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Austin History


A closer look at a 1919 Austin racial incident turns up the unexpected

One of the most notorious incidents in the history of race relations in Austin occurred in 1919, when the executive secretary of the newly founded National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was attacked by an Austin mob and then run out of town. John Shillady had traveled to Austin to work out a dispute between the state and the NAACP. He was confronted on a public street by Constable...
Where’s an Austin gondola when you need one?

Where’s an Austin gondola when you need one?

Recently, a study put the kibosh on the idea of suspended gondolas as a means of group transport in Austin. Still, the subject inspired a few of my colleagues to rummage around for remembrances of gondolas past. “Indeed, it was the aerial gondola scheme that triggered my memory of the guy who wanted Austin City Council approval in the early 2000s to open a gondola-ride concession on Town Lake...
Feeding eccentric Van Morrison at the Armadillo World Headquarters

Feeding eccentric Van Morrison at the Armadillo World Headquarters

Eddie Wilson‘s long-awaited book, “Armadillo World Headquarters,” written with Jesse Sublett, is packed with well-told stories. With their permission, we are sharing some of the choice yarns over the course of a few weeks. The Austin spot at South First Street and Barton Springs Road was known for more than music, beer and other recreational substances. Food was central to its identity...
UT’s Briscoe Center now a place of history for everyone

UT’s Briscoe Center now a place of history for everyone

“We are not a museum,” Don Carleton, director of the Briscoe Center for American History, stated bluntly during a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week for his splendidly renovated research facility on the University of Texas campus. “At the same time, we can now share some of our treasures.” Perhaps Carleton didn’t want potential visitors to confuse his UT center &mdash...
Billie Holiday is back in town, this time at Zach Theatre

Billie Holiday is back in town, this time at Zach Theatre

The photograph shows a woman in a winter coat wrapped by a fur collar. A diminutive fur hat accented with a dark bow sits tilted on her head. Clearly the star of the social gathering, she is surrounded by other smiling African-American women. It is said to be jazz great Billie Holiday when she appeared in the Kovac Room at the Victory Grill on East 11th Street. RELATED: Austin’s Victory Grill...
The Old Pecan Street Festival needs your memories and photos

The Old Pecan Street Festival needs your memories and photos

The 40th anniversary of the of the Old Pecan Street Festival is right around the corner. This large street fiesta that includes music, food, drink, arts and crafts — as well as unparalleled people-watching — returns to East Sixth Street May 6-7. In order to celebrate this community event properly, the Pecan Street Association desires your memories. They imagine your images. They ache for...
A freaky trip back to the Armadillo World Headquarters

A freaky trip back to the Armadillo World Headquarters

It has been argued that Austin in the 1970s set the stage for Austin in the 2010s. And no outfit better reflected the open, unhurried, hybrid city of the ’70s than the Armadillo World Headquarters, the big crossover music, food and drink emporium behind a skating rink at South First Street and Barton Springs Road. Thanks to its founder, Eddie Wilson, and his buddy, author and musician Jesse...
Putting the Goddess of Liberty atop the Capitol

Putting the Goddess of Liberty atop the Capitol

The discussion started when we posted a charismatic image of the the Goddess of Liberty atop the Capitol taken by Christopher V. Sherman. Almost all the subsequent chat on Facebook focused on the arrival of the replacement facsimile Goddess by helicopter in 1985 during the renovation of the Capitol, which several readers had witnessed. “The original is on view at the Bullock Texas State History...
Public learns details on remains found under historic cemetery chapel

Public learns details on remains found under historic cemetery chapel

Identifying remains, contacting their relatives and reaching out to the community for details about the dead were deemed priorities by about 50 people who attended the first public update on the burials recently discovered under the Oakwood Cemetery chapel. A chapel restoration project, which involved using 2012 bond funding to stabilize the structure and rehabilitate restrooms, doors and lighting...
Take a look at the reborn Green Pastures

Take a look at the reborn Green Pastures

Martha Koock Ward remembers the yeast rolls. “Rising, baking, baked and blanketed in a linen napkin lining a basket, revealed, ready for sweet cream butter,” says the Austinite who grew up in her mother’s childhood home, which Mary Faulk Koock turned into the hospitality legend Green Pastures. “The earthy smell of these rolls added another layer of satisfaction to a carefully...
The definitive history of Austin’s iconic Armadillo World Headquarters

