Photo Credit and Photo Copyright

The photographs of San Antonio and Dignowity Hill used within this blog are the property of Juan A Garcia East Light Images. All rights are reserved to the owner. Copy and use of these pictures is forbidden without written permission. Contact Juan at for permission.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Good and Ugly Deeds

There is a gentleman that roams our neigborhood who apparenty has no home. I see him just about every day carrying a back pack with presumably with all his possesions. He walks by our house sometimes talking to himself, other times just walking with his head down, focused on whatever plans he may have for the day or night. I'm not sure where he sleeps at night, he just seems to melt away into the evening and he reappears the next day. I suspect that he has some mental issues going on because besides hearing him talk to himself, there are times when I hear him either crying or laughing out loud. According to stats collected by the city in 2007, about 17% of the homeless are severly mentally ill. San Antonio, like most major cities in the U.S., has a substantial homeless population and most of them tend to "live" in and around downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. Over 2200 people in San Antonio were counted as homeless in 2007. And some of these folks wind up in our neighborhood. There are several ministries that care, feed and tend to these people in and around our neighborhood. Nothing wrong with that, all religions say we should minister to the poor and less fortunate. Even if you don't profess any religious beliefs your compassion for these folks will come through....most of the time. As I said, some of these well intentioned ministries have found their way to our neighborhood parks where every Saturday morning they feed a large group of homeless people. Which brings me to the point of this little ramble. Like most people, I have nothing against feeding the poor and homeless but if the well intentioned people that come into my neighborhood to do their good deeds would be just clean up after themselves, me and my neighbors would not get so irritated with them. You see, after each feeding session these nice folks who, by the way don't live in the community, leave their trash in the park to be pick over by dogs, cats and sometimes people. The trash sits there over the weekend not be picked up until Monday or Tuesday. Not good and not very christian either to trash some else's park and neigborhood.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Dignowity Hill, Part 2

The neighborhood has a feel of oldness, new beginnings along with some pretty rough edges. Make no mistake; this is an inner city neighborhood with some quality of life issues such as vacant houses, absentee landlords, and some interesting activity such as prostitution, drugs and the homeless…..But we are in the beginning stages of renewal.....and I think it will happen sooner than we realize.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Dignowity Hill, Part 1

For those who like history: Dignowity Hill is designated and recognized as a historical district and it certainly deserves that distinction. The area was first settled in the early 1850’s by a Czech physician named Michael Dignowity. He and his wife Amanda bought about 27 acres on a hill overlooking San Antonio from the east side of town. He sold estate size lots to his wealthy friends and the area became the first exclusive upper middle class neighborhood of San Antonio with its own water system. He built his home on this hill and called his estate Harmony House. Dr. Dignowity soon had a well established medical practice and became well known in the area for his anti-slavery views. So well known in fact that he was almost hanged for his views and had to flee San Antonio during the Civil War. He returned in 1869 to find most of his property had been taken from him. Dr. Dignowity died in 1875 in Harmony House and is buried in the family cemetery not far from Dignowity Hill. In 1877 Southern Pacific laid tracks which skirted the Hill on the north and west. As the trains became larger and noisier and more tracks were laid, substandard housing along with other industry began settling around the neighborhood. By 1900 this industrial belt began to change the face of the neighborhood. The original families either moved away or died. By the 1930’s many of the original houses were gone. Dr. Dignowity’s home, Harmony House, eventually was torn down and his property was converted to a park. Through the 1940 and 50's the neighborhood tried to retain some its character and some of the big homes built in the early 1900's have survived till today.

