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That’s what they’ll call it when it’s leveled and paved

Guest Column
Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Cheatham Street. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Just across the tracks from the downtown square, a stretch that connects Guadalupe Street to Hopkins with single-family housing, a few CPAs and other businesses, Rio Vista Park, and a small honky tonk established by Kent Finlay in 1974. A well-respected music venue in San Marcos, Cheatham Street Warehouse would come to be a staple for students, locals, visitors, and an incubator for developing some of the best musical talent to come out of Texas the fourth quarter of the 20th century. 

Why? Because Kent Finlay had the courage to keep things simple, to make it all about the music, and to not worry about what was necessarily going to make a bunch of money, but what was going to create a special kind of culture in our community, greatly inspired by his mentor, Hondo Crouch, and the small town of Luckenbach, Texas. 

Kent Finlay loved the Texas Hill Country and his hometown of Fife, that would lead to thousands of road trips exploring the unique beauty of every little town between here and there. Along the way, he discovered the magical hamlet of Luckenbach, long before you heard about Willie and Waylon and the boys. Kent and Hondo and the other dreamers who believed in a different kind of culture gathered in that small town to share stories and write songs and celebrate culture, a sense of who we are and where we are from.

Kent brought those ideals back to San Marcos and started a very risky business venture, opening up a venue that hosted live music at least six nights a week — even on Saturday nights. Freda and The Firedogs played opening night. Stevie Ray Vaughan played Tuesdays (Ladies Free!) for years, George Strait got his start on the old plywood stage with the already established Ace in The Hole Band at Cheatham Street Warehouse, and even made his first trip to Nashville with Kent in the driver’s seat of the old yellow Dodge van. 

Kent Finlay wrote a love song to our alluring region. “They call it the Hill Country, I call it home, but what will we call it when it’s leveled and paved?” 

I am a seventh generation Texan, a third generation San Marcos native. My mother, Diana Finlay Hendricks, wrote for the San Marcos Daily Record for at least a decade. We can attest to the change we’ve witnessed —good and bad. Oh sure, we got a new movie cinema in town, but what’s going on with The Showplace? I keep seeing businesses close down and apartments going up, how much development is too much? We traded in the Triple Crown for a human-sized filing cabinet. “Call it The Local, that’ll attract the students,” …or maybe just upset the locals. At seven stories, The Local has an occupancy of 304, but the office couldn’t tell me how many rooms were available at this time. Can we remember what makes San Marcos so unique while we generate this “cool college vibe?” What happens to the culture of our community when we place all of our focus on return on investment and profit margins? 

A new business is going up on old Cheatham Street. Cheatham Street Flats, a student housing development with 143 units and 234 bedrooms, is advertising limited space for student move-in by August 2019. They’ve got some familiar names for their apartment models, the Freda, the Stevie, and the George. They named the studio model: The Finlay. 

While it may seem like the Finlay family would be honored to have an apartment model named after our father, we are not impressed. In fact, I imagine he’s rolling in his grave, between the flat screens behind the bar at Cheatham Street and the big hole in the ground next door, he would be absolutely offended. And by the way, no one asked our family for permission to use our family name as a selling gimmick for the next big monstrosity.

Cheatham Street Flats is another prime example of big development taking advantage of small business entrepreneurs, and homogenizing our community into Any-Town USA. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d like to see us try to keep it down, big development.“What will they call it when it’s leveled and paved…” 

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The youngest daughter of Kent Finlay, Welch is a resident of Martindale