The definitive history of Austin’s iconic Armadillo World Headquarters

This week in “Texas Titles,” we revisit the Armadillo World Headquarters, rediscover a Houston philanthropist, look into a Texas governor’s impeachment, dip into a historical novel and find out about a Texas progressive coalition that beat Jim Crow and Juan Crow. “Armadillo World Headquarters” by Eddie Wilson with Jesse Sublett (TSSI Publishing/UT Press) One wag called...
When Queen Elizabeth II stayed at the Four Seasons Austin Hotel

When Queen Elizabeth II stayed at the Four Seasons Austin Hotel

Do you think they’ll shoot an episode of “The Crown” in Austin? If so, they absolutely must use the Four Seasons Hotel Austin as a location. Why so? Because Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II stayed there in 1991. The staff lined up for her arrival and the women curtsied. Executive assistant Missy Kreisle remembers that when she checked in, the British equivalent of the Secret Service...
Texas treasures from the Bryan Museum now in Austin

Texas treasures from the Bryan Museum now in Austin

You won’t find the Bryan Museum in Bryan, Texas. Or in the abutting city of College Station, for that matter. In fact, this large private Texana museum is located 150 miles to the southeast of the Aggie metropolis on the island of Galveston. Housed in the old Galveston Orphans Home, the Bryan Collection — which consists of more than 70,000 Western-themed artifacts, documents and artwork...
Dozens of graves may be under Oakwood Cemetery chapel, officials say

Dozens of graves may be under Oakwood Cemetery chapel, officials say

Archaeologists working alongside contractors reconstructing the historic chapel at Austin’s Oakwood Cemetery made a grim discovery in late November: human remains buried under the building. City officials said in a news conference Tuesday that they believe there might be about 25 graves underneath the chapel, which was built in 1914 on what was then the nonwhite portion of the segregated cemetery...
Sharing stories around the Rodeo Austin campfire

Sharing stories around the Rodeo Austin campfire

The theme song for the old TV show “Rawhide” rings in my ears whenever the rodeo rides into town. No matter that the Westerns from the 1950s and ’60s dramatized cowboy life without what one might call documentary precision. To a kid from East Texas who grew up in Houston, the rodeo was plain fun. And an inextricable part of our culture, especially here in Texas, despite the rise...
The man in the picture. That is my daddy!

The man in the picture. That is my daddy!

After a photo taken in 1958 on East Sixth Street by Hans Beacham ran in newspaper on Feb. 5, we received two calls. Geneva Campbell Perius and Bill Campbell, both in their 70s, separately identified the man in a hat — turning and putting his right hand into his back pocket — as their father, the late Heber Campbell. Previously, reader Doug Dawson had quipped: “That fella looks like...
An Austin park that’s all about love

An Austin park that’s all about love

For the most part, Thelma Williams — also known as “Grandma Wisdom” — has lived in the St. John neighborhood since early childhood. She remembers when the land — a slice of which recently benefited from an Austin Parks Foundation grant — belonged to the St. John Regular Baptist Association, started in 1867 by four black Baptist ministers who met under a live oak...
Mystery of the unknown Austin football game solved?

Mystery of the unknown Austin football game solved?

One of our favorite Facebook pages is titled “Austin As It Used To Be.” Public members — who number 2,655 — post mostly old pictures of our city along with memories, questions and answers. Jolene Haney posted an image — linked to a Portal to Texas History page — described as “Photograph of football players sitting on the sidelines at an Austin football game...
World War II pilot, now 97, left for dead after plane shot down

World War II pilot, now 97, left for dead after plane shot down

On April 22, 1944, Col. Teague “Bucky” Harris was flying back from a bombing mission over Germany. While in a landing pattern about 1,000 feet over his British base, the American pilot’s outfit came under intense fire, a desperate, behind-the-lines attack by German forces that was dubbed by author Ian McLachlan “the night of the intruders.” “It was dark by this...
A bright new day ahead for Austin area child advocates?

A bright new day ahead for Austin area child advocates?