For most of its early history the Hill was exclusively made up of white property owners. When I was researching the history of our house I came across a covenant signed in 1947 by many of the white property owners that created restrictions “not to sell or lease to anyone of the black race for 21 years”. In 1948 the Supreme Court ruled to end racial deed restrictions that began allowing non-white residents to move into Dignowity Hill. I suspect that this practice of discrimination continued for many years after that decision. Through the last 50 years the neighborhood continued to experience some decline as houses were abandoned or burnt down, drugs and prostitution moved into some parts of the area. But something interesting has happened in the last 4 or 5 years. Dignowity Hill has been "re-discovered". Because Dignowity Hill is so close to downtown and has relatively good housing stock, adventuresome investors have begun buying, restoring and in many cases moving into the neighborhood. All this activity has been good for the most part. The biggest fear among long time residents is the gentrification that may follow and change the character of the neighborhood. I hope not....but it's one of those double edge kind of things. We can't move forward unless there is investment in the neighborhood yet some of us want to see the neighborhood retain some of its character. I guess we'll all have to wait and see how this turns out.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


We named her Rose, this old house that somehow captured our hearts. When we first saw her she was a vision of neglect although some foundation work had been done she still needed so much work. At some point she had fallen off her pier and beam foundation and posts had broken through the flooring, the porch was missing most of its decking, there were holes in the ceiling and old wall paper hung from the walls like shredded streamers....but as they say, she had good bones.

The pictures pretty much tell the story of Rose's transformation. It took almost a year to totally restore her. We were blessed to have Gino, a carpenter and craftsman who cared enough to worry about the details to bring this house back to life.

What the images don't tell is about the people, besides Gino, who saved Rose from winding up a pile of 100 yr old lumber. You see, Rose had been scheduled to be demolished by the city because they had decided that house was an unsafe structure and most likely she was. But three people with a healthy dose of vision, guts and good business instincts thought that Rose was worth saving. Byron and Betty, who are married to each other and partner Bill had recently bought and restored several homes in the area. Some of these restored homes were former "crack" houses or had been used by the homeless to get out of the weather. They were in pretty bad shape. But get this, they all moved into the neighborhood. They lifted stakes from what most folks in San Antonio would consider some of the most affluent parts of town to a neighborhood that real estate agents would say was "in transition". What's even more amazing is that these folks were all in their 70's when they got into this! Talk about looking forward and taking on some pretty daunting risks at an age when most people are just coasting along waiting for the inevitable to happen. So here I am, 55 yrs old, looking ahead to retirement and these people are out there trying to change the world at 75.....unbelievable! These guys are my heroes!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

First Time

First time doing this blogging business so this a new adventure for me. My name is Juan and I live in San Antonio, Texas. I was born in 1952 and have lived all my life in this city of fiesta, pan dulce, raspas and some pretty neat old buildings and neighborhoods. My wife and I recently moved into an old neighborhood called Dignowity Hill Historic District, just east of downtown, which qualifies us as urban, inner city dwellers. The area has a colorful history - I'll write some more about the history on another post- and is set on a hill overlooking downtown SA. Our neigborhood is a wonderful mix of grand old houses with a good dose of homes that are a restoration adventure ready to happen. Up until this past December we lived in a quite suburban neigborhood where most of the houses looked alike and we barely knew our neighbors. Then through a series of chance meetings of some interesting people who live in Dignowity Hill we bought this nearly 100 year old dilapitated Victorian house with a wonderful wrap around porch, high ceilings and pine flooring and decided that this was going to be our new home. Well, our friends and one of our daughters thought we had lost our senses. Why would two fairly successful and established people want to uproot themselves from a fairly comfortable lifestyle and move into old house, into an inner city neighborhood not exactly known as the most desirable place to live in SA? Well, good question! To be perfectly honest, we questioned ourselves so many times as to whether we were making the right decision. In the end we have no regrets. This whole adventure has been one of the most liberating experiences of our lives. We let go of our old connections and have begun making new ones, which to our surprise are enriching our lives in ways we never imagined. And the neighborhood....well, it's an adventure living here. We hear the sounds of the city: sirens, buses, trains, fast moving cars and the sounds of people. It a neighborhood full of life.... beautiful and at times ugly. But it is a neighborhood on the verge of resurrection. Perhaps the point of this little ramble is that by shedding our old skins and taking a chance you just never know how your small contribution can inspire or even create hope.....Esperanza! Oh and our old house, well....the restoration turned out pretty good. I'll post a picture soon as I figure out how! Hasta Luego!