Rodney and Cat Gillespie in front of their Shady Oaks home. Credit: Stephanie Marquez for the San Antonio Report

My wife and I live in Shady Oaks, a small neighborhood that was built 70 years ago, way out in the country. Back then there was no sewer or natural gas service in the neighborhood, and Loop 410 was brand new.    

Now we are inside Loop 1604 backing up to U.S. Highway 281 and not far from the population center of San Antonio. Since annexed by San Antonio, we now have sewer service, but a few of the  “grandfathered” homes still use their septic systems. We still have no natural gas, so many of us have buried propane tanks in our yards.   

Our homes range from homemade designs to some designed by famous San Antonio architects, like O’Neil Ford and William Jones. We bought our home, designed by William Jones, in 1992. It was one of the first homes built in the neighborhood, around 1960. I loved the home because it was so weird. 

The architect who designed the house was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. When he set up a practice in San Antonio, he built this home for him and his family. He lived here until he moved to a retirement home, and we bought it from him. A lot of people wanted this house, so we’re very lucky to have gotten it. 

We didn’t know anything about architecture when we moved into this house, but now when we travel, we like to visit Frank Lloyd Wright buildings because they’re so unique. We’ve tried not to change anything in this house. We even still have the original appliances. 

The screened-in backyard porch was a big selling point for me, since I grew up with one. We didn’t have air conditioning when I was a kid. The porch and the layout of the house make this a great house for entertaining. We always have Thanksgiving and Christmas here and have family over as much as possible. We’d much rather have people over than go out to eat because restaurants are noisy. We’re not into noise anymore at this stage of our life. 

Most homes in the neighborhood are hidden in the trees, and we say the only way to find us is to get lost and turn into Shady Oaks by accident. We back up to Blossom Park, a 50-acre park next to Bradley Middle School, and that is an added bonus. Each evening we have numerous walkers, many with their dogs, enjoying a “walk in the country” and the hilly elevation of some of our streets. It can be a good workout.          

Shady Oaks has two green belts running through the neighborhood. These green belts are a signature part of this neighborhood, but every time it rains more than an inch or so, we get massive amounts of trash from U.S. 281. So five or six times a year, we have to, as a neighborhood, go out and clean up.

What we’ve tried to do at our house over time is return it to nature as much as we can. To water the lawn would cost us $300-400 a month and that’s just not in our budget, nor is it reasonable if you’re concerned about the environment and water resources. 

Homes in Shady Oaks each sit on about an acre of land. There are no sidewalks, and it feels like you’re living in the country. While we like the acreage and open space, one of the downsides of living in a neighborhood where everyone lives so spread out is you don’t see your neighbors nearly as much as you want to. 

We’ve had a Texas Ranger for a neighbor who would ride his horse through Shady Oaks, we have a couple of famous artists in the neighborhood, and a family that collects fossils. 

This is one of those neighborhoods where it’s “live and let live.” There used to be a lot of horses, there are about four families with chickens, we’ve had families with peacocks. We had a friend whose daughter was in 4-H, and she wanted to raise a sheep. They didn’t have room at their house for one, so we said, “bring it over here.” And it turned out that you can’t raise a sheep by itself, so we had two sheep at one point. Now there’s one family with chickens, goats, an alpaca, and a llama.

A neighbor in Shady Oaks has a llama. Credit: Stephanie Marquez for the San Antonio Report

One of our favorite things about living here is all the wildlife. There are deer, foxes, coyotes, and all kinds of birds. When we first moved here, we would see a couple of deer a week. Now we see dozens a day. People from out of town love to see deer when they come visit, but when there are too many, it disrupts the balance.

Most plants not protected by deer-proof fences are quickly eaten. One year my wife and I planted bluebonnet seeds and we had a half acre of bluebonnets. We were told that deer never eat bluebonnets. The next year the deer learned to eat the buds just as they came up, and that took care of our bluebonnet patch.  

A deer watches as cars drive along the hilly roads of Shady Oaks. Credit: Stephanie Marquez for the San Antonio Report

What’s happening now is some of the deer are getting onto U.S. 281 and getting hit. Eventually that’s going to cause a car wreck that results in a human fatality. We’ve talked to Councilman John Courage about the problem and had a neighborhood meeting where a biologist came out to talk about deer management. Eventually the City will have to do deer management the way it’s being done in Hollywood Park.        

As with many homes built out in the hill country, they can be very large. Many of our long-term residents now feel that they have too much home and they lament that there is just too much yard to keep up with. That may be true, but there is tremendous joy in living in Shady Oaks, a secret place inside all the rush that is now 281 North.      

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Rodney Gillespie

Rodney Gillespie is a retired educator who taught history for 15 years and worked as a counselor 15 years. He lives in Shady Oaks with his wife Cat.