Austin History


Wrestling with ‘Mr. Texas,’ folklorist J. Frank Dobie

At some point, every Texas writer — or serious reader — must come to terms with “Mr. Texas.” To the extent that Austinites today recognize the name of folklorist, teacher and widely published columnist J. Frank Dobie, they might associate it with a middle school, or a freshly renovated shopping mall at the base of a dormitory tower (despite the fact that Dobie hated high-rises)...
Austinite was second-most decorated World War I soldier

Austinite was second-most decorated World War I soldier

Reader Darlene Freitag wondered if we could write about her grandfather, Pvt. Alfred Robert “Buck” Simpson, the second-most decorated American World War I veteran. The timing is apt given the upcoming 100th anniversary of the war’s end in November 1918. “He was raised in the Bee Cave area where he was a cedar chopper by trade,” Freitag writes. “I believe his story...
Robert Earl Keen, Cavender family inducted into Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame

Robert Earl Keen, Cavender family inducted into Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame

Musician Robert Earl Keen and the Texas family behind  Cavender’s — the chain of Western lifestyle stores that includes Austin-area outlets — are among those who will be inducted into the  Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame during the  Fort Worth Stock Show on Jan. 17, 2019. Robert Earl Keen will be inducted...
In 1911, Booker T. Washington drew 5,000 to Austin park

In 1911, Booker T. Washington drew 5,000 to Austin park

On Sept. 29, 1911, the celebrated orator, author, educator and presidential adviser Booker T. Washington spoke to a very large crowd in Austin at Wooldridge Square. The ex-slave and founder of the Tuskegee Institute came at the invitation of the Rev. L.L. Campbell of St. John Orphanage and Ebenezer Baptist Church. “He started his day at the St. John Orphanage,” said Ted Eubanks, an Austin...
Wrestling with Texas writer J. Frank Dobie

Wrestling with Texas writer J. Frank Dobie

At some point, every Texas writer must come to terms with “Mr. Texas.” Author J. Frank Dobie. American-Statesman file photo. To the extent that Austinites today recognize the name of folklorist, teacher and widely published columnist,  J. Frank Dobie, they might associate it with a middle school, or a freshly renovated mall at the base of a dormitory tower (despite the...
Austin couple shares the secrets of civic leadership

Austin couple shares the secrets of civic leadership

Show up. Listen. Make friends. Do right. Collaborate. Learn about your city. Help when and where you can. These are some of the lessons — applicable to philanthropy, as well as business and other fields — shared recently by Tom and Lynn Meredith, who left behind California and, before that, Washington, D.C., for a life as open-eyed Austin newcomers almost 26 years ago. The occasion for...
The high-spirited daughters of ‘East Austin’s Pastor’

The high-spirited daughters of ‘East Austin’s Pastor’

More than 100 years ago, the future Rev. Silas Leonard “S.L.” Davis worked as a farm laborer southeast of Austin. One day, this son of former slaves announced that he could not work on Sundays. “God’s calling me,” S.L. told his boss. “I have to go to church.” So the boss fired him when he did not show up. “Then he rehired him each time,” says his...
UT’s Latin American Collection is a wonder of the library world

UT’s Latin American Collection is a wonder of the library world

The  Nettie Benson Latin American Collection is a University of Texas treasure you should get to know better. Leslie Montoya, Maria Farahani and Ernesto Rios at a UT dinner for The Benson Latin American Collection. Founded almost 100 years ago in 1921 with the acquisition of Mexican historian and bibliophile Genaro García‘s library, it grew...
East Austin mural, pool dance among Preservation Austin’s award winners

East Austin mural, pool dance among Preservation Austin’s award winners

Plagued by congested traffic? High cost of living? Persistent inequity? Those pesky scooters? Whenever the New Austin Blues get you down, turn to Preservation Austin and especially its annual Merit Awards. The Old Austin triumphs of stewardship, invention and rehabilitation are sometimes small, but every year, they add up. This year’s winners include three major 19th-century...
Waller Creek Conservancy puts down roots in Symphony Square

Waller Creek Conservancy puts down roots in Symphony Square

The Waller Creek Conservancy is renovating a large part of Symphony Square for offices as well as indoor and outdoor spaces for public events, meetings and other gatherings as part of a $246 million campaign to transform the eastern sector of downtown into a string of destination parks. “It’s such a hidden gem in the chaos of downtown,” said Peter Mullan, CEO of the conservancy....
Rare 1928 photo album predicted Marfa as artists’ paradise