Recently while on Austin’s buoyant social circuit, we learned more about child advocates, saluted some cultural heroes, savored an opera, lingered over a humanities exhibit, mingled at a block party, toasted a nonagenarian and shared an Austin history book with the masses. CASAblanca for CASA of Travis County The takeaway from this large gala: CASA of Travis County is on track to become the...
The secrets behind two old train stations on Springdale Road

The secrets behind two old train stations on Springdale Road

Driving by the 900 block of Springdale Road, one could easily miss them: Two old train stations, set far back behind a large parking lot. One is now called Springdale Station, the other Pine Street Station. They sit on an industrial spur next to a beehive of activity in the transformed Frostex Foods plant, which now includes two breweries, a rock climbing facility and an art gallery. Moya McIntyre...
Audit: Documentation makes historic landmark process ineffective

Audit: Documentation makes historic landmark process ineffective

Austin’s Planning and Zoning Department does not effectively oversee the city’s historic preservation program, an audit found this week, largely due to lack of documentation and confusion. The department either failed to collect or failed to document 58 percent of required fees auditors sampled — making the money vulnerable to theft, the report found. Officials don’t document...
Austin, this is not our first rodeo

Austin, this is not our first rodeo

Round ‘em up. Move ‘em out. Rodeo Austin’s big show returns March 11-25 to the Travis County Expo Center. There was a time when the rodeo was as central to Austin’s social life as, say, South by Southwest or the Austin City Limits Music Festival are today. Only the University of Texas Longhorns games — and perhaps, for a while, Austin Aqua Festival — outranked this...
Zach Theatre grapples with LBJ play ‘The Great Society’

Zach Theatre grapples with LBJ play ‘The Great Society’

It is clear that no couple has made a greater impact on Central Texas over the long run than Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson. From his role in taming in the Colorado River to his scores of national triumphs and tragedies — that reverberated back home — LBJ looms large in local memory. From her environmentalism to her wide-ranging philanthropy, Lady Bird also helped shape this city and its...
What’s the next role for the historic Hirshfeld-Moore House?

What’s the next role for the historic Hirshfeld-Moore House?

A few weeks ago, Texas A&M University System workers moved out of the Hirshfeld-Moore House (1885) and Cottage (1873), a dandy Victorian compound on West Ninth Street between Lavaca and Guadalupe streets. Occupying half of an urban block, it needs work. It isn’t in danger of demolition, so don’t ring the preservation alarms. But we are talking to experts about its past, present and possible...
Six Square group working to preserve Austin’s black cultural district

Six Square group working to preserve Austin’s black cultural district

Robert B. and Mary F. Smith rest together in Bethany Cemetery, both born when Texas supported slavery. The couple shares the hallowed ground with farmers, laborers, ministers and veterans from as far back as the Civil War — African-Americans whose contributions to East Austin have since been nearly forgotten. Bethany’s uneven landscape, dotted with sinking, broken and toppled-over monuments...
Austin couple, once everywhere around town, stay busy into their 90s

Austin couple, once everywhere around town, stay busy into their 90s

They have been under the influence of each other for 80 years. Both accomplished dancers, Sam and Bertha Shanblum met in 1936 at Paschal High School in Fort Worth. They dated, although not exclusively at first. Sam went off to college, while Bertha, a bit older, entered the Depression-era workforce. “Then along came a little fracas called World War II,” recalls Sam, 96, later a stalwart...
‘Miles and Miles of Texas’ takes readers on a 100-year roadtrip with

‘Miles and Miles of Texas’ takes readers on a 100-year roadtrip with

This week in “Texas Titles,” we take a very long road trip, scan Depression-era murals at Texas post offices, seek answers to the Yogurt Shop Murders, take in — oh, yes — more football and dive into a museum’s loaned artifacts. “Miles and Miles of Texas: 100 Years of the Texas Highway Department.” Carol Dawson, with Roger Allen Polson. Texas A&M University...
How often did Austin high schools make it to state in football?

How often did Austin high schools make it to state in football?

Inspired by Lake Travis High School’s sixth UIL football championship, we recently filed images of winning Texas teams from the past, including a few choice shots of the Austin High Maroons. That was how we learned that our state’s craze for high school football includes a fascination with its distant history. Wouldn’t it be interesting, we thought, to salute all the Austin-area...
Remind me … Homer Thornberry?

Remind me … Homer Thornberry?

