Austin History


One Austin art puzzle leads to another

This is Part 2 in a two-part Austin art puzzle. To recap, World War II veteran Alvino Mendoza, 91, contacted us because he owns two signed and numbered prints by deceased artist Gerald Harvey Jones, who signed his pictures “G. Harvey.” Mendoza wanted to preserve them. We confirmed that there’s an active market for G. Harvey prints online. As we were leaving Mendoza’s house...
AUSTIN FOUND: Solving a two-part Austin art puzzle

AUSTIN FOUND: Solving a two-part Austin art puzzle

This is Part 1 of a two-part Austin art puzzle. It encompasses one modest collector, two artists and a chunk of shared East Austin history. On Dec. 4, 2017, the American-Statesman published an obituary of Gerald Harvey Jones, who signed his popular expressions of nostalgic Americana “G. Harvey.” He died on Nov. 13, 2017, at age 84. Not long after that article ran, we heard from Alvino...
Herman: How come there’s a cross on your Austin city utility bills?

Herman: How come there’s a cross on your Austin city utility bills?

American-Statesman reader James Jackson recently had a suggestion for me. Unlike some readers’ suggestions, this one is physically possible. His hit my inbox after my recent column complaining about the two crosses hanging in in the Caldwell County District Clerk’s Office in Lockhart. “I don’t understand why you had to leave Austin to find a cross in an ‘inappropriate&rsquo...
They didn’t know that they were great shepherds of Austin’s lake

They didn’t know that they were great shepherds of Austin’s lake

Imagine Lady Bird Lake without a mantle of green wrapped around its shores. Austinites whose memories reach back to the early 1960s — when the newly impounded body of water on the Colorado River was dubbed Town Lake by an American-Statesman reporter because nobody else bothered to name it — can envision such a treeless state. “They removed all the trees in 1958 to reduce flooding...
Candlelight Ranch is best use of brothers’ Hill Country land

Candlelight Ranch is best use of brothers’ Hill Country land

The land waited for them. A rugged former family ranch in far northwestern Travis County tumbled down a creased hillside through weedy pastures, steep ravines, bounteous springs, a collapsed cave and trails that led to a protected cove on Lake Travis. How it became Candlelight Ranch, which today provides outdoor experiences for at-risk youth as well as children with disabilities and their families...
Austin Answered: The mystery of the murals in the medical tower

Austin Answered: The mystery of the murals in the medical tower

A reader asks of our Austin Answered project: What’s the story behind the murals in the lobby of the Medical Park Tower next to the Seton Medical Center on West 38th Street? The swooshing, busy murals are thick with scientific and humanistic imagery, some of it borrowed from the ancient Greeks. We knew exactly where to turn for the provenance: Carl McQueary, historian and archivist for Ascension...
When Austin meant a golden future for movie star Dennis Quaid

When Austin meant a golden future for movie star Dennis Quaid

Recently, we reported that movie star Dennis Quaid had put his Marina Club house up for sale. The Houston-raised actor is spending less and less time here in Austin. That compelled us to reach back into the archives to a brighter 2005, when Quaid and his then-new bride Kimberly Buffington sat down with this reporter at Hoover’s Cooking...
Two Barton Springs lights are back on for first time in decades

Two Barton Springs lights are back on for first time in decades

“Two bulbs … two years.” That’s how architect Emily Little describes the circuitous and eventually rewarding efforts to reilluminate the 1928 stone gateposts at Barton Springs Pool. On a recent November night, a crowd of about 100 supporters of the Barton Springs Conservancy, a nonprofit advocacy group, gathered with sparklers in hand around the sturdy posts to witness them...
Austin Answered: The case of the lost Austin chicken fried steak joint

Austin Answered: The case of the lost Austin chicken fried steak joint

Joan Randall of South Charleston, W.V., writes to our Austin Answered project: “I am a former resident of Austin — graduated from University of Texas in 1976 — and have fond memories of a great dive up a hill and climbing steps to get there. Absolutely fabulous chicken fried steak! And I believe one could also sit outside on a terrace. Maybe there was music, but I don’t recall...
East Austin plaque unveiled to remember lynching victims

East Austin plaque unveiled to remember lynching victims

The details of the Travis County lynching in 1894, based on news accounts from the time, are discouragingly sparse. Even the victims’ names are lost to history. An African-American woman working as a nurse for a white family was jailed after one of the children in her care died. Two African-American men, for reasons no longer known, were arrested as well. A white mob formed on Aug. 14, 1894...
UFO reported over Austin in 1897

