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 jagarciatx@gmail.com for permission.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last Day, New Start

Today is the last day of 2009. I have to say that while things for many folks were tough because of the economy, in many ways it was a good year for the neighborhood and our community. There are good signs of sustained revitalization as some of the old houses in the neighborhood continue to be restored and as new residents move into the area that care about Dignowity Hill's historic character. I have also seen many positive signs in the way my neighbors and friends feel about the neighborhood.












No doubt that there are still many challenges that still need to be addressed but as 2009 comes to a close we have for the first time a neighborhood plan that lays out a process for bringing much needed infrastructure improvement and development. On the horizon for 2010 is the start of implementing the neighborhood plan, the arrival of 12,000 military folks at Ft Sam Houston as part of the BRAC initiative that will surely affect our neighborhood, continued efforts to promote the neighborhood as a good place to live, the completion of the Hays Street Bridge restoration, and improvements to Lockwood park. Most importantly, we will continue to strengthen our relationships with each other and our community partners.
So as always, as an old year comes to a close I'm filled with hope that the coming new year will better that the last.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Note

This is our second Thanksgiving in this old and wonderful neighborhood. Much to give thanks for especially for family, our dogs, friends and neighbors.

Photo on the left is the house at 720 N Olive taken around 1929.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

It's Beyond Me

On the corner of Nolan and N Olive stands a beautiful old mansion. Built in 1895 and two stories tall, this grand old lady has seen better days. The current owner has allowed the structure to fall into a sad state of disrepair. Recently, shortly after a good rain, one of the second floor balconies partially collapsed, creating a dangerous structure situation. The city through it's Code Compliance officers and folks from the Historic Preservation Office have been pressuring the owner to repair the damage or possibly sell the house. The owner has been slow to respond and the house continues to deteriorate.
It's beyond me why anyone would allow such a grand old gem to literally fall apart. It's also beyond me why the owner will not sell the house to someone who will restore her. So to the owner of this wonderful old mansion, please consider selling it to someone who will save and restore this grand old lady to her former glory or fix her up yourself.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

BRAC: Behind the Curve

The newspaper recently had a thought provoking article on the possibility of the Eastside missing an opportunity for economic development associated with the BRAC. Ever since the announcement was made in 2005 that Ft. Sam Houston was a big winner in the BRAC realignment sweepstakes, the city has been touting the potential for economic development that the BRAC will generate for the Eastside. The way things stand now it's a little difficult see how the potential for economic development will be realized. Its becoming more apparent that the city is behind in getting ready for the influx of over 12, 000 troops. Since there will be no housing available on post these troops and their families will have to find housing in the surrounding neighborhoods or further away from Ft. Sam Houston.
Dignowity Hill is less than 10 minutes away by car from Ft. Sam which makes it one of the neighborhoods that surround the post where incoming military personnel would possibly consider buying or renting a house. Yet, there is no active communication or PR plan in place from either the city or from Ft. Sam that is sending the message out about Dignowity Hill and other neighborhoods such as Government Hill. There is also no clear picture on how economic development will take place. The Growth Management Plan developed for the BRAC lists a number of lofty and vague goals but what is needed is a more focused strategy on on how to incentivize business development, how to rehabilitate aging housing stock, how to engage the realtor community in working with the neighborhoods, and how to engage the school district(s) that serve the neighborhoods around the post. If any of this is happening now then it is not apparent to many of us that live in these neighborhoods.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Dia de Los Muertos

November 1st and 2nd, are celebrated as el Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Mexico and other countries where large hispanic populations reside, including the US. Having its origins in the ancient cultures of the Aztecs, Olmec, Mayan and other indigenous peoples of Mexico, it is a time to remember, pray for and honor the souls of family and friends that have died. In San Antonio, el Dia de Los Muertos is celebrated with music, visiting and decorating the cemeteries and remembering loved ones with altars and stories. We went down to El Mercado and enjoyed a dancing group dressed up in traditional Day of the Dead costumes.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fair in the Park

The neighborhood association hosted a community fair in Dignowity Park over the weekend. This past spring the association applied for a mini-grant from the United Way for a community event and we were awarded funds to put together a community fair. After lots of planning and organizing, the Dignowity Hill community fair took place on Oct 17th and it was a great success. We had blue skies, the park was wonderfully green after a good soaking from mother nature the week before and we had great a turnout. And yes we also had lots of fun!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Rehab Politics. Part II

The half way house saga on the Eastside continues as a group of residents and others have taken the issue to court in an effort to obtain a temporary injunction to stop the facility from opening. The group was handed a setback as a judge ruled against granting the injunction. A lawsuit will most likely follow as opposition to this halfway house is still alive in the Eastside and I hope that legal action will eventually correct a poor decision by the majority of the city council.

