Courtyards Old and New

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Earlier this week while driving on a street adjacent to Fort Sam Houston I discovered a classic example of a courtyard neighborhood. An arrangement of homes oriented with their front doors facing one-another rather than facing a street. The cottages, built in 1950 according to BCAD, are tiny, 520 square feet each and the eight units, their 6’ common central walkway and a small 12 car parking lot fit neatly on a 65’ x 250’ lot.

The Whippoorwill Cottage Courtyard Community

The cottages are tidy and well-kept with small raised square stoops and porch lights and mail boxes. Small side-yards, some with garden sheds and BBQ grills populate the area between the homes. The minute scale of this little enclave is as fantastic to behold as the little cottages themselves. A low stone wall separates the public sidewalk along the street side of the courtyard from the shared central walkway and clearly delineates the public and private realms. Entering the courtyard, you feel instantly that you are in someone else’s space. Almost like you are standing in their living room. I felt immediately like an intruder, a feeling that is almost impossible to evoke when standing in so many ill-conceived public spaces. The very human and intimate scale of the cottages and the spaces between them leaves you with no doubt that you are somewhere. And standing there it is easy to imagine the community that must exist between the occupants of the eight little cottages.

The Whippoorwill Cottage Courtyard Community

If the sign out front is to be believed the units are available for rent and a google search of the address indicates that at some point in the not-too-distant past they were marketed as hotel rooms. One website referred to them as the Whippoorwill Cottages. If accurate, their vacation rental legacy would give them a bit of shared history with several of the early Pasadena, California courtyard neighborhoods. And that purpose would make sense, considering their location across the street from the old parade grounds of a large military base.

A Whippoorwill Cottage

I was thrilled to discover this little gem hiding there in plain sight, on a street I have driven down numerous times. ”Baader-Meinhof” is the name for this phenomenon, where once exposed to new information you seem to encounter it repeatedly. In this case I had been studying courtyards and pocket neighborhoods in conjunction with an on-going proposal to introduce courtyards into the Traditional Neighborhood Design (TND) community of Plum Creek in Kyle, Texas. And in driving around the Post I was hoping to find a classic courtyard tucked away in the historic neighborhoods that border Fort Sam, or at least to identify a few sites that would be good candidates for their reintroduction. And lucky me, I found both.

A view of the Whippoorwill Courtyard from the Parking Court.