CASTROVILLE, Texas – A look at the steep roofs, half-timbered houses and flower boxes, Castroville seems to be much further than 25 miles from San Antonio. Residents with deep roots want it to stay that way.
“Welcome to Castroville,” said Helen Lutz in Elsässer, the high German dialect of her ancestors. Lutz lived in this city for all of her 82 years and still speaks the language of her grandparents, even though her home village has changed.
“We had three grocery stores, all locally owned,” she said. “Now we have one and it’s a Walmart.”
Lutz points out every building on Pariser Strasse in the city center and remembers the glory days.
“That was actually a meat market, Dan’s market,” she said. “And there was a saloon in the same building.”
Now Lutz’s picturesque time capsule of a city is gaining in population and interest from property developers and chain stores. Locals see it as an encroachment on urban sprawl that threatens their identity.
“The real fear was that this downtown area, which has so much charm and potential, will be bought up or knocked down even by all the growth that is coming in,” said Joshua Kempf, an eighth generation Castrovillian.
A few months ago, Kempf and several other residents had an aha experience – an opportunity to avert the impending change and preserve the culture and history of their city.
They founded the Castroville Downtown Redevelopment Fund. Just over 30 families put their own money where their memories are and make a bold, rare attempt to save their inner city.
You have already bought four properties. The first to get a revitalized elevator is the old post office, which is now locked, empty and dusty.
The vision is to curate a busy, family-friendly downtown with new business and new life.
Kempf said this means targeting businesses “like a microbrewery or an art gallery or a bookstore or a European or American high-end restaurant”.
And all of this while preserving the city’s heritage.
“One of the guiding principles is to stay true to the original architecture so that the Alsatian generations of the past recognize everything when they step into this time machine and come here,” said Tim Hildenbrand, another resident investor.
But the rare move is about more than saving old buildings.
For Bradford Boehme, another seventh generation Castrovilian, it’s personal.
“Our great, great, great-grandparents came here and literally built this place from scratch,” he said.
For Böhme, it’s about investing in the future of his children and their children by appreciating and cherishing the past.
“I don’t want to be the generation to drop it,” he said.
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