Tobin Hill

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Origins


Tobin Hill, to the north of the city core, is one of San Antonio's inner neighborhoods located just north of I-35, between Huisache to the north, Highway 281 to the east, and San Pedro Avenue to the west.  In Spanish times this area between the San Antonio River and San Pedro Springs provided good agricultural land.  Early San Antonio settlers dug irrigation ditches or acequias for irrigation of crops.  A major acequia, the Upper Labor, was completed in 1777 and was located at what is now the southern boundary of Tobin Hill.  It began at the west side of the San Antonio River headwaters and followed the Rock Quarry Road (now St. Mary’s Street) before it skirted Tobin Hill and flowed into the San Pedro Ditch near Laurel Street and Interstate-35.1  The land abutting the acequia was distributed by lottery, and the land north of the acequia was parceled out during the latter part of 1777.  Due to its value as agricultural land, no real development occurred in the area for another 100 years.2  An exception, however, was a house built for the overseer of the acequia, which may be the small stone building at 305 E. Euclid Street today.

            Euclid House 1       Euclid House 2
 
As the years passed, this part of the city became known as the Old Main Association, and the land was sold to the Maverick family, Gillum & Yongue, and other large landholders.  Part of the area now known as Tobin Hill was the result of an 1876 lawsuit between Gillum & Yongue and the City.  In a lawsuit the City had misinterpreted the amount of land in a labor (seven acres inside city limits, but 177 acres outside city limits) and awarded Gillum & Yongue 177 acres.  When the mistake was realized, the City sued but did not win back the land.  Gillum subdivided the 177 acres into lots, donated two blocks on either side of Main Avenue to the City for what is now Crockett Park, and sold the remaining lots, which became known as Gillum Addition.3
 
During the 1880s and 1890s, when members of the Tobin family built seven homes in the area, the Old Main Association and Gillum Addition became known as Tobin Hill.4  Unfortunately, none of the Tobin houses exist today.


Transportation and Commercial Development


Public transportation in San Antonio, which played a large role in early neighborhood development, began in 1878 with a streetcar route from Main Plaza north to San Pedro Park.  Colonel Augustus Belknap owned the system which consisted of mule-drawn cars, and a mule barn was located on the present site of San Antonio College.5  The first electric trolleys appeared in 1890, with a car barn replacing the mule barn. 6,7  By 1919 the eastern part of Tobin Hill, anchored by the Pearl Brewery, was served by a streetcar that ran from Dallas St. to King’s Court in the vicinity of Brackenridge Park.8

Wherever streetcars went, development followed and spread. Commercial development occurred along the main streetcar corridors, including San Pedro, McCullough, and St. Mary’s Street.  Residential development nearby served the needs of those who worked in the businesses.  Business owners built large houses, such as those at 130 Lewis Street, 421 Howard Street (now the Victorian Lady Inn), and the Otto Koehler House at 310 W. Ashby Place (now on the campus of San Antonio College).  Workers at the Pearl Brewery, established in 1886 on the east side of Tobin Hill, built smaller bungalows within the vicinity.

        Koehler House           Victorian Lady
                   Otto Koehler House - 310 W. Ashby                               Victorian Lady Inn - 421 Howard Street


                                                       Lewis House
                                                                                 130 Lewis Street

Architecture


The architecture was true to the period with many holdovers from the late Victorian era, numerous Craftsman bungalows, and later Colonial Revival and English or Tudor style residences as well as four-squares.  The Clegg-Henning House (L.B. Clegg House) at 123 W. Park Avenue is a good example of Spanish Revival architecture.  The Aurora Apartments, on Howard Street at Crockett Park, is a Gothic Revival-style apartment building from the late 1920s and one of the few early high-rise residences in the city.

                  TobinHillBungalow2     Tobin Hill Bungalow        

                  Tobin Hill House 2     Tobin Hill House3

            Clegg House   Aurora Apts
                         Clegg-Henning House - 123 . Park                          Aurora Apartments - Howard Street



Schools, Churches, and Medical Facilities

Schools were also constructed as residential development increased.   Gonzales Elementary School (now Gonzalez Achievement Center) opened on E. Magnolia Street in 1908.  In 1910, Travis Public School No. 13 (now Travis Early College) was built on N. Main Avenue.  Eleanor Brackenridge School No. 16 (since demolished) was built in 1911 on Brooklyn Avenue at the site of one of Metropolitan Methodist Hospital’s parking lots.                                                                                  