The CEO of Crosspoint was quoted in the newspaper that "the neighbors, the business representatives, the clergy in District 2 are going to come to recognize the benefits of our being in this neighborhood."......interesting. It's too bad that he is refusing to recognize and acknowledge that the neighbors and the Eastside community including many of the residents in Dignowity Hill do not want this facility at all.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Eastside Virtual Tour

If you want take a virtual cultural and historic tour of the near Eastside then go to the following link: http://www.saculturaltours.com/


The city's Office of Cultural Affairs has put together an online neighborhood tour called Echoes of the Eastside. The tour has pictures and short blurbs about the people, landmarks and history of the Near Eastside area. You can take visit Dignowity Hill, St Paul Square, the cemetery district and read some colorful tidbits about the area. Check it out.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

New Chapter

After 26 years of working for one employer and over 33 years of working as a health care professional, my lovely bride of 27 years has decided to "retire". Today is her last day working for Southwest General Hospital. She steps down as laboratory director eager to pursue new adventures and interests. We are both looking forward to this new chapter. In all the time that we've been married we both have always worked so this will definitely be different. Knowing Barb, she will not stay "retired" for long. In the meantime she's looking forward to some much needed down time, sleeping in, reading some good books, taking cooking classes and renewing her spirit. Congrats, you deserve it!!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cooler Weather

Finally....some cooler weather and rain! Fall officially arrived last week. A little cool front brought much need rain and nicer temps. We had over 5o days of 100 degree temps this summer with little or no rain. My poor yard and gardens took a beating. We were pretty good about restricting our water use so now our landscape is a looking a little tired.
But it's amazing what a little rain and cooler weather can do for your plants and your spirit......the old neighborhood suddenly feels a little more alive!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rehab Politics

I have to wonder what the majority of our elected council members was thinking when they recently voted to approve a re-zoning request that will allow the operation of a half way house in the middle of one our Eastside neighborhoods. The half way house will house federal prisoners and offer an opportunity for re-entry into society. Nothing wrong that, everyone deserves a second chance in life.......But the council went against both staff recommendation to not approve and the Eastside community's strong opposition to the re-zoning request. It's certainly the prerogative of council members to vote as they see fit......But the mayor and council showed a remarkable lack of integrity by not offering a credible rationale why this would be a good idea for the Eastside and not somewhere in their own districts. This decision will linger long in the memory of the Eastside community.

Kudos to Ivy Taylor, District 2 rep, for showing courage, poise and rationality in the midst of a firestorm. She showed that she is responsive and sensitive to her constituents concerns.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Corner Stores....Literally

When you walk or drive around the neighborhood you're likely to notice buildings that were at one time corner stores. Long time residents tell me that the neighborhood was once dotted with these mom and pop stores.













The buildings still stand, most of them shuttered or converted back to houses. Would love to the know the stories of these old corner stores. Would also love to see these old buildings come back to life.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Looking Back and Moving Forward

A couple of days ago one of my neighbors dropped off some clippings of newspaper articles about Dignowity Hill. One of the articles was dated September 1985 and was titled "Neatness Contrasts with Neglect". The article contrasted the grand old homes set against neglect amid the beginnings of a turnaround for the neighborhood. The picture in article shows the Elmendorf House with the caption referring to the character of the neighborhood.

Fast forward to September 2009. Well, some things have changed and others have not in the 24 years since 1985. We are in the midst of a renaissance that appears to be gaining momentum and we still have a good inventory of old houses yet we still have a ways to go in dealing with neglect. But one thing is certain: Dignowity Hill has character and it has to be preserved as we move forward.

The neighborhood plan for Dignowity Hill lays out a blue print for addressing land use, traffic and noise issues, safety concerns, historic influences on the neighborhood, etc. The hope is that the plan will help preserve and enhance much of what makes Dignowity Hill attractive as a neighborhood. As the neighborhood continues to revitalize my hope is that we can retain our sense of community, attract folks to our artistic community and continue our acceptance of newcomers. I hope that real estate agents learn to understand and convey the character of not only the houses but of the people who live here. I also hope that neglect will turn to appreciation of what we have in Dignowity Hill and result in action to tidy up.

Some things take time to change. Not a bad thing when you're talking about a neighborhood's character.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Media Exposure Fun

In case you've been out of town over the last 3 or 4 weeks our neighborhood has been highlighted in 3 newspaper articles. All three articles have painted a positive picture of the neighborhood. Most of the attention is a result of the reinvestment and neighborhood plans being developed by the city in partnership with the comunity. Yours truly has been interviewed all three times for these articles and for the most part it's been fun. This media exposure gig is all new to me so I'm still getting used to saying the appropriate things during an interview. For those of you that do not know me, I tend to be a little irreverent at times. My sense of humor is a little warped and I don't generally take myself too seriously. I use words like "cool", "weird" and "interesting" during conversations. I often fall back on the language of my youth. I can't help myself!