UFO reported over Austin in 1897

Balloon? Airplane? UFO? What flew over Texas — including Austin — with searchlights in April 1897? Bob Ward of the Travis County Historical Commission drew our attention to this airborne mystery. We’re not suggesting aliens, but the reports fit the definition of an “unidentified flying object.” A headline in the April 18, 1897, Austin Daily Statesman shouted “Strange...
Mark Updegrove returns to Austin and the LBJ legacy

Mark Updegrove returns to Austin and the LBJ legacy

Mark Updegrove, who transformed the LBJ Presidential Libary during eight years as its director, is retuning to become president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation as of March 1, 2018. Mark Updegrove In a dizzying leadership shuffle, current Foundation Executive Director Amy Barbee will be promoted to its Vice-President. Foundation Chairman ...
Austin Answered: Where was the old Soap Creek Saloon?

Austin Answered: Where was the old Soap Creek Saloon?

Reader Jim Wolverton asks of our Austin Answered project: What was the location of Soap Creek Saloon off Bee Caves Road back in the 1970s? He remembers going there as a 19-year-old. If you never visited the legendary music venue, its then-remote location outside the city limits surely must appear shrouded in the fog of history. Even if you did go — given the heady times — you might not...
Austin Answered: The evolving names of Austin’s big central lakes

Austin Answered: The evolving names of Austin’s big central lakes

Reader Daulton Venglar challenges our Austin Answered project: “Settle it once and for all: Lady Bird Lake vs. Town Lake vs. Lake Austin.” Venglar: “I guess I just wanted a definitive answer.” To start, two distinct lakes come into question. Both are pass-through reservoirs on the Colorado River, part of a series of lakes that include, further upstream, Buchanan, Inks, LBJ...
Austin Answered: Why was Austin originally named Waterloo?

Austin Answered: Why was Austin originally named Waterloo?

A reader asks our Austin Answered project why the community that became Austin was first named Waterloo. This took us down multiple productive paths with no definitive answer — yet. First, let’s remind readers about Waterloo, a rough frontier hamlet of no more than four or five families. Hunter Jacob Harrell set up a tent in 1835 at about the site of the Congress Avenue Bridge on the north...
How do you write about the unfathomable yogurt shop murders?

How do you write about the unfathomable yogurt shop murders?

No images. Beverly Lowry insisted. No photographs whatsoever appear inside Lowry’s 2016 book, “Who Killed These Girls? Cold Case: The Yogurt Shop Murders” (Knopf). The four low-resolution partial pictures that appear on the book jacket — along with jagged red, black and white graphics — are wrenching enough. “The crime-scene photographs were the worst,” says...
Austin Answered: Where are Austin’s Cold War missile sites?

Austin Answered: Where are Austin’s Cold War missile sites?

Reader Gary Hamilton wrote us regarding our newspaper’s Austin Answered project: “I just finished the latest Harlan Coben book, ‘Don’t Let Go.’ Missile sites from the Cold War era play a central role. I Googled ‘Nike missile sites’ and, if Wikipedia is to be believed, there are several former sites around Austin.” Indeed, there are. One was located near...
Memorial set for Austin LGBT activist Ceci Gratias

Memorial set for Austin LGBT activist Ceci Gratias

Earlier this year, the Human Rights Campaign Austin honored LGBT activist and organizer Cecilia “ Ceci” Lourdes Bulaong Gratias with the Bettie Naylor Visibility Award at its annual gala. On Sunday, Gratias died. Ceci Gratis in January. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman A memorial will be held at Austin City Hall...
Herman: Hail to Texans who helped liberate Nazi concentration camps

Herman: Hail to Texans who helped liberate Nazi concentration camps

I cringed on Saturday when comedian Larry David, hosting “Saturday Night Live,” told a concentration camp joke. Those last three words are a phrase I never thought I’d type. It will always be too soon for concentration camp jokes. Just as it will never be too late to honor those who liberated the camps. RELATED: Larry David criticized for ‘SNL’ Holocaust jokes That&rsquo...
Best Austin parties for an artful time

Best Austin parties for an artful time

Design, photography and visual art count big in Austin’s social swirl this week. Nov. 8: Austin Design Week Studio Tour. 4704A E. Cesar Chavez St. Nov. 9:  Pop Austin VIP Opening Night Party. Fair Market. Nov. 9:  Struggle for Justice: Four Decades of Civil Rights Photography reception. Briscoe Center for American History. Nov. 9:  ...

