We didn’t plan to stay. We just needed a break.
I was starting Ironman training again and my husband, Kevin Barton, was finishing his PhD. He is a professor at Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU), and my mother and I own Bill’s Pawn Shop – the family business for 52 years – on the near-Westside in Prospect Hill.
I was born and raised in San Antonio. I attended Ursuline Academy and went to St. Mary’s University for a BBA and MBA. I entered the family business in 1995 and continued to live in the same Northside subdivision where I had lived my whole life. It never occurred to me to live anywhere else. But over the years the traffic got unbearable. What used to be a 20 minute commute turned into 45 minutes. I got tired of sitting in the car, spending an unreasonable amount of money and time on a task that I didn’t enjoy at all: Driving. So when a small craftsman house came up for rent across the street from my store on Buena Vista Street, I signed a six month lease.
The house was built in 1920 and has all the character of homes from that period: large front porch, big windows in the living room, cozy kitchen. I remember thinking, “We could be comfortable here, for a short time.”
After only a few nights of staying in our new place on Buena Vista Street I was instantly less stressed. Life was simpler: limited storage space meant fewer belongings, I walk two blocks to work and Kevin rides his bicycle about one mile to campus. There is never concern about being late to work or getting stuck in traffic. Gone are the days of stressing out because I forgot my phone or glasses at home.
My mother, who still works most days, loved going to the “Blue House” (originally painted blue), to watch her novelas in the evening. So much so that she and I took shifts staying there. When the lease expired we bought the Blue House, which my mother promptly moved into.
So, we bought the house across the street: a charming rock house also built in 1920, and former home and studio of the legendary landscape artist Porfirio Salinas. President Lyndon B. Johnson named Salinas as his favorite painter and decorated his personal home and the White House with his Texas landscapes. Salinas is rumored to have painted a portrait of President Johnson in his studio above the Rock House’s detached garage.
Prospect Hill area is the among the more walkable areas in the city (ranked 43 out of 228 areas of San Antonio, according to WalkScore.com – not bad). Every errand can be accomplished within walking distance from where we live and work. Within three blocks there is an H-E-B grocery, a dry cleaners, a pharmacy, the Bazan Branch Library, a beauty salon, numerous restaurants and taco stands for a quick bite during lunch. Guadalupe Street Coffee is our neighborhood hangout and meeting place – much more interesting than any Starbucks, with its community supported programs like youth cooking classes, bicycle repair workshops and local art hanging on the walls. Not to mention delicious, healthy meals prepared fresh daily by their accomplished chef.
Public transportation and bicycles lanes are the norm in my neighborhood. I can take the 75 or 76 bus downtown. It passes every 15 minutes, or I can ride my bicycle and get there even faster. Bicycle lanes, pedestrian traffic, and quiet residential streets that connect our neighborhood to downtown make this the safest area in the city to commute by bicycle.
The Westside Creeks Restoration Project has already been allocated $15 million by the City and County and we should see improvements to Elmendorf Lake as soon as 2013. The conceptual designs include an aquatic center, amphitheater and walkplatz. The island that now exists in the center of the lake could be geared toward educational activities given its proximity to OLLU, such as teaching visitors about ecosystems and water quality. SARA published on its website the proposed design for the area.
While much of the restoration is for flood control, there is a recreational component that could be the envy of every neighborhood in San Antonio. Hiking and biking trails included as part of the linear parks system would connect the neighborhood to downtown about three miles away, safe from automobiles and traffic. Check out www.westsidecreeks.com
Mutlimodal Transit center
About two miles from our home, located in the historic Cattleman Square, is the future location of the Westside Multimodal Transit Center. which will multiply options for getting around town. The multimodal center will include rapid bus service, streetcar, a possible SA/Austin commuter rail, AMTRAK, and B-Cycle stations. On a recent trip to the Pacific Northwest, my husband and I traveled through Portland, Seattle and Vancouver with only our travel bicycles and Amtrak. Soon people will be able to make similar plans in San Antonio, Austin and surrounding areas, without ever using a car.
The project will bring a much-needed, multimillion dollar revitalization effort to the area. A plaza has already been approved, and there is discussion of potential investors to develop and revitalize the area to become something like the Railyard in Santa Fe, New Mexico with multi-use development that would include retail, apartments and restaurants.
What started out as a temporary arrangement has become my primary residence. My neighbors are friendly and we see each other often because we walk by each others houses. It’s very common to stop and converse with our neighbors daily, and brag to each other about our roses.
Prospect Hill is truly a unique neighborhood, and welcoming to everyone. As the home of many prominent San Antonio residents, such as Mayor Henry Cisneros and Porfirio Salinas, and famous hangouts like the Malt House; this community is a great option for anyone who would like the convenience of a fully walkable neighborhood, but still be an easy 10 minute bike ride from downtown or Southtown. With Our Lady of the Lake University and UTSA Downtown bordering the west and east ends, and lots of new businesses and development happening in the heart, Prospect Hill could be the hidden gem urban-minded citizens are searching for.
Shirley Gonzales, a native San Antonian, lives and works in Prospect Hill with her husband, Kevin Barton. She owns and operates Bill’s Pawn Shop with her mother, Eloise.