The Original Angelus Funeral Home on Houston Street

By Ellie Leeper

The roots of urban enthusiasm in my life are unique in that they were planted early. I have been a downtowner since birth—literally. I was born in the Metropolitan Methodist Hospital on McCullough Avenue in May of 1989. A few days later, my parents brought me home to one of the most interesting living spaces I have, to this day, ever seen—the third and fourth floors of the Reuder Building on Alamo Plaza.

I spent the first three years of my life in the Reuder Building, which awarded me the title of “first baby raised on Alamo Plaza in 100 years.” As a baby and a toddler, I definitely lived “urban.” I was baptized in St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on East Commerce, learned how to shop from my stroller at Rivercenter Mall with my mother, and played outside on my tricycle in the gazebo on the Plaza with my father. I lived my “terrible two’s” as a downtowner as well.  The Hyatt parking garage on Losoya was witness to many of my tantrums.

The Original Angelus Funeral Home on Houston Street
Leeper’s great-great-grandparents ran the Angelus Funeral Home on Houston Street for decades.–Photo via UTSA Digital library.

Sooner than later, however, the first of my two younger brothers was born and my parents moved us to a home in Monte Vista where we spent the next 15 years. However, our parents managed to never let us forget our downtown roots, because they are urbanites at heart—after all, they met in Manhattan. My mother was living her 20’s in the big city, and my father was living his 30’s at the Reuder as a downtowner here in San Antonio, already working to transform it into a more livable and workable city center.

Leeper Family, 1990: Ellie was born, raised and still living downtown
Leeper Family, 1990: Baby Ellie was born and raised downtown.

When my parents married and my mother moved to San Antonio in 1983, downtown San Antonio was kind of a snooze. So, she took matters into her own hands (as most New Yorkers do) and started some big traditions that we still celebrate downtown, such as the Christmas Tree Lighting on Alamo Plaza. My father added quite a bit to the tourism industry downtown as well, with his Lone Star Trolley company.  At the time, it set the high standard for guided historical tours downtown. My parents, of course, worked on many more projects together over the years, but the important lesson that they taught me and my brothers was that if you want change in your life, you must make it.

So now…having graduated from Trinity University in May of 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and having worked for Ben Brewer at the Downtown Alliance for eight months, I have started to make change in our center-city through my job as the Director of Young Professional Relations at DTA. In my spare time I also work as a founding member of LOOP (Leadership Organization of Professionals).

Like most young adults graduating from college who want to leave their home town, and like most of my peers from Trinity, I also wanted to leave San Antonio. I considered Austin, Dallas, Los Angeles–even New York. I wanted to get out of town and explore what other cities had to offer. When I was hired at Downtown Alliance, I was grateful to have a full-time job, but also a little discouraged because I knew that I would be spending another several years in San Antonio.  Having been here, however, and having been thrown into this new and exciting Young Professional movement and urban revitalization of our center-city, I have found that living here and jumping into being a part of this change has been gratifying and stimulating, offering me more than I ever thought possible in San Antonio.

Part of “walking the walk” as a millennial hungry for an urban lifestyle means that you have to be an urban pioneer. When I was looking for my new home, I knew it had to be downtown. I now have a studio apartment in the beautiful Vistana. Mr. Ed Cross and his team have truly made a gorgeous gem here near Market Square. I wake up in the morning and raise my shades to reveal a sunny deck with a sparkling pool, equipped exercise facility, and professional business center. If I step onto my patio and turn right, I can see many of our iconic downtown edifices.

The Vistana view from Santa Rosa Boulevard.
View of the Vistana from Santa Rosa Boulevard. Photo by Carolina Canizales

This carries personal meaning for me, because I am living just across the street from Market Square, where my Italian great-great-grandfather, Mr. Francesco Pizzini, had his spice store when he and his family settled here from Rovereto, Italy in the 1800s. The plaque that reads “Pizzini’s” can be found on a building wall in Market Square. My great-grandparents, Henry and Elvira Guerra, owned and operated the Angelus Funeral Home at 602 W. Houston Street for decades. They were true leaders in the community and were responsible for much progressive change, such as making the “Hispanic” version of many prestigious organizations in San Antonio. These examples of civic engagement are a consistent thread in my family.

Aside from a familial history in this neighborhood that is five generations strong, I live a spoiled life of convenience, thanks to The Vistana.  I can exit our building onto Houston St. and walk 12 minutes to work at the Downtown Alliance office near the Alamo. I sometimes ride a B-Cycle home from work in the evenings as well, which is always exciting. On the weekends, I walk to evening entertainment with my beau and my friends. Zinc, Acenar, Soho, and Ocho are among my new favorite haunts, and I know there are many more places to be explored in the near future.  In addition to the late-night scene, as an arts-enthusiast I very much enjoy the ability to walk to performance venues downtown—The Majestic and the Lila Cockrell.

The view from Ellie Leeper's apartment at La Vistana
The view from Ellie Leeper’s apartment at the Vistana, Photo courtesy the Vistana

On a typical date night, my beau and I leave from The Vistana and walk down Houston Street to a nice sit-down dinner before stopping by The Majestic to catch a Broadway show or a San Antonio Symphony performance, and then we walk to one of our favorite spots for post-show cocktails or dancing.  Thanks to the Amigos and the Downtown SAPD Foot Patrol, we feel safe walking late at night.

The Vistana has proven to be a great place to call home. Residents there have created a kind and cheerful culture. I am always wished a good day or a fun evening in the elevator, and I never feel alone or unsafe here. The amenities are wonderful—the hot tub wins the prize. Coming home and being able to relax and reflect in the bubbling hot tub while looking out at our surrounding center-city is unique and special. Thinking about the many generations of the paternal side of my family who have made change in this neighborhood and in our center-city inspires me to continue working hard to make San Antonio into the thriving urban center that it has the potential to be.

Ellie Leeper is a graduate of Trinity University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. She now serves as the Director of Young Professional Relations at Downtown Alliance San Antonio. She also serves as Associate Editor for the Society Diaries Magazine. In her spare time, she explores her passions for the performing arts by acting, singing, and dancing on stage here in San Antonio. Connect with her via Facebook , Twitter , or LinkedIn.