by Elloa Mathews, David Swann and Neal Nuwash
South of Oltorf, the neighborhood of Sherwood Oaks (SRCC Area 5) is a distinctly midcentury suburban neighborhood. Jack Andrewartha built a few model homes between Oltorf and Live Oak to appeal to GI’s retiring from Bergstrom Air Force Base. With VA loans available to these airmen returning from the Korean War, the model homes sold quickly and Mr. Andrewartha and five builders then built over 200 homes in five floorplans in the 1960’s south of Oltorf.
Almost all the modest homes were around 1000 square feet 3 bedroom one baths with carports appealing to young families. Airmen used VA loans, that complied with the recently passed Fair Housing Act, to buy the modest houses and Sherwood Oaks quickly became a very integrated neighborhood. This continued into the 1970’s when airmen returned from Vietnam with their brides and moved into Sherwood Oaks. The new residents found Sherwood Oaks convenient to Bergstrom AFB where their families received medical care and bought their groceries, among other activities, and their employment at the IRS, Post Office and the city, state and UT.
The southern boundary of the neighborhood was the St. Edwards High School. A boys high school at the time, it became co-ed during the 1960’s but the male and female dorms were split on the east and west sides of the campus. There was no St. Edwards Drive at the time, but once students were allowed to have cars on campus, the fast driving students began to rut a road between the dorms on the southern boundary of Sherwood Oaks. Eventually, the City of Austin wanted to put a road in where the students were driving and charged all the neighbors living on the southern boundary of the neighborhood to pay for the road.
This is not the only public infrastructure that property owners in Sherwood Oaks had to purchase. As can be seen in the aerial photo, the channel running north to south in the center of the photo is an open drainage ditch. Anyone who has walked from Oltorf to St. Edwards knows the grade increase that occurs walking up to the campus. This means that any rain that falls on the St. Edwards campus runs south to the river through Sherwood Oaks to get to Blunn Creek on the north side of Oltorf.
When the neighborhood was built, the last houses on the south boundary were at the city limits. The north/south streets were built with curbs and run off gutters that all drained into the open drainage ditch. Anyone who lived along the ditch soon became aware of its shortcomings. In the Texas rains, the ditch was not large enough to contain the runoff and all the houses that backed up to it had rivers in their backyards. Then when water stood in it, the open ditch bred mosquitos. And not very neighborly neighbors threw everything from furniture to giant limbs in the ditch. The city disavowed responsibility for the ditch since it had been built by the developer. A dad in law school who lived on Friar Tuck sued the city and finally it was decided that the city would put in a drainage pipe and cover over the ditch. And charge the homeowners that lived along the ditch to pay for it.
In later years, a high up city official described the original open ditch as “minimally engineered”. Unfortunately, the city installed a 16 inch pipe that was too small to carry away the run off as the upstream campus grew from a boys high school to a university.
Fortunately for Sherwood Oaks, the people buying homes in the neighborhood were interested in keeping the neighborhood a great place to live for their families. In the early days, the Green, Rovira and Janosek families joined with Jean Mather and Harriet Buxkemper to ensure that Sherwood Oaks was part of SRCC. It wasn’t until 1979 that the city annexed the neighborhood into the city limits and gave it Single Family 2 residential zoning thanks to Eileen Rovira and Jean Mather’s work.
In the ensuing years, Sherwood Oaks has been home to City Council member Margret Hofmann, also known as “The Tree Lady”, author of Austin’s heritage tree ordinance.
Notable as well was Joe Uriegas, who was bestowed France’s highest military honor for his bravery in WWII. Many residents of Sherwood Oaks, like Mr. Uriegas, were Purple Heart recipients from WWII, Korea and Vietnam.
In the 1980’s former SRCC VP Eileen Rovira was notified that the 38.8 acres of undeveloped land east of Sherwood Oaks to Travis High School was proposed to have 400 condos built. This land backed up to Sherwood Oaks and the development would have only had access through Sherwood Oaks on Long Bow Lane.
Eileen immediately engaged neighbors and SRCC into opposition and lobbied the city to buy the land to protect Blunn Creek and preserve the land as parkland.
The first bond proposal for $1.8 million failed by a 514 vote margin but Eileen did not give up. The Blunn Creek Wilderness Park was listed on a separate bond proposition from the other parks projects, because council members said the separate listing gave the proposed purchase a better chance of passing. It did.