Austin History


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 ...
More than 50 million artifacts from Texas’ past kept at UT lab

More than 50 million artifacts from Texas’ past kept at UT lab

The drawer opens wide to reveal its prize: scores of woven sandals, each hundreds of years old. The astonishingly well-preserved shoes, tucked away in a North Austin archive, were discovered inside the Ceremonial Cave at Fort Bliss in West Texas. Scholars suggest that they were left behind in the dry rock shelter as gifts from the faithful. There, desert conditions have ensured that this Native American...
Commentary: Tobe Hooper’s Austin youth shaped ‘Texas Chain Saw Massacre’

Commentary: Tobe Hooper’s Austin youth shaped ‘Texas Chain Saw Massacre’

Shortly after I returned to Austin in 1997 with Tobe Hooper, he pointed out his first home to me: a building on Congress Avenue where he lived as a little boy in his parents’ hotel. The fourth-floor window in the back of the building was his room, and the Paramount and State theaters across the street were his babysitters. It was here that he first fell in love with movies. I cherish the stories...
No proof yet that Robert E. Lee visited Austin

No proof yet that Robert E. Lee visited Austin

As the Austin City Council discussed a street name change, we asked if Robert E. Lee ever took the route of Robert E. Lee Road in Austin. A lively discussion ensued online. When the road was rechristened for the Confederate general during a rush of Lost Cause nostalgia in the early 20th century, Austinites believed the tale of Lee’s visit. Several leading lights from that period were sure that...
Major Austin benefactor James Armstrong has died

Major Austin benefactor James Armstrong has died

Much admired Austin philanthropist James Armstrong has died. He was 85. Armstrong supported the arts, social services and other causes. James Armstrong for American-Statesman. Robert Godwin for American Statesman Among his most beloved causes were Zach Theatre, Austin Lyric Opera and the Armstrong Community Music School. This is a developing story; check back...
When the Ku Klux Klan gripped Austin and the nation

When the Ku Klux Klan gripped Austin and the nation

Hate groups, historians remind us, have always been with us. The recent deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., might have been the largest and most brazen of such American gatherings in a decade or so. However, one of the constituent groups, the Ku Klux Klan, has emblazoned a long historical scar on Texas. At one point during the 1920s, the group was politically and socially pervasive...
Best Austin parties for late August

Best Austin parties for late August

Despite the unbearable heat, Austin throws some pretty fine parties in late August. 2016 Texas 4000 Gala Aug. 16: Brian Jones Classic Etiquette Dinner for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area. Four Seasons Hotel Austin. Aug. 18:  Opening of “Chicago.” City Theatre. Aug. 19:  Austin Originals Benefit Concert for Austin Child Guidance. ACL...
The case of the missing Pilot Knob historical marker

The case of the missing Pilot Knob historical marker

Have you seen this marker lately? Reader Jim Christianson noticed that one of most elaborate Texas Historical Markers in the area was missing from U.S 183 South near Creedmoor Road. “It has been missing for at least two years, maybe more,” he writes. “It is a geological marker for Pilot Knob. Hundreds of University of Texas students who took geology have been taken to Pilot Knob...
Thousands flocked to see Liberty Bell in Austin during World War I

Thousands flocked to see Liberty Bell in Austin during World War I

On Nov. 17, 1915, the Liberty Bell landed in Austin for 40 minutes. An estimated 18,000 people viewed it at the Missouri, Kansas & Texas freight depot at East Fourth and Brazos streets. The occasion was a national tour of the famously cracked Revolutionary War bell. Austin history advocate Bob Ward got curious about the road tour when he read “How the Liberty Bell won the Great War,” an...
East Austin’s Coach Wilson and the call of a lifetime

East Austin’s Coach Wilson and the call of a lifetime

James “Coach” Wilson settled into his head linesman position along the Colorado Buffaloes sideline that January night, straddling the 47-yard line and patrolling the scrimmage line as the CU punter asked for the snap. It was the 1991 Orange Bowl in Miami, and Wilson was about to make the officiating call of a lifetime. Notre Dame’s star, Raghib “Rocket” Ismail waited...
Hiott: Thank you, Austin, for Kelso condolences

Hiott: Thank you, Austin, for Kelso condolences

Thank you, Austin. It would be hard to imagine a more loving tribute than the ones so many of you offered up in the past week to honor our beloved longtime columnist, John Kelso. Hundreds of social media posts lamented Kelso’s death, offered condolences and shared some great memories. “My dad and I shared so many laughs over John Kelso’s column,” wrote Christie Manners on a...

