Austin History


Randy Wicker roared as UT student activist in the 1950s

Randy Wicker, a nationally recognized gay journalist and businessman who had been a radical student activist on the University of Texas campus during the 1950s, was having no luck in his quest to share his singular life story with current LGBT student groups in Austin. Then came a minor miracle. After a good deal of missed chances during a recent visit to Austin, he spied an electronic notice for...
Manchaca vs. Menchaca: Step closer to renaming South Austin road

Manchaca vs. Menchaca: Step closer to renaming South Austin road

It’s always been a head-scratcher for outsiders — Austinites pronouncing Manchaca Road as “MAN-shack.” But after decades of confusion, will Austin finally get it right? After six years and more than $24,000 raised, retired Judge Bob Perkins certainly hopes so. Since 2011, he’s been a champion for Texas Revolutionary captain José Antonio Menchaca, who Perkins...
Austin Answered: How did Austin come up with half streets?

Austin Answered: How did Austin come up with half streets?

Reader Sue Fawcett queried our Austin Answered project: “Whose idea was it to create ‘½’ streets, such as 38th ½ Street, instead of creating a different street name? I grew up in the Northeast, and never encountered a street designated as a ½ street.” I’ve always imagined that this fractioning came about because subdivisions bumped into one another...
North Austin Lions Little League team was a hit at 1951 World Series

North Austin Lions Little League team was a hit at 1951 World Series

Last year, our big profile of the Rosedale neighborhood lit up some athletic memories. “I knew and went to school with many from the Rosedale area in the ’40s and ’50s,” writes John Watson of Johnson City. “The relatively newly arrived Little League had the North Austin Lions team make it to the Little World Series in 1951. Many on the roster lived in Rosedale including...

Glimpse inside Austin parties for history and the arts

Two subjects galvanized this year’s  Angelina Eberly Luncheon, which benefits the  Austin History Center Association, the nonprofit ally of the  Austin History Center. One was the Driskill Hotel, traditional site of the always gratifying midday event. Leading the public chat about the venue’s past was  ...
Austin’s Sam the Space Monkey starred in kids’ books

Austin’s Sam the Space Monkey starred in kids’ books

We didn’t know that Austin’s own Sam the Space Monkey, who took flight Dec. 4, 1959, was also a star of children’s books. Fans have not forgotten this little pioneer, the subject of the 1962 Wonder Books Easy Reader edition, “The Monkey in the Rocket.” A few weeks ago, we profiled the Indian rhesus monkey, a native of Austin’s Balcones Research Center. He was sent...
Two tip-top Austin parties side-by-side

Two tip-top Austin parties side-by-side

Not often that two tip-top Austin parties take place atop two downtown buildings. Even less often when those buildings rise side-by-side across a narrow alley. Luci Johnson, Amiko Kauderer and Capt. Scott Kelly at the Johnson penthouse for Paramount Theatre party. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman First off was a salute to Capt.  Scott Kelly, the retired astronaut who...
Long before ABIA, the first coast-to-coast flight landed in Austin

Long before ABIA, the first coast-to-coast flight landed in Austin

Sometimes, the tales just drop from the sky. Mike Lentes, a pilot and aviation historian, shared this story about Austin’s brief role in very early aviation history. “In 1911, Cal Rodgers decided to accept Randolph Hearst’s offer to pay $50,000 to the first person to fly coast-to-coast — an impossible dream back then,” Lentes wrote recently. “In short, Rodgers completed...
Replica of Aztec manuscript at UT provides a window to ancient world

Replica of Aztec manuscript at UT provides a window to ancient world

What would an ancient manuscript of the Aztecs look like after it was freshly painted? You can see for yourself at the exhibition of a painstakingly accurate replica of the Codex Borgia, one of the few surviving books of the Aztecs, at the Visual Arts Center of the University of Texas at Austin. The Codex Borgia is a series of painted panels on bark from the Puebla-Tlaxcala region in the central highlands...
Austin parties we love: Early 2018

Austin parties we love: Early 2018

After a holiday break, the Austin social scene warms up rapidly. Peek at some parties we eagerly anticipate. Jan. 27:  Opening night of Austin Opera’s “Ariadne auf Naxos.” Long Center. Jan. 27:  Dell Children’s Gala. Austin Convention Center. Jan. 27:  Human Rights Campaign Austin Gala. JW Marriott. Jan. 31:  ...
The short suborbital career of Austin native Sam the Space Monkey

The short suborbital career of Austin native Sam the Space Monkey

Little-known fact: One of the earliest space travelers from Earth was an Austin native. Sam the Space Monkey was born in 1957 at the Balcones Research Center near what is now the intersection of U.S. 183 and MoPac. He was an Indian rhesus and part of a long-term, secret program of behavioral and biological research started by the University of Texas in 1951. Sam was picked from 15 candidates who lived...
Texas books that tell us unexpected things about us

Texas books that tell us unexpected things about us

Here’s a look at some recently released Texas-themed books plus some older titles we think should be celebrated. “J. Frank Dobie: A Liberated Mind.” Steven L. Davis. University of Texas Press. What is left to say about “Mr. Texas”? For decades, I’ve dodged folklorist and author J. Frank Dobie, who remains to many people just a third of the “Philosopher&rsquo...
One Austin art puzzle leads to another

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...
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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