The Nettie Benson Latin American Collection is a University of Texas treasure you should get to know better.
Founded almost 100 years ago in 1921 with the acquisition of Mexican historian and bibliophile Genaro García‘s library, it grew vastly under the direction of UT professor Carlos Castañeda — partial namesake for the Perry-Castañeda Library — then under historian Nettie Lee Benson.
For decades, the collection has been the finest and most complete library of its kind in the Americas.
When I did research there in the 1980s for my doctoral dissertation, it was referred to by scholars as the “Library of Congress for Latin America.” Sort of like the Ransom Center across campus, its leaders had collected so many books, manuscripts and other objects in its chosen fields, people traveled from around the world to visit it.
Crucially, it houses materials that might back up some of what was lost in the recent fire that gutted the Brazil Museum.
The collection, as well as its intimate partner, the Teresa Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies, are now receiving more attention locally.
At “An Evening for Discovery,” a recent benefit dinner at the AT&T Center, I ran into many old friends, including Maria Cisne Farahani, the woman behind Fara Coffee, which benefits workers in her native Nicaragua (we talked about the brisk change in political will in that country); Monica Peraza, who updated me on the latest at the Long Center, where she now captains the board of directors; and attorney and event host Becky Beaver, who is becoming one of the Benson’s most eloquent promoters.
Among the new friends that night were Leslie Montoya, a local Univision reporter; Ernesto Rois, who is in the medical parts business (I don’t think that’s the right term, but you understand); and Adriana Pacheco Roldán, a scholar who, with Fernando Macias-Garza, gave $50,000 for an endowment to kick off the Benson’s centennial celebration.
If you can resist the exaltation of the annual Texas 4000 Tribute Dinner, you are made of sterner stuff than I.
The Texas 4000 for Cancer super-ride was founded in 2004 by Chris Condit, a Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor who appeared at the recent charity dinner at the Hyatt Regency Austin looking as if he just graduated from the University of Texas.
Each year, more than 60 UT students make the 70-day, 4,687-mile trek via one of three routes — Sierras, Rockies and Ozarks. Crucial to each trip, the young men and women focus on the people for whom they ride. They work as teams — virtually everyone makes it — and they stay as guests, often of UT alums along the way.
RELATED: Paying homage to the Texas 4000 Gala.
I came in around the time of the first Tribute Dinner and could not resist the electric vibe shared by riders past, present and future, as well as their volunteers, backers, staff, directors and fans — some of whom were honored during the dinner with the Chairman’s Pin Awards, handed out by Wes Carberry.
So far the group has netted $8.4 million for cancer research, with an aim to reach $10 million by 2020. They also make incredible videos that would be the envy of any nonprofit in the country. The variety of backgrounds and experiences among the students — some haven’t before ridden road bikes — is astounding.
Just one more thing that makes UT singular.
Plagued by congested traffic? High cost of living? Persistent inequities? Those pesky scooters?
Whenever the New Austin blues get you down, turn to Preservation Austin and especially its annual Merit Awards. These projects honor Old Austin triumphs of stewardship, invention and rehabilitation regarding our built environment.
This year’s winners include projects that revived three major 19th-century structures, as well as several homes manorial or humble. Laurels also go to some updated commercial buildings, an East Austin mural, a community dance about community, two singular park structures and a distinguished “history detective,” Phoebe Allen, who receives the lifetime achievement award.
For a complete list of honorees, go to the Out & About blog on austin360.com
These fine people, places, culture and history will be saluted at the Preservation Merit Awards Celebration at the Driskill Hotel from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Oct. 19. It’s a treat.
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 recently. Designed by Charles Page of the distinguished architecture family and built in 1914, the chapel combines some of the best of European and Texan traditions in limestone and wood, almost on a child’s imaginary scale.
It was built, however, on the city cemetery’s “Colored Grounds,” and the remains of 38 bodies were exhumed from under the chapel during the recent construction process. They have not been identified and will be reburied elsewhere with dignity.
Council Member Ora Houston, in whose district the cemetery lies, spoke forcefully about how the land brought together the city’s “blended family,” since Latinos and Anglos were buried among African-Americans in the “Colored Grounds.”
The Parks and Recreation Department is responsible for uplifting this chapel with its crenelated tower, Gothic arches and modern air-conditioning (thank you!), as it is for an award-winning master plan for five of the city’s historic graveyards.
Save Austin Cemeteries spent years advocating for this game-changing project (we hear new gates and fences are next).
Parks and Rec’s Kim McKnight contributed her mighty historical sensibility and Kevin Johnson his project management for the work designed by Hatch + Ulland Owen. By the way, it nabbed one of those Merit Awards from Preservation Austin.
Millett Opera House
“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.”
A sprinkler system also did its job, but Fowler, who advises the foundation board that leases the building to the plush Austin Club, wanted to thank all the firefighters and police officers who made sure the fire, set by a persistent arsonist, did not produce casualties or more loss of property, including old paintings and decor.
The occasion for the public recognition recently was “Burning Down the House,” a cheekily named fundraiser at the Austin Club for the foundation that recently purchased the historic structure on East Ninth Street from the Austin school district.
By way of marvelous coincidence, the builder of the 1878 structure was Charles Millet, the city’s first volunteer fire captain, who as alderman argued strenuously for fire safety standards. It also served many functions, including as offices of the Austin Statesman.