If you have lived in Austin, say, 30 or 40 years, you might have stumbled on the fact that a federal building downtown, originally built in 1965 as a post office, is named after Homer Thornberry. If you have lived here more than 50 years, you know exactly what part Thornberry played in our local history. You might have met the handsome, charismatic man who died in 1995. He grew up in South Austin...
Austin architect contributed modernist buildings to city’s landscape

Austin architect contributed modernist buildings to city’s landscape

Thomas “Tom” Shefelman, who helped design several of Austin’s outstanding modernist buildings, died Wednesday at 89. Seattle-born Shefelman, a graduate of the University of Texas School of Architecture and the Harvard Graduate School of Design, also illustrated children’s books and painted watercolor scenes from his travels, often in tandem with his wife, Janice Shefelman,...
Are you in this picture taken at an Austin movie theater in the 1950s?

Are you in this picture taken at an Austin movie theater in the 1950s?

Mike Miller, archivist and manager of the Austin History Center, has teamed with colleague Susan B. Rittereiser and the center’s staff to produce a lovely and useful small book, “Historic Movie Houses of Austin.” Chapters cover the earliest informal theaters, including nickelodeons; the era of movie palaces; the Dallas-based Interstate Theater Circuit, which for decades controlled...
How ballet won over hippies at the Armadillo World Headquarters

How ballet won over hippies at the Armadillo World Headquarters

If you didn’t see it with your own eyes, you would swear it couldn’t have happened. One of Austin’s major ballet companies performed at the Armadillo World Headquarters — the scruffy music venue where hippies mingled with rednecks in South Austin — not once, not twice, but virtually every month from Oct. 1, 1972, to Dec. 7, 1980. “You can’t really think about...
No-shows, ‘no’ votes hindering action at Austin’s landmark commission

No-shows, ‘no’ votes hindering action at Austin’s landmark commission

Critics of Austin’s Historic Landmark Commission say the panel has been paralyzed by a lack of attendance by its members and by ideological divisions — and city officials are taking note. East Austin resident and historian Fred McGhee believes the commission has “subverted its purpose” by failing to proactively identify and initiate historic preservation through zoning recommendations...
Collecting family artifacts to fight hate, generate kindness

Collecting family artifacts to fight hate, generate kindness

Some of their relatives perished in the Holocaust. Others hid for years from the Nazis. At least one died trying to liberate Jews from the camps. “We got a sort of double whammy,” Gregg Philipson says. “My family has been here for a long time. But everybody who was left in Lithuania was wiped out.” His uncle, Gerard M. Degenstein, was killed in action while serving with the...
How did German Texans live?

How did German Texans live?

An absolutely gorgeous new book, “The Material Culture of German Texans,” by former Austinite Ken Hafertepe, will be an enormous resource for collectors, designers, tourists and just plain history buffs. One problem, though. Potential readers might not know precisely what is meant by “material culture.” “It’s a very broad concept,” explains Hafertepe, who...
The priest who talked a man with a baby down from a moonlight tower

The priest who talked a man with a baby down from a moonlight tower

Recently, Jeff Kerr and Ray Spivey were hawking their documentary film “The Last of the Moonlight Towers” at a holiday bazaar when a man approached them and said, “Oh, yeah, the moontowers. My cousin talked a man down from one a long time ago.” What? “Turns out, his cousin is the Catholic priest, Antonio Gonzalez, that we mention in the film,” says Kerr, author...
Irene Thompson, 94, knew just about everybody in East Austin

Irene Thompson, 94, knew just about everybody in East Austin

When Irene Hill Thompson was just 4 years old, her brother Doxey Hill refused to go to school unless his little sister went along with him. “We attended Gregory School in Gregorytown,” says Thompson, referring to the old freedmen’s community that was beneath the hill near what is now Huston-Tillotson University. “I passed (that grade) at 4 years old and he didn’t at 6...
On Pearl Harbor Day, remembering Austin’s homefront during WWII

On Pearl Harbor Day, remembering Austin’s homefront during WWII

To Connie Douglass Vanzura, Dec. 7, 1941, was just another ordinary day in her 10th year. “Until my grandfather, Zene Foster, rushed into my grandmother’s rooming house, yelling: ‘Turn on the radio, turn on the radio. We’ve been attacked. This means war!’” Vanzura said. “I can still remember the shiver of fear that rushed through my body.” Seventy-five...
And the winner of the LBJ unlook-alike contest: Col. Tom Parker

