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In 1999, I started a job with the City of San Antonio as a geographic systems analyst and crime analyst. A big part of my job at the city was studying the spatial distribution of various crimes. Olmos Park Terrace, although a small neighborhood, stood out as an area with almost no burglary of habitation.
It was already on my radar as an old neighborhood with distinctive English stone cottages and minimal traditional style homes and shaded tree-lined streets. I thought it was in an up-and-coming area close to downtown, but not so close to downtown that it was overpriced (yet).
By chance, I managed to come across a house that had just come on the market. I met the family living there, two attorneys with a preschool-aged son. They invited me in and gave me a tour, explaining that the reason they were moving was to find a neighborhood with children for their son to interact with. I really liked the house, so it was an easy sell.
And it was easy to see why the crime rate was so low, even measurably lower than the neighborhood just across San Pedro Avenue. The majority of Olmos Park Terrace residents were retired, staying at home all day and working in their yards. There is no better home security system than having elderly people living around you. They kept a close eye on the neighborhood – not just during the day while I was away at work, but even into the late nights. Some people might not like this constant “surveillance,” but I didn’t mind at all.
My neighbor across the street, Paula, was in her early 80s. She lived alone and had little contact with her family. She was small and fragile, but feisty and outspoken – never afraid to speak her mind and use colorful language to do so. She loved to bake and would share homemade pastries of all sorts. Her other hobby was raising orchids in her backyard greenhouse. She liked to sit at her kitchen window observing the comings and goings of all in her view and wasn’t shy about calling to notify me of anything out of the ordinary – package deliveries, stray dogs in the yard, or an ex-girlfriend knocking on my door.
My next-door neighbor Linda lived in the same house for more than 50 years. She could be seen working in her museum-quality manicured front yard most any day, with her husband alongside her, or building something in his backyard wood shop.
Olmos Park Terrace is a thriving artist colony of sorts. Famed jazz and swing violist Sebastian Campesi lived out his later years here. There are dozens of artists living within our quaint, two-by-seven-block area. Painters, photographers, sculptors, potters, jewelry makers and all sorts of multimedia experts live in the neighborhood. On the first weekend of November they host an open house art walk, the Uptown Art Stroll. It’s easy to walk, bike, or take a pedicab to visit the artists’ homes and backyard studios and peruse and purchase their works.
This neighborhood is the perfect distance and elevation to get a decent workout on a ride to Main Plaza and back. It’s just less than 6 miles to the plaza and a great downhill ride along the thin, gravel-strewn bike lane on McCullough Avenue. Or for beauty, you cannot beat a fast-paced ride along Contour Drive and Olmos Basin which is just a stone’s throw from here. There are even bike trails in Olmos Basin worthy of any mountain biker.
On weekend mornings I can hear the soft popping sounds of shotguns shooting skeet at the Olmos Park Gun Club, sometimes in the early morning hours I hear the worrying rapid pops of semi-automatic gunfire coming from other nearby areas.
Through the years the demographics have changed. My elderly neighbors have moved into assisted living centers or have passed away. Paula passed away in 2013. My neighbor next door could no longer keep up with her home and large manicured yard and moved into a managed living facility. She still drives by and sends holiday cards.
Living in an older neighborhood and old house has its ups and downs. The houses in this area are all constructed on pier and beam foundations, and the soil is made up heavily of clay, which swells and contracts with the changing weather. This leads to cracks forming in the drywall around doors and windows every few years. It’s a constant battle of repairs and repainting.
Like many parts of the city, Olmos Park Terrace is showing signs of strain. Our property values and corresponding tax bills have doubled and doubled again since the early 2000s. Many residents are approaching retirement age and seeing that more of their fixed income will be going to taxes. I know of several who have already moved to other neighborhoods, looking to avoid this cost. Younger working class residents are moving in.
Even with the changing age and demographic mix, the neighborhood still retains a distinctively artistic and hip edge. And we’re starting to have a few kids back in the neighborhood, which shows promise for the future. I’m hoping the raising property values don’t chase out the working class and artistic vibe we have here. It’s the perfect neighborhood to retire and reinvent yourself.