Rare 1928 photo album predicted Marfa as artists’ paradise

While deep cleaning her South Austin house, a dear friend stumbled on a copy of “The Big Bend of Texas,” a scarce Albertype photo album, probably published in 1928 by the Davis Mountain Federation of Women’s Clubs. Bound together by decorative cord within cream-colored wrappers, the 80 oblong pages — 5 by 7 inches — display sepia-tone photogravures of West Texas views...
Austin dedicates sublime Oakwood Cemetery Chapel

Austin dedicates sublime Oakwood Cemetery Chapel

The crowd nodded solemnly as speakers praised the tiny, exquisite Oakwood Cemetery Chapel, recently restored to its early 20th-century glory. The city of Austin cannot consecrate, but it can dedicate. And it did so with grace and feeling during this celebration on Friday. Designed by  Charles Page of the distinguished architecture family and built in 1914, the chapel...
Herman: Why the Bushes changed plans to be buried in Austin

Herman: Why the Bushes changed plans to be buried in Austin

Former President George W. Bush and wife Laura had an upgraded reservation for an extended stay here in Austin but they’ve changed their minds and will not check in when they check out. Back in October 2016, I told you the Bushes had decided on the Texas State Cemetery in East Austin as their eventual final resting place. “The Texas State Cemetery Committee and cemetery staff are honored...
Firefighters revisit historic Austin building that burned

Firefighters revisit historic Austin building that burned

“They didn’t just save our building,” says Austin attorney  Laura Fowler about the firefighters who responded to the conflagration at the old Millett Opera House on June 16. “They saved our treasures.” Firefighters Shaun McAuley and Ron Coleman at Burning Down the House for Millett Opra House Foundation. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman...
Even as Confederate monuments fell, a new one rose in Austin

Even as Confederate monuments fell, a new one rose in Austin

While Confederate monuments fell around the country — including several on the University of Texas campus in 2015 and 2017 — a new one appeared in Austin without fanfare in April 2016. The George W. Littlefield Camp No. 59 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans quietly raised a 10-foot-high granite plinth and obelisk in Oakwood Cemetery, which is public and operated by the Austin Parks...
Get a rare look at H-E-B Austin Store No. 1

Get a rare look at H-E-B Austin Store No. 1

Readers can’t get enough updates about the early H-E-B stores in Austin. You might recall that two weeks ago, we located the first eight spots — two supermarkets and six grocery stores — in directory listings from the mid-1940s. Four of those stores had been purchased from the Piggly Wiggly chain in 1938 — hence the company’s current celebration of its 80th year in town...
Austin Answered: Mapping Austin’s mishmash of numbered streets

Austin Answered: Mapping Austin’s mishmash of numbered streets

Reader Mike Redding has a question for our Austin Answered project that even native Austinites have pondered: Why does the city have both east-west and north-south numbered streets? Other cities might use numerals for streets in both directions but, in the mode of Manhattan, label one set streets and the other set avenues. Austin didn’t bother with this nicety. “It’s very &hellip...
Editorial: McCarthy leaves legacy of justice, equality and inclusion

Editorial: McCarthy leaves legacy of justice, equality and inclusion

Former Bishop John McCarthy embodied the verse he often quoted from the Book of James: “By our works you will know us.” Austin, Central Texas and beyond surely knew – and benefited from — McCarthy’s many good and lasting works encompassed in decades of service to the poor, immigrants, disenfranchised people and the Roman Catholic Church. McCarthy died at his Austin home...
Catch the best Austin parties of the new social season

Catch the best Austin parties of the new social season

Welcome back to the Austin social season. Some of you never went away. But all of us can agree that catching up with old friends and making new ones — just as the summer fades a bit — is part of the Austin way of life. These are eight parties I hope to attend. Aug. 22: Burning Down the House for Millett Opera House Foundation. Austin Club. millettoperahouse...
INSIGHT: Eugenics. Segregation. U.S. universities facing racist pasts

INSIGHT: Eugenics. Segregation. U.S. universities facing racist pasts

The Trump administration recently announced plans to scrap Obama-era guidelines that encouraged universities to consider race as a factor to promote diversity on campus, claiming the guidelines “advocate policy preferences and positions beyond the requirements of the Constitution.” Some university leaders immediately went on the defense. Harvard University stated that it plans to continue...
Readers share sensational memories of Kirschner’s Cafe on Burnet Road

