History of Shearer Hills reflects San Antonio’s post-war housing boom

Shocking now, developer’s racial covenants barred African Americans

SAN ANTONIO – Sought out by buyers looking for a neighborhood with a 1950s and ‘60s vibe, Shearer Hills was one of the first developments in the wake of San Antonio’s post-war housing boom.

Back then, the wooded area was considered outside the city limits.

“McCullough was a dirt road,” said Irene Ortiz, who is among the first homeowners in Shearer Hills. “There was no such thing as freeways of any kind.”

Irene Ortiz and her husband made their home in Shearer Hills. (Courtesy, Irene Ortiz)

Now in her 90s, Ortiz and her now-late husband, newlyweds at the time, used his GI Bill to buy a home there in 1954.

“That particular area had some houses already, but there were still lots available,” Ortiz said.

Their home on Linda Drive would be the first of two houses they bought over the years as their family grew.

Irene Ortiz and her family made their home in Shearer Hills. (Courtesy, Irene Ortiz)

Yet when Shearer Hills was created, it was a time of racial segregation.

Even so, it came as a shock to Jennifer Neal, president of the Shearer Hills-Ridgeview Neighborhood Association, to read the racial covenant that the developer H.J. Shearer had specified in the deed restrictions for Shearer Hills.

It said, “No part of said property shall be sold or occupied by any person of African descent, except as servants.”

H.J. Shearer developed the Shearer Hills area. (Courtesy, UTSA Libraries Special Collections)

Although racial covenants are no longer valid under federal law, Neal took those words personally as she’s married to an African American.

“We wouldn’t be allowed to be here,” she said. “That’s not right.”

Yet not surprising to Greg Bell, a Black homeowner who bought the first of two houses there in 1997, the antiquated covenant was still in the deed.

The owner of a successful business in the neighborhood, Bell said the maid quarters in the first house was “the only way someone of my race could have been living in this house in the 50s.”

Shearer Hills deed. (Bexar County)

Both Neal and Bell also were disturbed to learn when Shearer, a major real estate developer, was on City Council, he had voted against desegregating city pools in the wake of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling declaring “separate but equal” unconstitutional.

It was brought as an emergency item after a group of young blacks had gone to the pool at Woodlawn Lake.

With not enough votes, the ordinance failed but not before an angry exchange between Shearer and future Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez, who also was on City Council at the time.

Bexar County Clerk’s Office archivist David Carlson said there wasn’t a racial covenant to Ridgeview, the adjoining neighborhood to Shearer Hills.

But Carlson found a different restriction for Ridgeview in 1954 that said, “No dwelling costing less than $8,000 shall be permitted.”

An ad for Ridgeview in the San Antonio Express in 1954. (San Antonio Express via San Antonio Public Library)

Neal said the community can learn from Shearer’s example.

“Even if now our neighborhood is open to anyone who wants to live here, do we truly treat people that way?” she asked.

Despite its history, Ortiz said Shearer Hills had different people living there, including Jewish homeowners.

Being a Mexican-American, Ortiz said, “I did not find myself not being welcomed.”

Ortiz and her husband actually bought two homes in Shearer Hills over the years as their family grew.

After she raised her children, Ortiz said she’s often had her grandchildren and great-grandchildren come over to visit her.

“Hopefully, the next generations will continue to come,” she said.

Irene Ortiz and her family made their home in Shearer Hills. (Courtesy, Irene Ortiz)

But for now, Ortiz is leasing a house while her home undergoes renovations.

“Not only for myself but for the rest of the neighborhood,” Ortiz said.

Until then, Ortiz said she’s looking forward to “where I belong.”

“It’s like my heart is there.”

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About the Authors

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.

William Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.

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