Austin Answered: Why did tree-named streets switch to numbered names?

A reader asks of our Austin Answered project: “When and why did the tree-named streets downtown change to numbered street names?” As many Austinites eventually figure out, most of the north-south streets downtown were named for Texas rivers. Within the original 1839 grid, they followed the order of the major rivers as they generally appear on Texas maps. Additional streets were later named...

Austin Answered: Where was the old St. David’s Hospital?

Reader David Blackstock asks of our Austin Answered project: “What was the location of the old St. David’s Hospital?” He was born there in 1930. Wow, do we have an interactive map for you! Created for the closing of University Medical Center at Brackenridge and the opening of the Dell Seton Medical Center earlier this year, this digital product traces the locations of 21 Central...
Was this 1950s cafe also Austin’s first gay bar?

Was this 1950s cafe also Austin’s first gay bar?

A living witness puts a 1950s Austin gay bar, perhaps the city’s first, in a backroom on Congress Avenue. Some background: Readers loved this photo from the 1950s. Even more, they loved guessing the name and location of the Austin cafe. READ MORE: Do you know this Austin cafe from the 1950s? Austin Nelson, whose family design firm operates out of 905 Congress Ave., persuasively argued that their...
AUSTIN ANSWERED: Why is the Travis/Williamson county line so crooked?

AUSTIN ANSWERED: Why is the Travis/Williamson county line so crooked?

A very observant reader asked our Austin Answered project: “If you examine a map of the Travis-Williamson county line, it’s so crooked it looks almost like a river. How did the line come to be?” Although the Travis-Williamson county line is crooked, it does not follow a waterway. Its shape, however, is related to watersheds: It traces the high divide between the Brazos and Colorado...
Herman: Who’s that man on the Confederate seal in the Capitol rotunda?

Herman: Who’s that man on the Confederate seal in the Capitol rotunda?

Today, we have a topical “What Is That?” that’s really more of a timely “Who Is That?” It comes from a longtime Austinite who finds this newspaper a dependable daily source of information, entertainment, personal enrichment and health insurance: Me. Here’s the deal. Recently, while hanging out in the Capitol rotunda, I asked a random passerby if he could...
Austin Answered: What were Stephen F. Austin’s views on slavery?

Austin Answered: What were Stephen F. Austin’s views on slavery?

Amid the national controversy surrounding Confederate statues and what they represent, many Americans have started to re-examine historical figures and their stance on slavery. One question a reader submitted to our Austin Answered series asks: Where did the “Father of Texas,” Stephen F. Austin, stand on the issue? “Short answer: It’s complicated,” said Gregg Cantrell...
Why Texas leaders erected Confederate monuments at the Capitol

Why Texas leaders erected Confederate monuments at the Capitol

Texas lawmakers in 1895 approved a monument “to the Confederate dead” to be placed on the grounds of the Capitol. Eight years later, more than 5,000 people gathered to see the Confederate Soldiers Monument unveiled — a particularly large crowd considering Austin’s population at the turn of the last century was just 22,000. At the unveiling, John H. Reagan, the former Confederate...
History built on history at Montopolis Friendship Community Center

History built on history at Montopolis Friendship Community Center

On Oct. 14, a good many Montopolis eyes will be on the United Methodist Women. That is because this charitable mission of the United Methodist Church will celebrate 60 years of good works at the Montopolis Friendship Community Center with an open house from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. They are quite some group, as this reporter discovered while visiting with them at their bare-bones, three-part wooden center...
Crowds amass for Dick Clark, Westcave Preserve and Parks Foundation

Crowds amass for Dick Clark, Westcave Preserve and Parks Foundation

Sherry Matthews knew exactly how to stage a fitting tribute to her late companion and leading Austin architect  Dick Clark. A tribut to Dick Clark at the Paramount Theatre. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman She and her team gathered almost 1,000 of Clark’s admirers at the  Paramount Theatre. She drafted former University of Texas School of Architecture...

What catches your eye about this 1918 Austin road map?

David Grote posted this “Map of Auto Roads In and Out of Austin” on the Facebook page “Remember Austin Uncensored.” We asked readers what they noticed first. For instance, it’s yet another old map that shows East and West Bouldin Creeks joining before they enter the Colorado. Also, here it looks here like Blunn Creek joins both of them. Also, Magnolia Street kept its...
90 years of topping the best at Texas Hatters

90 years of topping the best at Texas Hatters

Joella Gammage Torres remembers the glory days. The “Urban Cowboy” days. Back after her family’s business, Texas Hatters, moved from Houston to rented shop spaces on 19th Street, 11th Street and, very briefly, 12th Street, then to its high-profile location on South Lamar Boulevard. “Manny said that renting was for suckers,” Joella recalls about her father, Manny Gammage...
AUSTIN ANSWERED: What are the oldest buildings downtown?

