Alta Vista (light blue), like its neighbor Beacon Hill, is one of several older neighborhoods that evolved during San Antonio’s first and greatest expansion, which began in the 1850s and continued with few interruptions until the Great Depression of the 1930s. The evolution of the area, located roughly between Hildebrand and San Pedro Park and IH-10 West and San Pedro Avenue, may be traced to the turn of the century when the area developed as part of the first northward expansion of the city of San Antonio. North Street (Hildebrand), the northern boundary of Alta Vista and Beacon Hill, was also the northern boundary of the city limits established in 1838 and enclosing 36 square miles. Prior to 1870, however, most residences and businesses were located in or near the central district.
Several factors significantly influenced the first northward expansion of the city and the development of present-day Alta Vista and Beacon Hill neighborhoods. First, the city’s population grew from slightly over 8,200 persons in 1860, when the city was still a frontier town, to nearly 38,000 persons in 1890. With this magnitude of growth, the pressure to expand outward from the original city center was immense.
Second, the development of San Pedro Park as a recreational destination may have been one of the most significant influences in the city’s first northward expansion. Reserved as a public park in 1851, it became one of the most popular attractions in the city. Flowing San Pedro Springs made the park a place where San Antonians of the 1850s came to relax and enjoy outdoor concerts, dances and political rallies. In the 1860s, J.J. Duerler leased the park from the city and developed an amusement park with a small museum, zoo and artificial lakes. As early as1858, stable owner W.D. Cotton was making two trips a day from downtown to the park by horse-drawn carriage. Recognizing the demand for transportation northward to San Pedro Park, Duerler established the San Antonio Street Railway Company in 1866. Mr. Duerler died in 1874, however, before he could construct the street railway. Col. Augustus Belknap took over and laid the initial mule-drawn San Antonio Street Railway from Main Plaza to San Pedro Park by 1878. Its construction literally opened up the area around San Pedro Park for development. Third, the arrival of the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway in 1877 was the final factor that fueled the city’s first suburban expansion and the development of the Alta Vista and Beacon Hill neighborhoods. The railway not only provided accessibility to visitors and new residents, but also ensured access to building materials, as well as new street car lines to meet the demands of the growing population. By 1890, the city’s first modern real estate boom was underway and the city’s first ‘modern’ platted sub-divisions – including Alta Vista and Beacon Hill – were being built. Their development transformed farm and ranch land located in the hills north of the central district into suburban residential neighborhoods with distinctive turn-of-the-century architecture where many prominent San Antonians lived. Today, the area has become a magnet for artists who appreciate its architectural treasures.
Public art also contributes to Alta Vista’s charm. Twyla Arthur’s mosaic Bridge between Two Neighborhoods connects Beacon Hill with Alta Vista at the Fulton Avenue underpass near the Union Pacific railroad tracks. The design and landscape enhancements were part of an area drainage project funded in November 1993 that was completed in 2003. Arthur installed the mosaic along a 330-foot retaining wall. Materials for the project – ceramics, broken dishes, rocks, fossils, belt buckles and anything else that is durable enough to stick in concrete and colorful enough to fit the mosaic design – were donated by friends and area residents. Landscaping, including flowering vines, and a painted mural (unfortunately, this part of the project was recently painted over) completed the project.
Recent murals, inspired by street and graffiti art, decorate the railroad side of Hausmann Millworks. Founded in 2009, Millworks rents studios space to local artists and craftspeople.