Readers share sensational memories of Kirschner’s Cafe on Burnet Road

Reader Gary Vliet asked of our Austin Answered project if we could find out more about an old chicken joint on Burnet Road, which he patronized after moving to Austin in 1971. “Times were much different then,” Vliet writes. “People didn’t go out to eat like they do now, and there were few eating places. But one we frequented often in those first few years was Kirschner&rsquo...
Texas history museum names new director you might know

Texas history museum names new director you might know

You might already know the newly appointed director of the  Bullock Texas State History Museum. That’s because hyper-competent  Margaret Koch has already twice served as the museum’s interim director as well as its director of exhibits and deputy director. The Bullock Texas State History Museum names Margaret Koch as director. Contributed Koch previously...
Fashion icon Tim Gunn to mentor Austin for a day

Fashion icon Tim Gunn to mentor Austin for a day

If you’ve ever wanted  Tim Gunn from “Project Runway” to act as your mentor — even for just a short time and as part of a very large group — your chance is here. Tim Gunn from “Project Runway” will speak in Austin in September. Contributed The sweet, dapper man who always “makes it work” is the featured speaker...
Commentary: Confederacy groups don’t belong in Veterans Day parades

Commentary: Confederacy groups don’t belong in Veterans Day parades

For about a quarter of a century, the Sons of Confederate Veterans have marched in various patriotic parades in Austin, notably, Austin’s Veterans Day parade. Last year might have been their last march. While grassroots volunteers organize the parade, the city finances it through fee waivers. On Thursday, the Austin City Council will take up a resolution proposed by the veterans organization...
We found the original eight H-E-B stores in Austin

We found the original eight H-E-B stores in Austin

AzLast week, we settled a question about a perplexing image of a modern supermarket displayed on the H-E-B website. Turns out that the shop with a tall tower was actually located, not in Austin, but at 18th and Austin streets in Waco. It now serves as a furniture store. The column generated an online chat about the locations of the first H-E-B stores in our city. The Austin Statesman for June 26,...
Texas White House at LBJ Ranch closed for now

Texas White House at LBJ Ranch closed for now

The National Park Service announced Friday that it has closed the “Texas White House,” once the ranch home of President Lyndon B. Johnson and his family in Stonewall, as well as the adjacent Pool House, until further notice because of health and safety concerns caused by water leakage in various areas of the main house. For decades, these were among the most private zones of the ranch...
Commentary: Pies and politics. Eating at the Frisco in Austin’s 1970s

Commentary: Pies and politics. Eating at the Frisco in Austin’s 1970s

On Sunday, the Frisco on Burnet Road closed. My family and I ate at this venerable Austin restaurant for the last time two days before it closed. Seems like every one of a certain age in Central Austin had the same idea. The wait was about an hour, with many customers having to stand by the cash register until host Darrell Webber guided them back to a table. I didn’t grow up in Austin, but throughout...
No, that’s not Austin in the H-E-B picture

No, that’s not Austin in the H-E-B picture

Reader Steven Swinnea spotted some contradictions in an H-E-B promotional piece, material taken from the the grocery chain’s website, that ran in the American-Statesman earlier this summer. The image in the piece shows a streamlined supermarket, but the clues in the caption and in the markings on the photographic print do not match. “The writing purports it to be ‘Austin #1, 18th...
In 1979, hard-living Oscar winner Broderick Crawford lit up St. Ed’s

In 1979, hard-living Oscar winner Broderick Crawford lit up St. Ed’s

Longtime photojournalist Robert Godwin has been going through his archives to rescue an abundance of Austin history. This arresting image catches Hollywood actor Broderick Crawford in half light: Crawford won a 1949 Academy Award for his role as populist politician Willie Stark in “All the King’s Men.” “I remember wanting to move his drink,” Godwin says, “but thought...
Unhappy twist: O. Henry’s Austin honeymoon cottage went up in flames

Unhappy twist: O. Henry’s Austin honeymoon cottage went up in flames

Reader Susan Wukasch writes: “I found an old paper from October 2016 and I read your Austin Found column about houses being moved, so I decided I’d ask you about the O. Henry House.” As a child, Wukasch remembered being told that the famous author’s house had been moved from its original site to a place on Shoal Creek Boulevard, down the hill from Pemberton Heights and facing...
New life for a 1939 Austin gem of an apartment building