AUSTIN ANSWERED: What are the oldest buildings downtown?

A reader asks via Austin Answered, the American-Statesman’s new portal to all things Austin, which buildings are the oldest in downtown? As with other such questions, it depends on one’s definitions. If by downtown you mean central Austin, then the clear answers are the French Legation and Boggy Creek Farm, completed almost simultaneously in 1841, only two years after Austin&rsquo...
Herman: More on the Burnet Road mystery tree marker

Herman: More on the Burnet Road mystery tree marker

A couple of weeks back, in a tale of whimsy and mystery, I told you about the wonderful big tree at 4412 Burnet Road. More specifically, I told you about the marker at the base that tells us it was planted by Joe Swan Lusby in 1927. And I told you how Kristine Kovach had contacted me to find out who he was. She’s interested because “Joe Swan Lusby” became the Kovachs’ password...
Phillips: Austin City Council can return piece of history to community

Phillips: Austin City Council can return piece of history to community

When I first wrote about the former Montopolis Negro School a year ago, it faced almost certain demolition and redevelopment to make way for new housing units, offices and shops – despite its obvious historic value. Consider that the school is one of the last of 42 institutions that educated African-American children from 1935 to 1962, when Austin’s school system relegated black children...
Austin’s Boy Scout Troop 9 turns 100

Austin’s Boy Scout Troop 9 turns 100

A photocopy of the three-page document, yellowed but still crisply legible, reads “Application for Commission as Scoutmaster.” It is dated June 8, 1917. Written in a steady hand by Methodist minister J.J. Mason, it records a preliminary meeting in the Fiskville School Building, north of Austin, with eight prospective Boy Scout troop members on May 4, 1917. Once approved, Boy Scout Troop...
Charles Umlauf eagle flies home to Austin sculpture garden

Charles Umlauf eagle flies home to Austin sculpture garden

Does anyone remember the eagle that stood at First Federal Plaza in front of an angled, mirror-clad office building opposite St. Mary’s Cathedral at 208 E. 10th St.? Well, the Charles Umlauf sculpture, originally unveiled June 18, 1968, landed on Sept. 11 on its natural turf at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum. According to the Umlauf researchers, in 1967 the First Federal Savings and...
Viewpoints: Council has chance to help homeless, give to preservation

Viewpoints: Council has chance to help homeless, give to preservation

In the world of politics, the win-win deal tends to be more elusive than tangible. That is true in Washington and too often in Austin, in which a majority of Austin’s 10-1 City Council frequently flattens a minority. On Thursday, however, the public might well see a win-win if council members approve Mayor Steve Adler’s so-called “Downtown Puzzle” plan. They should. We offer...
Castillo: Bastrop revives Texas’ undertold story of ‘Mexican’ schools

Castillo: Bastrop revives Texas’ undertold story of ‘Mexican’ schools

Texas didn’t always treat all schoolchildren as equals. It treated some differently based on the color of their skin or the language they spoke. The justice system would make things right, but it’s a chapter in the historical saga of Texas that doesn’t get told as often as more romanticized ones. Draw your own conclusions. HISTORY: 5 things you should know about Bastrop’s Mina...
Texas House Speaker: Remove ‘incorrect’ Confederate plaque from Capitol

Texas House Speaker: Remove ‘incorrect’ Confederate plaque from Capitol

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, asked the State Preservation Board, of which he is a member, to remove a plaque in the Capitol that honors the Confederacy and distorts the history of the Civil War. The plaque, titled “Children of the Confederacy Creed” and erected in 1959 by the Texas division of the Children of the Confederacy, honors “the heroic deeds of those who enlisted...
Hats off to James Armstrong Celebration and Building Healthy Futures

Hats off to James Armstrong Celebration and Building Healthy Futures

Clarity. Efficiency. Effectiveness. The  Building Healthy Futures luncheon that benefits  AIDS Services of Austin glorifies these virtues. Mary Herr Tally and Scott Ballard at ASA’s Building Healthy Futures luncheon. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman Start with the simple cards that share the lunch menu at the  JW Marriott and...
Looks like we have a winner in the 1950 Austin cafe puzzle

Looks like we have a winner in the 1950 Austin cafe puzzle

Almost 15,000 readers so far have doted on the snappy image provided by Lawrence Da Silva and posted on the Austin Found blog. It shows a split-level downtown Austin cafe photographed in 1950 by Neal Douglass. It was marked with a notation: “Manhattan General Hotel Supply.” Initial guesses of the actual cafe ranged from the Picadilly Cafeteria to the Scarbrough’s department store...
Are you ready for a real American Freestyle Bullfight?

