The National Trust for Historic Preservation named Lions Municipal Golf Course on Wednesday to its list of America’s most endangered historic places, calling the course a “civil rights landmark” with an uncertain future.
The National Trust, a private, nonprofit organization based in Washington, also included El Paso’s Chihuahuita and El Segundo Barrio Neighborhoods on its annual list of 11 sites. The core of that city’s cultural identity is threatened with demolition of homes and small businesses, the group said.
Lions Municipal, also known as Muny, is considered one of the earliest municipal golf courses in the former Confederate states to be desegregated, if not the first. At the recommendation of the Texas Historical Commission, the National Park Service added Muny to the National Register of Historic Places in July. Situated along Lake Austin Boulevard in West Austin, Muny occupies land owned by the University of Texas and leased to the city of Austin.
A local group known as Save Muny, which has been active in efforts to preserve the course, says its research shows that two black youths walked onto the property in 1950 and began playing in brazen disregard of Jim Crow laws. City officials decided to let them play anyway. Thus, the course became integrated quietly and peacefully, well before violent confrontations that characterized desegregation of many public accommodations elsewhere in the South.
“As the complex struggle for racial justice continues to take center stage across America, places like Austin’s Lions Municipal Golf Course have much to teach us about peaceful efforts towards increased human decency and respect,” Stephanie Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said in a written statement. “But Muny cannot continue to highlight an important side of the American story unless we take action to preserve it as a resource for its community.”
The UT System Board of Regents has long contemplated leasing the 141-acre Muny for commercial and residential development, with lease payments benefiting the Austin campus. The regents voted in 2011 against renewing the city’s lease for Muny when it expires in 2019.
“Muny’s future hinges on a longer-term negotiated resolution between the city and the university,” Meeks said.
The National Trust has identified more than 250 historic sites over the years, and “only a handful” have been lost, according to its website. The group’s inclusion of Muny increases pressure on UT and its governing board to back off from plans to redevelop the property.
“The university and community must continue to discuss how to honor the civil rights history of the site while fulfilling our fiduciary obligations to the university and the state of Texas,” UT President Gregory L. Fenves said in a statement.
The land now occupied by Muny was donated to UT in 1910 by George Brackenridge, a banker and regent who sided with the Union during the Civil War. His wish that it would become the main campus was not realized, and UT has used the tract for a field laboratory and student housing while leasing out some portions for development.
“It is difficult to dismiss the educational value that prominent academics, national organizations and political leaders all see in Muny,” said Ken Tiemann, a leader of Save Muny. “I remain hopeful that President Fenves will soon agree that leveraging the educational and cultural value of Muny is following the intent of Col. Brackenridge and is clearly in the best interest of the UT brand.”