Wooldridge Square once the ‘Soul of the City’

Today, there are no churches in the immediate vicinity of Wooldridge Square Park. Yet, as Ted Eubanks writes for the “Our Austin Story” series published on the Engage Downtown Austin website, at one point, it could have claimed the title “Soul of the City.” The 1839 city plan designated Block 101, just to the south of Wooldridge Square and now home to the Austin History Center...
Best Texas books to read right now

Best Texas books to read right now

Texas birds, Texas musicians, Texas media stars, Texas festivals and a guide to the Texas Capitol stack up on our state shelves this week. “Book of Texas Birds.” Gary Clark with photographs by Kathy Adams Clark. Texas A&M Press. For some of us, there are never too many Texas bird books. This one might not fit as easily into a backpack as snugly some of the more...
The Longhorn Olympian you don’t know

The Longhorn Olympian you don’t know

On May 5, Olympic swimmer Adolph Gustav Kiefer, who attended the University of Texas in 1939, died at age 98. Before coming to Austin, the backstroker won the gold medal in the 100-meter contest during the 1936 Berlin Olympics. You read that right: The Berlin games. His Olympic record stood for 20 years. There, he befriended Jesse Owens, who undermined Adolph Hitler’s goal of showcasing Aryan...
Herman: Austin pioneers resting in peace in ABIA flight path

Herman: Austin pioneers resting in peace in ABIA flight path

Welcome to the latest installment of “What Is That?” Today we’re off to a cemetery in a highway interchange. So that’s kind of different. Today’s inquiry comes from Austinite Sherry Statman who thinks she’s come across bodies buried near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Maybe you’ve seen them, too, kind of a final resting place on final approach...
Salvaging two South Austin gems

Salvaging two South Austin gems

Two barnlike stone structures once stood abandoned in South Austin. One rested on a hill with a view of the city; the other, located farther south, spread out on lush flats near a creek and railroad tracks. Separately in the 1950s, these old buildings were transformed into residences and studios by important Austin artists who were friends — until they were not. Miraculously, both these partially...
Best loved Austin neighborhoods: Aldridge Place & Hemphill Park

Best loved Austin neighborhoods: Aldridge Place & Hemphill Park

We cherish these memories of strolling through Aldridge Place and its sibling district, Hemphill Park. Originally published Dec. 16, 2010. Terri Givens, an Associate Professor of Government at the University of Texas, was a newcomer to the neighborhood in 2010. Her family has since moved away. Julia Robertson/American-Statesman Walking through an old Austin neighborhood with a sharp...
East Austin exhibit seeks to capture history of changing neighborhood

East Austin exhibit seeks to capture history of changing neighborhood

The smell of fresh tortillas once wafted down East Third Street and lured East Austin neighbors to visit Barron Tortilla Factory, a family-run business that operated within the Barron family home in the late 1930s. Music floated over another part of East Austin in the early 1950s, when a young Manuel “Cowboy” Donley, who would later become a Tejano music legend, strummed his guitar on...
Best neighborhoods in Austin

Best neighborhoods in Austin

During the past 10 years, we’ve profiled more than 25 Austin neighborhoods in detail. Some of those stories have virtually disappeared from the Internet. So we’ll slowly collect them, republish them when necessary and link to them here at Out & About. Proud of your neighborhood? Offer to act as tour guide and invite us along at mbarnes@statesman.com. Lucinda...
Where did the flagship Whole Earth Provision go?

Where did the flagship Whole Earth Provision go?

A reader who was walking in West Campus asks: Where did the flagship Whole Earth Provision Co. go? “It had always felt to me that that particular store was a time capsule of Austin countercultural history,” he writes about the shop a block off the Drag, “…since it began not as a high-end camping store but as a sort of survivalist-hippie retail outlet of Stewart Brand&rsquo...
How Austin popularized Tex-Mex food

How Austin popularized Tex-Mex food

Now the landscape of Austin will speak for itself. The Downtown Austin Alliance in partnership with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department has embarked on a series of interpretive ventures — online for now with a street presence planned for later — about the city’s natural and man-made environments. The first in this series is devoted to downtown’s original squares and...
Rainey bar incident reminds us hate lurks, even in Austin

Rainey bar incident reminds us hate lurks, even in Austin

Hate has no place in Austin. It has no place anywhere. Yet we know it lurks and it simmers, boiling until it explodes, jolting us out of our comfort zones, letting us know in no uncertain terms again that it is there, always there. We were reminded of this again this week when reports surfaced about racially charged and sexist social media posts allegedly coming from the accounts...
When Adam West brought ‘Batman: The Movie’ to Austin

When Adam West brought ‘Batman: The Movie’ to Austin

On the occasion of actor Adam West‘s death, we recalled that the world premiere of “Batman: The Movie” took place at the Paramount Theatre on Congress Avenue during the sweltering summer of 1966. Almost immediately, we found pictures and background from the Austin History Center website and other social media. “In what was perhaps the most successful movie event in Austin&rsquo...
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