Are you ready for a real American Freestyle Bullfight?

What’s American Freestyle Bullfighting? Austin is about to find out. Professional bullfighter Dusty Tuckness, of Meeteetse, Wyo., is tossed in the air by bull Kid Twist as rider Wesley Silcox, of Santaquin, Utah, scrambles for safety during the third go-round bull riding event at the Wrangler national finals rodeo in Las Vegas. Contributed by Brian Jones Forget...
Herman: Honoring an old gas station, the Texas Capitol and a synagogue

Herman: Honoring an old gas station, the Texas Capitol and a synagogue

The folks at Preservation Austin — do-gooders who do good under the great slogan “Saving the Good Stuff” — are out with their list of local stuff nicely saved. Included are a bus stop and, perhaps appropriately for Austin these days, something that moved here from out of town. “This year’s recipients are among the best preservation projects from the past two years...
Austin Symphony tries out 15 new selections this season

Austin Symphony tries out 15 new selections this season

Could it be true that this season the Austin Symphony will perform 15 works it has never before played? After all, the ensemble goes back to 1911. That is a lot of concerts, almost all of them consisting of at least three or four musical pieces. Surely, the major works of the classical repertoire have been performed here at least once? “It’s part luck that so many pieces this season are...
Memorial set for Austin arts benefactor James Armstrong

Memorial set for Austin arts benefactor James Armstrong

Often in life,  James Armstrong united parts of the Austin nonprofit community that rarely pooled their resources. So it makes sense that his memorial will be held in a grand space that he and husband, Larry Connelly, backed from the first. The late James Armstrong will be honored on Sept. 15. Robert Godwin for American-Statesman RELATED: ...
Where to get your antebellum history in Austin

Where to get your antebellum history in Austin

“They are erasing our history!” Not quite. When Confederate statues are removed from places of honor, or prominent street names are changed, the history remains. And it’s more accessible than you might think. A good place to start is the Briscoe Center for American History on the University of Texas campus. It’s free. The Briscoe is the new home for several of UT’s Confederate-linked...
Longtime owner of El Azteca restaurant was an East Austin fixture

Longtime owner of El Azteca restaurant was an East Austin fixture

Jorge Guerra, longtime owner of El Azteca restaurant and a fixture on the East Austin scene for decades, died at home on Thursday afternoon. He was 85. “He was the rock,” his grandson, Juan Guerra, said Friday. “He was the person that everybody could count on. He was an amazing husband, father and grandfather. He always instilled faith and respect for others.” The elder Guerra...
Jorge Guerra, longtime owner of El Azteca, has died

Jorge Guerra, longtime owner of El Azteca, has died

Jorge Guerra, longtime owner of El Azteca restaurant and a fixture on the East Austin scene for decades, has died at home, his grandson, Juan Guerra, has confirmed. Jorge Guerra, longtime owner of El Azteca restaurant. Contributed by Lonnie Limon The elder Guerra opened his restaurant 3 p.m. May 10, 1963. He closed it last year due to family health care costs, rising ...
Classic Texas Monthly stories now available on audio

Classic Texas Monthly stories now available on audio

Now you can listen to classic stories from Texas Monthly while you are stuck on 35. Or walking the Hike and Bike trail. Or raking leaves. Penguin Random House Audio has partnered with Texas Monthly and offered more than 20 features from the magazine’s archive on audio for the first time. Stories range from true crime narratives to dramatic profiles. Each story, narrated by a native Texan...
Attention Austin hoarders: ‘American Pickers’ is coming to Texas

Attention Austin hoarders: ‘American Pickers’ is coming to Texas

     You know it, I know it, your neighbors know it: Austin is lousy with folks who just will not throw away their stuff. Austin’s garages, its sheds and its crawl spaces are filled with plenty of objects from the good old days, be those the 90s rock/tech boom, the 80s oil boom and bust, the cosmic cowboy 1970s, the ‘60s and earlier. (See also our fair city’s pawn...
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