Several churches in Tobin Hill were built during the period between the turn of the century and WWII.  There are four active houses of worship located in Tobin Hill, all dating from the 1920s or earlier.  Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church on North St. Mary’s Street was built in 1905.9  In 1926 the Greek community in San Antonio built St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church on North St. Mary’s St, which quickly became a center for the local Greek community. 10 In 1904 the Evengelische Friedens-Gemeinde zu San Antonio (the Friedens Church) was formed, first meeting in a building on Elmira Street and in 1927 at a new building at 611 E. Myrtle Street, which only consisted of a parsonage, education wing, and fellowship hall.  The sanctuary and bell tower were not built until 1951.  In 1936 the congregation changed its name to Bethany Evangelical and Reformed Church.  The congregation moved to the Dellview area in northwest San Antonio in 1979, and the Myrtle Street buildings are now occupied by the Metropolitan Community Church.11
                                                      Temple Bethel

In 1927, the Temple Beth-El congregation of San Antonio completed their new structure with a prominent copper-colored dome.  Located at West Ashby and Belknap Sts., Temple Beth-El serves the oldest Jewish congregation in San Antonio dating from 1874.12

Medical establishments have long played a role in Tobin Hill.  Kenney Sanatorium, run by Dr. John W. Kenney, Jr., was located at 209 Ogden Street in 1905.  In 1929 it was moved to 1200 Main Street, and the former Ogden Street building became the Sanatorium Annex.  It was demolished sometime after 1941.13
 
The 1956 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows dwellings, apartments, and a store on the far northern end of Brooklyn Ave.  Sometime around 1973, what was to become Metropolitan Methodist Hospital was first established in this area and now encompasses at least two hospital buildings, doctors’ buildings, and many satellite clinics and offices.


San Antonio College


Established in 1925 as University Junior College under the auspices of the University of Texas at Austin, San Antonio College was originally located downtown.  In 1926 it was transferred to the San Antonio Independent School District and became San Antonio Junior College, and in 1948 it became San Antonio College.14  In 1951 its facilities were moved to its present location on San Pedro Avenue, with almost all of the campus buildings constructed after this time.15


The Present


In the 1950s, much of Tobin Hill was composed of single family residences and small apartment buildings, many beginning to show the wear of time.  San Antonio College, Metropolitan Methodist Hospital and its attendant office buildings, and the construction of Highway 281 have done away with many of the dwellings.  Today the majority of Tobin Hill residents live in the area bounded by Huisache (north), Elmira (south) , N. St. Mary’s (east), and McCullough (west).  Development along commercial corridors has pushed residential areas to the east and the north.  The area within the Tobin Hill Local Historic District, located between N. St. Mary’s and McCullough, is primarily residential.  The current resurgence of the Pearl Brewery, the extension of the San Antonio River Walk to Josephine Street, and the expansion of facilities and staff at nearby Fort Sam Houston has again made the area one of interest to both potential residents and businesses.  After many years of decline, the future looks bright for much of Tobin Hill.

Ricki Kushner
San Antonio Conservation Society Volunteer – Historic Survey Committee
 
References

1 "Streetcars in SA", North San Antonio Times, Thurs., Dec. 25, 1986.
2 Ibid.
3 Unknown newspaper article, "Court Error Gave Away Tobin Hill", dated June 21, 1927 – DRT Library.
4 San Antonio on Track: the Suburban and Street Railway Complex through 1937 / Ann Maria Watson. Trinity U., 1982.
5 S.A. Express-News, n.d.
6 S.A. Express magazine, Oct. 1, 1953.
7 The "Convenient Streetcar Service Helped Shape City’s Growth" / Paula Allen, S.A. Express-News, Sept. 14, 1999.
8 San Antonio Streetcar Guide 1919 /  Ed Gaida. Pub. by author, 1999.
9 "Century-old Church Has Pews For More Youths" / Barbara Ramirez; San Antonio Express-News, Mon., May 16, 2005.
10 "St. Sophia’s History" from website of St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church.
11 Coming Together in Christ: a Centennial History of Bethany Congregational Church, 1904-2004 / by Rev. John B. Culver, Pastor Emeritus.
12 "Temple Beth-El’s First 75 Years" from Temple Beth-El website.
13 San Antonio Conservation Society – Hospitals – Misc. file.
14 San Antonio College website.
15 Tobin Hill Neighborhood  Plan: Tobin Hill History.