After the most recent newspaper article about our neighborhood was published I was taken to the woodshed by one of our association members for using the word "cool" in a quote. Thought that I sounded too much like a surfer dude....sigh! I thanked him for his honest critique and told him I would work at my interview giving skills. I suppose I do need to be mindful of what I say when ever I'm involved in an interview. It's never too late to learn new skills! Coming across as "polished" matters to some folks.

On the other hand, what truly matters to me is the fact that our neighborhood is on the cusp of experiencing some significant changes, that there is a sense of hope bubbling up, that we have an excellent association leadership group in place that really cares, that we are dealing with issues in a thoughtful manner, and most importantly I can see the beginnings of a transformation in attitudes of some of my neighbors. Now, is that cool or what?!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Early Morning-North Pine and Lamar Streets

Images taken between 530am and 630am- August 2009













Friday, August 14, 2009

Basic Stuff

If you live in Dignowity Hill and have walked around the neighborhood you've probably noticed that many of our sidewalks are in need of repair or need to be replaced. At the first public meeting of the reinvestment plan someone asked who is responsible for the maintenance or repair of sidewalks in the neighborhood. This question has been raised in other public meetings held for the reinvestment plan. Well, according to city code it is the responsibility of the adjacent property owner to maintain and/or provide for sidewalks abutting their property. Interesting.
The general feeling from the community is that we need to start with some basic infrastructure improvements in the neighborhood, for example, repave our streets, repair sidewalks, put in curbs, and improved street lighting, in order to start improving the quality of our neighborhood. This makes sense. But the current city code that puts the onus on homeowners to maintain or provide sidewalks does not make sense. The community is pushing for those basic infrastructure improvements to happen and city planners need to listen.
The reinvestment plan and neighborhood plan developed over the last couple of months has some excellent elements and goals that will over time have the potential to bring much needed positive change to the neighborhood. The point of this little ramble is that if these plans have any chance of succeeding then we have to start with the basics.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dignowity Dog Tale

Our two dogs have names straight out of the bible, Hannah and Becka (short for Rebecka). We found them abandoned on our church property in 1996 when they were puppies. So by dog standards they're up there in age. We think they're sisters but we'll never know for sure. We also think that they are part border collie, lab and who knows what else. Over the last 13 years they given us lots of joy and grief.... sort of like children do. For 10 years they provided service as visitation dogs. Along with my wife, Hannah and Becca visited a local nursing home on the Southeast side of town. So in many many ways they've redeemed themselves of the mischief they would occasionally get themselves in. They're retired now from their visitation duties and ever since we moved into the neighborhood they've led a pretty laid back sort of existence. They're not as active as they once were, mostly they just lay around and sleep. They love to sit on the front lawn or porch just watching the world go by. But even in their retirement years they're still capable of bringing joy and touching people's lives in ways that are seem spiritual at times.

The other night, around 9pm, the dogs were in the yard while Barb watered our gardens trying to save our flower beds from becoming mini deserts. A car stopped in front of our house and a gaggle of kids and their parents spilled out. The kids had spotted our dogs in the yard and persuaded their dad to stop. The kids wanted know if the could pet the dogs. Of course Barb said yes and in no time the kids all with biblical names: Jeremiah, Hannah, Genesis, Hezekiah, and some names I didn't catch, were engaged with Hannah and Becca, our biblical named dogs. The kids and the parents had a great time visiting with the dogs. Hannah and Becka were their usual gentle and unconditional selves.

After the family said their goodbyes, we were struck by what just had happened. Here we are, it's late in the evening, getting dark, this family shows up unannounced and we have this wonderful visit with total strangers. And all because of two old and gentle dogs with biblical names. You all can draw your own conclusions as to how these things happen, all I know is that Dignowity Hill can be an interesting place at times.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Perfect Storm

Our little corner of the world has been getting a lot of attention lately. All of sudden there seems to be a "perfect storm" of initiatives, projects and renewed energy converging upon our quiet neighborhood. One initiative that has the most potential for really changing the face of the Dignowity Hill is the Eastside Reinvestment Plan. The plan is an outgrowth of a city Strategic Community Plan that was developed a few years ago. The initial focus of the reinvestment plan will be on Dignowity Hill and if this plan comes to together as envisioned our neigborhood will experience positive change like never before! This plan has the potential to bring improvements in infrastructure, better lighting, improved streets and sidwewalks, improvements to our parks, raising the awareness of the historical nature of our neigborhood and other key quality of life improvements.
The first public meeting to introduce the plan and get community input was held this past week. The attendance was incredible, 113 people signed in and the head count came in at 132! That's a good sign.....it means that folks are interested but most importantly they want to provide input. Some challenges that I see: financial resources will need to be secured, so funding sources will need to identified. We also need to overcome a healthy dose of skepticism within the community that this will actually come to fruition.
But, I'm hopeful that this initiative will eventually deliver the goods.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Finding a Balance

