanish roots. I spent most of my childhood in Mexico, but I spoke both English and Spanish growing up and even spent two quick years in San Antonio coursing the last year of kindergarten and all of first grade. I later returned to Texas for college and decided to stay.
For a girl who has always struggled to belong somewhere – a country, a city, or a culture – Guenther Street has always felt like home. Maybe porches have to do with it since they serve as a bridge to build neighborly ties. Maybe it’s the river or the name of the street. I’ll never really know. What I do know is that I can feel the pulse in this neighborhood, unlike anything I’ve ever felt before.
The moment when I feel most free is during my weekly bike rides on the Mission Reach trail as I race down the path past the loud ducks, lavender-colored bluebonnets, monarch butterflies with orange and black wings speckled with white spots, and the occasional snake. I look at people kayaking on the river or pass by out-of-breath runners out on a morning jog. Cycling has become my true north, a way for me to destress and let go after a long day.
Even at present, in the midst of a global pandemic and at a time when we are all encouraged to stay home, Guenther Street gives me a certain kind of peace during uncertain times. I have watched residents check up on each other by walking up to their neighbors’ porches, maintaining proper social distance. I’ve seen families set up impromptu pantries to offer food for those in need. I’ve observed a rallying movement to back those same local businesses that make Southtown so special as residents pick up food and drinks curbside or buy gift cards to do their part so that establishments can stay afloat during the economic crisis that has taken hold of the nation and our city. I think we have all learned, or at least reaffirmed, that “we” is greater than “me.”
People take care of one another here. They have shown me what it truly means to be a compassionate San Antonian. Yes, there’s still magic on Guenther Street. Ever since day one.