And the winner of the LBJ unlook-alike contest: Col. Tom Parker

The vote has been counted, and it looks as if we have a winner. As you might recall, we posted a picture taken in 1959 during a barbecue at the LBJ Ranch. Nobody dissented that the central triad at the table were former President Harry. S. Truman, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn and singer Eddy Arnold. But who is the mystery man in the Resistol Open Road hat standing behind Truman? A museum caption...
Southeast Austin residents rally to preserve Montopolis Negro School

Southeast Austin residents rally to preserve Montopolis Negro School

Southeast Austin residents demonstrated Friday to preserve what used to be the Montopolis Negro School, one of the last of 42 institutions that educated African-American children from 1935 to 1962 when the city’s schools refused to. About 15 members of the Montopolis Neighborhood Association and Montopolis Neighborhood Plan Contact Team called upon the city to buy the property from developer...
Landmark commission commends study of historic East Austin

Landmark commission commends study of historic East Austin

The formal action was not required. Yet on Monday, the Austin Historic Landmark Commission unanimously endorsed a study that would make it easier to set up historic districts — and for individual structures to acquire landmark status — in East Austin. “It’s cumbersome, time consuming and pretty daunting to apply for landmark status,” said Kalan Contreras, a city of Austin...
Memorial at Capitol honoring African-Americans unveiled Saturday

Memorial at Capitol honoring African-Americans unveiled Saturday

After two decades of efforts by state lawmakers to construct a memorial at the Capitol honoring African-Americans, the final product — a two-story-tall, 32-foot-wide, bronze and granite monument — was unveiled at a ceremony Saturday morning. State and local officials and several hundred others gathered on the south lawn of the Capitol to celebrate the milestone but also to honor the sacrifices...
SantaCruz: Textbooks should provide facts — not fiction — about history

SantaCruz: Textbooks should provide facts — not fiction — about history

Members of the State Board of Education took a unanimous preliminary vote on Wednesday to reject the adoption of a controversial Mexican-American studies textbook riddled with untruths. The final vote on Friday is not likely to be any different. The book in question — “Mexican American Heritage” which was meant to teach high school students about Mexican-American culture —...
Lighting up the Zilker Holiday Tree for the 50th time

Lighting up the Zilker Holiday Tree for the 50th time

In 1967, when the Zilker Holiday Tree — promoted as the “Tallest Man-Made Tree” — first lit up the Austin sky, longtime City Council Member and Mayor Pro Tem Emma Long pushed the start button. The next year, sporting a red-and-white Santa costume, Cathy Wettig, 8, pressed the button to light the 165-foot, 82,500-watt tree, built around a moonlight tower. The student at Lucy...
Shining a steady light on Austin’s moonlight towers

Shining a steady light on Austin’s moonlight towers

Moontowers? Moonlight towers? Electric light towers? It depends on when you got to know Austin. “A reader was very upset that I referred to them as ‘moontowers,’” says Jeff Kerr, a medical doctor and published historian who, with longtime friend Ray Spivey, has made a new documentary film, “The Last of the Moonlight Towers.” “They actually didn’t become...
Clyde Rabb Littlefield looks out on the sweep of UT’s history

Clyde Rabb Littlefield looks out on the sweep of UT’s history

Clyde Rabb Littlefield started his deep plunge into early University of Texas history by studying his fraternity. “I knew that the local Kappa Alpha chapter started at the same time of the university,” says the son of the famous UT track coach Clyde Littlefield. “So I zeroed in on that. I got to know the individuals and how they fit into the university. And I was intrigued about...
A gold mine of historical postcards from Austin, Texas

A gold mine of historical postcards from Austin, Texas

The inimitable Eddie Wilson (World Armadillo Headquarters, Threadgill’s) and author Richard Zelade (“Guy Town by Gaslight,” “Austin in the Jazz Age”) turned us on to a glorious website, austinpostcard.com. Casey M. Weaver, who put together the site, owns more than 1,000 Austin postcards, plus 200 to 300 more related historical images of our city. “I really enjoy...
More Austin History Stories