Sometimes it takes the wisdom of Solomon to find a balance between the greater good and the interests or concerns of individuals. Take for example the issue of serving the poor in our neighborhood. There are numerous ministries or programs in our neighborhood that provide services to folks that are homeless, dealing with addictions, unemployed or barely making a livable income. As our neighborhood has revitalized these social ministry programs have become lightning rods of concern as we all struggle to find a way to coexist and yet keep the momentum going on the road to continued renewal. There's a perception out there that these types of social outreach programs can be detrimental to the revitalization of a community. The notion here is that these types of programs attract and bring "undesirable elements" into our quiet neighborhood and that having these "elements" in our community will have a negative affect on property values, the safety of our community and feed the negative perception of the Eastside. There may be some validity to that notion yet if we look in our own backyard you're likely to see neglect in the form of empty houses and overgrown and trashy empty lots. This kind of neglect contributes to the "broken window" theory of community apathy and does nothing to improve or erase old perceptions about the Eastside.
So I get a little confused when we focus our attention on these ministries yet there seems to be little that we do or can do about absentee landlords, that we allow trash to lie along our streets, that we allow dogs to run free in the neighborhood, that houses go unpainted, that empty lots are neglected....you get the picture.

The point of this rant: The poor and the needy will always be with us so we need to be compassionate and find ways to provide dignity...that's called service. As residents of this community we can do something about maintaining our homes and our lots, we can push the city for infrastructure improvements....that's called responsibility. Finding that balance between service and community responsibility takes a relationship. And like all relationships it takes a little bit of give and take to reach a healthy balance between the visions of those that feel called to serve and those of us that feel that this community could be even better.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Some Cool Stuff

Life is interesting at times. There's lots of things going on in and around the neighborhood. At our last neighborhood association meeting we had the police chief, the Eastside substation captain and our neighborhood SAFFE cops in attendance. The meeting was well attended, lots of folks that hadn't attended a meeting in awhile showed up. The chief and his troops gave a nice talk.
Our meeting that evening was probably the safest place in San Antonio!

Activities with the neighborhood association are gaining some momentum. About a month ago we applied for a mini grant from the city for funding to do a community fair and it was approved. Then I got a call from the city planning division wanting to discuss a re-investment plan focused on Dignowity Hill. This initiative has the potential of truly revitalizing the area in terms of real investment in the neighborhood. We're also going to apply for some free trees. The city through it's neighborhood tree challenge program will give us up to 25 trees for residences or park spaces. So a little committee has formed to get this tree show on the road. Come this fall we should have several new trees in our two parks and in some of our neighbors yards

Besides the Hays Street Bridge restoration, another cool happening is the opening of the River Walk extension north of downtown. This is great because it is a literal 10-15 minute walk from our neighborhood to this wonderful extension of San Antonio's famous River Walk.















City elections were held earlier this month and our city council district race went undecided because no one received a majority of the vote. So a run off election between the two top vote getter's is scheduled for June. My hope is that whoever gets in will be more responsive to the concerns of the district neighborhoods. Things can only improve after a poor showing from the previous council person's track record and strained relationship with our neighborhood.

The economy still stinks although there are signs of improvement and many folks are still struggling to keep things together but lately things have gotten a little interesting, maybe even a little hopeful, on Dignowity Hill.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hays Street Bridge Project Gets Going!

Finally after a few years of planning and discussion, the Hays Street Bridge restoration was initiated. On Saturday May 9th the project was kicked off with a ceremony. Within a couple of days demolition of the old approaches began. By the end of the 1st week the old planks on the bridge it self were gone! We went by to look at the progress over the weekend. It is so cool to see this actually happening. Another sign that things are beginning to change in our historic neighborhood!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Happy Birthday Rose!





Our house, Rose, yes that's her name, turned 100 years old this month! So we threw her a party. We wanted to honor her not only reaching the 100 year milestone but also honor those that help restore her. So we had a bunch of our neighbors and friends over for a little celebration. Byron, Bill and Geno the three guys who literally saved this old house from becoming a pile of rubble were toasted for their good work. We also wanted to shine a light on our neighborhood. One of the local TV news stations sent over a video guy and we made that night's news! The message we wanted to get out is that this old neighborhood is coming back! Rose: we wish you another good 100 yrs!