CASTROVILLE, Texas – A glimpse of sloping roofs, half-timbered buildings and flower boxes, Castroville looks a lot further 25 miles from San Antonio. Residents with deep roots want it to be.
“Welcome to Castroville,” said Helen Lutz in Alsatian, the High German dialect of her ancestors. Lutz lived his 82 years in this city and still speaks the language of his grandparents, although his hometown has changed.
“We had three grocery stores, all locally owned,” she said. “Now we have one and it’s a Walmart.”
Designating every building that dots the downtown Parisian street, Lutz recalls the glory days.
“It was actually a meat market, Dan’s market,” she said. “And, in the same building, there was a saloon.”
Now, the picturesque time capsule of a town in Lutz is gaining in population and interest from developers of country houses and chain stores. The inhabitants see it as an encroachment of urban sprawl threatening their identity.
“The real fear was that this downtown area, which has so much charm and potential, would be redeemed or even overthrown by all the growth to come,” said Joshua Kempf, an eighth generation Castrovillian.
A few months ago, Kempf and a few other residents had what they’ve had an ‘aha’ moment – a way to avoid impending change and preserve their city’s culture and history.
They founded the Castroville Downtown Redevelopment Fund. Just over 30 families are putting their own money where their memories are, launching a daring and rare effort to save their downtown core.
They have already bought four properties. The first to benefit from a revitalized elevator is the old post office, which is now locked, vacant and in poor dusty condition.
The vision is to create a vibrant, family-friendly downtown with new businesses and new life.
Kempf said that means targeting businesses “like a microbrewery or art gallery or upscale European or American bookstore or restaurant.”
And all this would be done while respecting the heritage of the city.
“One of the mission statements is to be true to the original architecture so that the Alsatian generations of the past, if they got on this time machine and come here, would recognize everything,” said Tim Hildenbrand , another resident investor.
But, the rare move is more than saving old buildings.
For Bradford Boehme, another seventh generation Castrovillian, it’s personal.
“Our great-great-great-grandparents came here and literally built this place from scratch,” he said.
For Boehme, it’s about investing in the future of her children and their children by honoring and cherishing the past.
“I don’t want to be the generation that gives up,” he said.
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