New life for a 1939 Austin gem of an apartment building

Reader Elayne Lansford invited us to an unusual party. “It is about an old building at 1105 Nueces St., built in 1939, one of many examples of little apartment buildings in that time, offering ‘modern’ places for people to live rather than boarding houses,” Lansford wrote us. “These apartments were once all around the center of town, but now only a tiny handful survive...
Life flourishes on both sides of Northwest Hills in Austin

Life flourishes on both sides of Northwest Hills in Austin

Picture in your mind Northwest Hills, the Austin neighborhood encompassed loosely by MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) to the east, Loop 360 to the west, RM 2222 to the south and Spicewood Springs Road to the north. What do you see? Relatively mild suburban land with gently curved and landscaped streets leading to offices, stores, apartments, parks and schools? Or precariously high hills creased by deep canyons...
Joe Lung’s family fed Austin for three generations

Joe Lung’s family fed Austin for three generations

Joe Lung, whose family operated popular Austin eateries over the course of three generations, died of complications from a stroke at Hospice Austin’s Christopher House on Wednesday. He was 77. From 1897 to 1990, the Lung family owned Austin restaurants, cafes and diners, including Lung’s Chinese Kitchen on Red River Street. Joe Lung sold off the last of the family sandwich shops, appropriately...
After 30 years, Sister Donna Jurick leaves St. Edward’s a better place

After 30 years, Sister Donna Jurick leaves St. Edward’s a better place

During her 30 years in top leadership positions at St. Edwards’s University, Sister Donna Jurick helped usher in profound changes at the Catholic liberal arts school, founded in 1877 by the Rev. Edward Sorin from the Congregation of Holy Cross. As a vice president with different titles and duties under three presidents — “I’d much rather worry about faculty and students than...
Time travel: Let’s go back to 1973 Austin Artists Market on the Drag

Time travel: Let’s go back to 1973 Austin Artists Market on the Drag

Reader Sean Massey was going through a stack of family photos and found a series of undated black-and-white images related to his father, Austin counterculture jeweler Jerry Massey. Two possibilities for location presented themselves right away: what is now known as the Austin Renaissance Market on the Drag, or possibly the City Wide Garage Sale at the since-demolished City Coliseum. The former seemed...
Historic downtown building damaged by arson, fire officials say

Historic downtown building damaged by arson, fire officials say

A single sprinkler on the third floor of the Millett Opera House — home of the Austin Club, a plush reception venue — kept a blaze from spreading through the 140-year-old building in downtown Austin and destroying the valuable paintings and antiques inside. Austin fire investigators said an arsonist broke into the building at 110 E. Ninth St. on Monday a little after 4 a.m. and lit a hanging...
On 1911 crime: ‘That murdered deputy sheriff was my grandfather!’

On 1911 crime: ‘That murdered deputy sheriff was my grandfather!’

These days, readers provide the lion’s share of material for Austin Found. Or at least they get the ball rolling. Last month, we serialized the report of a 1911 double murder on West Monroe Street as reported in Ken Roberts’ new book, “The Cedar Choppers.” John Teague, son of a Hill Country clan, killed John Gest, owner of the Little South Austin Saloon, then attempted to kill...
Herman: The rest of the story of Walter Seaholm’s political demise

Herman: The rest of the story of Walter Seaholm’s political demise

As regular readers of my typing are aware, I take requests. Today, I’ll tackle one from Austinite Buddy Garcia, who wants to know more about Walter E. Seaholm, the former longtime city official for whom the Seaholm Power Plant was named. I told you last Sunday that the plant was named in Seaholm’s honor in 1960, five years after he was fired as city manager. Why, reader Garcia wants to...
The height of camp, ‘Valley of the Dolls,’ returns to Austin

The height of camp, ‘Valley of the Dolls,’ returns to Austin

Just 21 years ago, we wrote the following ode to one of our favorite movies, “Valley of the Dolls, “ when it appeared at the Paramount Theatre. Ten or so years later, we added commentary when a special showing for  Stephen Moser played the original  Alamo Drafthouse Cinema on Colorado Street. On June 21,...
Outfit from the 1880s reveals gold mine of Texas family history

Outfit from the 1880s reveals gold mine of Texas family history

Last year, Elizabeth Jones stumbled on a Texas fashion mystery. She could not precisely date an image from a family photo album, so she tried to interpret the 19th-century apparel and accessories depicted in a portrait of a woman taken by a professional photographer probably in Austin. “The hat, scarf and hair pulled back but with frizzy bangs suggest the 1880s,” the longtime Austinite...
We now know almost everything about that 1939 Austin baptism

