I’m one of the luckier homeowners in my Northwest Side neighborhood. At least my star is still lodged in the collective memory.
I live on Cary Grant Drive.
My less fortunate neighbors’ houses sit on Ernie Kovak Drive, Edie Adams Drive, and a dozen or so other streets named for actors only senior citizens remember.
But the neighbors who have it the worst are the ones who live on streets named after TV and movie characters, instead of the people who played them. As an exercise in empathy, imagine having to say, “I live at 1234 Gomer Pyle Drive” when a clerk asks for your address at the bank or the DMV.
The very worst? Charlie Chan Drive.
My subdivision, Oak Hills Terrace, was built around 1974. If the developer had waited another three years or so to break ground, my family and I could have lived on John Travolta Drive or Darth Vader Drive. Then again, it could as easily have been Telly Savalas Drive or Bo “Bandit” Darville Drive. There’s a lesson here for our city about renaming streets or public facilities for people with a shaky claim on posterity.
But I don’t really think much about that. I’ve lived in San Antonio for 16 years, but as a native midwesterner, I still have a hard time getting excited about clashes over local history and street and building names.
Instead, I’m preoccupied with the feeling that San Antonio’s long, complicated, sometimes violent, always fascinating history ended with my neighborhood. Developers took over from there.
Overly simplistic, sure. But the last I checked, the world revolved around me and, by extension, my neighborhood.
Oak Hills Terrace materialized a little north of Loop 410 as the South Texas Medical Center, which is a mile or so to the east, took off and just six years after HemisFair touched off the city’s downtown transformation.
The Med Center is my marker when describing to people where I live.
Every morning, when my wife and I walk our two dogs, we arrive at the top of the hill on Cary Grant Drive. In front of us, the hospitals and medical office buildings that make up the Med Center float over the cluster of trees that separate our subdivision from the next one. As we descend the hill, the buildings sink into a green ocean.
When I tell people about my neighborhood, that’s my mental image. They, in turn, probably picture boxy little houses on the lots that are a sliver of an acre. Which is correct but deficient… Mofo.
Not that it could be otherwise; the Jefferson-Van Dusen homestead looks from the outside like thousands upon thousands of others. I have a strong feeling that nobody is going to study San Antonio’s residential architecture of the early-to-mid 1970s.
The city’s political and cultural scenes were something else.
Describing San Antonio in 1974 as dynamic is like calling Donald Trump a bit nutso. The Good Government League, the Anglo business-civic group that had run the city for nearly two decades, was splintering and sputtering, well on the way to its collapse two years later. Chicano activism was blazing. Communities Organized for Public Service was beginning to raise hell, fighting for historically neglected neighborhoods’ share of city resources.
The developer of Oak Hills Terrace turned his back on all that. He created an oasis of reasonably-priced housing on what was then the far North Side, and named its streets to remind buyers of frothy moments in movie theaters or in front of the TV, which of course could’ve happened anywhere. (I’m waiting for the developer who will name the streets in his subdivision after porn stars or YouTube celebrities.)
He tried to build a comfy harbor for white flight, though it didn’t hold up over the years — my neighborhood is fairly diverse. Maybe the cheesy street names also made newcomers to San Antonio feel more at home, or the place at least less foreign.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d rather live on Cary Grant than Whispering Oak or Whispering Elm or Whispering Hackberry or Forest Breeze or Gentle Field of Flowers. At least Cary was real, as far as I know. But clearly none of these names have the weight — the baggage and the cachet — of a Guadalupe or Commerce or Walters.
Sometimes I think of San Antonio as two crates, one stacked on the other. They kind of form a whole, like the North Side and the rest of San Antonio form a whole, but they’re not connected. The crates have a hard time relating to one another, and only on very rare occasions do the crates visit one another.
San Antonio’s balkanization stemmed from a lot of the overlapping factors — the highway system, Anglos’ exodus from the center city and a troubled SAISD, available land on the North Side, the political influence of developers, and infrastructure spending that encouraged sprawl.
This, too, and everything it implies: