My fondness for San Antonio began when I arrived for Air Force basic training in the middle of the night, many years ago. The February warmth and humidity was in sharp contrast to Wyoming, where I grew up. The city seemed vibrant and alive, even from a bus window.
It was not until law school, 10 years later, that I finally had the opportunity to live in San Antonio. It then took another 18 years to find my forever home in Monte Vista.
It was love at first sight when I found our Monte Vista home. I was familiar with the Monte Vista area, having attended many events there throughout the years. But it was not until a random drive with my 3-year-old son on Mother’s Day that I discovered the peaceful tree-lined streets and small manicured lawns of the “cottage area.”
In its midst was a beautiful New England cottage-style house for sale. The house and neighborhood left such an impression on me that I scheduled a showing the very next day. It wasn’t necessarily love at first sight for my husband, however, who was overseas and could only view the house through Facetime before we made an offer. Luckily, he trusted my judgment.
Acclimating to Monte Vista didn’t take long. We closed on July 3, and my first introduction to the neighborhood was on Independence Day. Although we hadn’t yet moved in, it was with great enthusiasm that I decorated my son’s wagon for the annual Monte Vista Historical Association parade and celebration on the grounds of the Landa Library.
For those who are not familiar with the library, it was the former estate of Harry Landa, a philanthropist who bequeathed his home, artwork, and 5 acres to the City of San Antonio. At the event we were greeted by jubilant children with decorated bikes, strollers, and wagons, followed by a beautiful performance in sign language and a pie contest. Nothing makes you feel more at home than a neighborhood party of this magnitude.
Independence Day in Monte Vista could only be topped by Halloween. The stories that I heard still didn’t prepare me for the lines of trick-or-treaters – yes, actual lines! After going through 12 bags of candy in one hour, we made our escape, only to be embraced by a neighborhood block party like no other.
Discovering the history of Monte Vista was next. Integration into Monte Vista would not be complete without obtaining the obligatory San Antonio’s Monte Vista: Architecture and Society in a Gilded Age by Donald E. Everett. Owning this book naturally leads to a scavenger hunt to identify the houses and architects described, such as the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired prairie-style house on Kings Highway and other houses designed by Atlee B. Ayres scattered throughout. But the biggest surprise was to learn that our house was built in 1923 – seven years earlier than represented.
After eight months in Monte Vista, what I appreciate the most is the authenticity. Monte Vista is surrounded by mostly locally owned restaurants and boutiques. For instance, there is a small hardware store on McCullough where you can find a skeleton key to your 90-year-old house. There are many small stores and boutiques selling everything from linens to stationary. Of course, everyone has heard of Olmos Pharmacy, which recently reopened as another locally owned family restaurant. The neighborhood Taco Cabana can be forgiven, considering it was the very first Taco Cabana in San Antonio. Simply stated, rarely will you find a franchise or chain store in or near Monte Vista.
Like many historic neighborhoods, however, there are a handful of houses in disrepair. My son refers to them as “sad houses.” I am learning the story behind these houses one street at a time. In some cases the families simply cannot afford the high property taxes and costs of upkeep. It’s my understanding that Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) is attempting to address these issues through his Under 1 Roof program. I would imagine that partnerships with local architecture schools could also provide an opportunity to assist those in need, while providing hands-on training for students. I would embrace the opportunity to contribute to any endeavor of this nature.
Upholding the historic nature and authenticity of Monte Vista will become a lifelong pursuit. Many of Monte Vista’s residents have spent their entire lives in the area. Many embrace outsiders like me, but some do not. Those who do not are mostly afraid of losing the neighborhood qualities described above. My intent in writing this article is not to bring unwanted attention to Monte Vista, but rather to display my passion for the neighborhood. Moreover, I intend to be a good steward of Monte Vista and to contribute to its sustainable future.