Albert Steves Jr., the original owner of the 780 acres that would become Highland Park, initially rented the land out as pasture to local dairy farmers. Several people, including L.P. Peck, Benno Kayton, W.C. Rigsby, Ben Hammond, Charles Peterson, and A.M. Avant, bought what was then known as “the old Steve pasture” in 1909. Initially, the goal of the Highland Park Improvement Company was to have each investor construct a mansion on the street bearing his name. However, since Charles Peterson decided against having a street named after him, the main drag through this suburban region is now known as Highland Park Boulevard.
Highland Park had its utilities run through the lanes as a planned neighborhood aimed at middle-to-upper-class families. To safeguard land and property values, rigorous deed restrictions were enacted. The new trolley line that made it easier for residents to get to downtown San Antonio was instrumental in the growth of what was then the city’s largest suburb. Before bus service replaced the trolley on the No. 10 Line in 1933, Highland Park residents could ride it up Rigsby Avenue to its terminus at Adele Street. One of the marketed benefits was the area’s outstanding educational opportunities. There are Highland Park plats from 1909, 1913, 1917, and 1921 in the public record. The neighborhood reached its current population density between World Wars I and II. Don’t forget to learn about Seagoville, Texas here too.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, the neighborhood began to lose its charm as many two-story homes were turned into flats and many more fell into ruin. The key to a resurgence that started in the 1980s and continues today was forming an active neighborhood group. An article from the San Antonio Express-News from February 2007 captures the current state of Highland Park: “Like a neighborhood battling an identity crisis, Highland Park roadways are dotted with evidence of both decay and pride.”
Bungalows, Spanish Revival, and English Tudor Revival houses can all be found in Highland Park, as can several “eclectic” Craftsman houses and later minimal conventional dwellings. Between 1905 and the early 1920s, the Craftsman architectural style was widely adopted. Hip roofs with exposed rafters, triangular knee braces below the top, and various porch columns were common elements in many homes because builders referred to “pattern books” while constructing them. Particularly noteworthy are the Asian-influenced bungalow at 843 Rigsby, erected in 1912, and the house and workshop of artist E.O. Goldbeck, built-in 1929-1930 at 723 E. Drexel.
In the field of panoramic photography, Goldbeck was a legend. In the 1930s, he ran his photography business, National Photo Service, out of his Drexel Avenue house and studio (backyard). The Rigsby bungalow, with its Japanese-inspired additions to a classic bungalow design, is a rare and striking example of the type found in the city. Goldbeck’s studio, house on Drexel, and the Asian-style bungalow on Rigsby are still two of the most remarkable buildings in the area.
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