Castroville families fund plan to preserve town’s Alsatian charm

Residents redeveloping old downtown core to retain identity as urban sprawl threatens

A group of Castroville families is funding an organized effort to preserve the 177-year-old town's Alsatian heritage and downtown charm.

CASTROVILLE, Texas – One glimpse of the steep roofs, half-timbered buildings, and flower boxes, Castroville seems much farther than 25 miles from San Antonio. Residents with deep roots want to keep it that way.

“Welcome to Castroville,” Helen Lutz said in Alsatian, the high-German dialect of her ancestors. Lutz has lived all of her 82 years in this town and still speaks her grandparents language, although her hometown village has changed.

“We had three grocery stores, all locally owned,” she said. “Now, we have one and it’s a Walmart.”

Pointing to each building that dots downtown’s Paris Street, Lutz reminisces the glory days.

“This was actually a meat market, Dan’s market,” she said. “And, in the same building was a saloon.”

Now, Lutz’s quaint time capsule of a town is gaining population and interest from tract home and chain store developers. Locals see it as encroachment from urban sprawl threatening their identity.

“The real fear was that this downtown, which has so much charm and so much potential, would get bought up or knocked down even by all of the growth coming in,” said Joshua Kempf, an eighth-generation Castrovillian.

A few months ago, Kempf and a few other residents had what they had an “aha” moment - a way to head off impending change and preserve their town’s culture and history.

They founded the Castroville Downtown Redevelopment Fund. A little more than 30 families put their own money where their memories are, launching a bold, rare effort to save their downtown.

They’ve already bought four properties. The first to get a revitalized lift is the old Post Office, which is now locked up, vacant, and in dusty disrepair.

The vision is to curate a bustling family-friendly downtown district with new business and new life.

Kempf said that means targeting businesses “like a microbrewery or an art gallery or a bookstore or a high-end European or American restaurant.”

And it would all be done while being true to the town’s heritage.

“One of the mission statements is to be true to the original architecture so that the Alsatian generations of the past, if they got in that time machine and came here, they would recognize everything,” said Tim Hildenbrand, another resident investor.

But, the rare move is about more than saving old buildings.

For Bradford Boehme, another seventh-generation Castrovillian, it’s personal.

“Our great, great, great grandparents came here and built this place from scratch, literally,” he said.

For Boehme, it’s about investing in his children’s and their children’s futures by honoring and cherishing the past.

“I don’t want to be the generation that let’s it drop,” he said.

About the Authors:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.