We now know almost everything about that 1939 Austin baptism

Remember a few weeks ago, when we ran the photo of a group baptism at Bluff Springs? At the request of a reader — and with the help of our cadre of history advocates — we pinpointed the springs and the pictured pool to private land just west of Bluff Springs Road and just south of Onion Creek. One can easily pick out the old pool on satellite maps. RELATED: Pinpointing a baptism at Bluff...
Best Texas books: ‘The Cedar Choppers’ by Ken Roberts

Best Texas books: ‘The Cedar Choppers’ by Ken Roberts

The best Texas book I’ve read of late was “The Cedar Choppers: Life on the Edge of Nothing” by  Ken Roberts (Texas A&M Press). I doubles as one of the most instructive books about Austin’s history and culture. Roberts, a former professor at Southwestern University in Georgetown, knows something about deep research. For this story about...
Commentary: What 1984 could teach us about CodeNext

Commentary: What 1984 could teach us about CodeNext

It has been 34 years since Austin last adopted a new zoning code. That was the year the Apple Macintosh was introduced; yearly incomes averaged $20,000;, home prices averaged $100,000; the Dow Jones hit 1,200; and the cost of gas was a buck a gallon. The 1984 code had been drafted over a four-year period by a California consultant. It started with a diagnosis report that recommended abandoning the...
Austin artist paints ‘a royal gallery in an alternate universe’

Austin artist paints ‘a royal gallery in an alternate universe’

In 1958, Malcolm “Rod” Bucknall didn’t want to come to Texas. The British-bred art student, who had studied in India and would become one of Austin’s most revered painters, had read about the scourge of segregation in the South, still very much a fact during the late 1950s. Reports about anti-communist paranoia, stirred up by the House Un-American Activities Committee, filtered...
Double murder in 1911 did not merit much prison time

Double murder in 1911 did not merit much prison time

For the past two weeks, we’ve reconstructed two 1911 murders in South Austin with the help of Ken Roberts’ fine new book, “The Cedar Choppers: Life on the Edge of Nothing.” One drunken night, John Teague shot and killed John Gest, owner of a bar on West Monroe Street, shot at but missed his bartender, Max Himmelreich, then wrestled with, shot and killed sheriff’s deputy...

Webb Report: Whatever happened to Celebration Station?

You don’t forget the first place that banned you from riding the go-carts. Try as you might, it’s the kind of thing that sticks in your craw. After I drove a gas-powered go-cart a little too wildly — out of ineptitude, not recklessness — and slammed into the car in front of me at the finish line as a kid, a ride attendant told me “That’s it, you’re done&rdquo...
In the mood for Texas ghost towns? Of course you are.

In the mood for Texas ghost towns? Of course you are.

The fine people at My SA.com have asked an important question: Aren’t you or ain’t you not afraid of no ghost (town)? In a piece called “Creepy Texas ghost towns totally worth a road trip this summer,” MySA makes the case that, well, if you are going to take a hot day trip in Texas, you might as well hit up some ghost towns. We agree 100 percent. In case you were wondering...
Behold: Marfa’s new, light-up stonehenge-type thing!

Behold: Marfa’s new, light-up stonehenge-type thing!

OK, Marfa, Texas, doesn’t take much more than a long weekend to look around and maybe eat a taco or something.  But we are always here for some good ol’ Marfa weirdness, including this story reported by the fine people at Wired about, well, “one man's mysterious vision.” Artist Haroon Mirza trucked in “nine massive chunks of quarried black marble&rdquo...
Here’s what Austin looked like in 1906, when Richard Overton was born

Here’s what Austin looked like in 1906, when Richard Overton was born

Richard Overton, the nation’s oldest living man and oldest surviving U.S. war veteran, turns 112 on Friday. He was born in Bastrop County on May 11, 1906, and currently lives in Austin. He spends many of his days perched on the front porch of his East Austin home, smoking cigars and drinking whiskey. RELATED: Richard Overton, nation’s oldest WWII vet, shows off home...
Lawrence Wright: Eight things the other 49 states need to understand about Texas

Lawrence Wright: Eight things the other 49 states need to understand about Texas

As we who live here are painfully aware, Texas can seem absolutely baffling to outsiders. In his latest book, “God Save Texas,” Lawrence Wright takes the myth and truth of the Lone Star State head-on in a series of essays that, the more one reads them, feel like a Texas 101 primer, the sort of thing to hand your relatives back east to explain How We in Texas Live Now.  Here are eight...
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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