Lions Municipal Golf Course in Austin has been added to the National Register of Historic Places because of its place in the civil rights movement, a decision that could make it more difficult for the University of Texas System to realize long-standing plans to turn the property into a mixed-use development.
The decision, by the National Park Service, is a major victory for Save Muny, a group of golfers, environmentalists and West Austinites who banded together in support of the property’s recreational and green space benefits. However, the listing does not necessarily prevent the redevelopment of the 141-acre property along Lake Austin Boulevard.
The UT System and UT-Austin had urged the Park Service to designate a limited portion of Muny, including the clubhouse and greenskeeper’s cottage, for the National Register. The city-operated course sits on university-owned land. But the federal agency agreed with Save Muny, which nominated the course for listing, and the Texas Historical Commission, which endorsed the nomination, that the entire property merited inclusion.
Lions Municipal is considered one of the earliest municipal golf courses in the former Confederate states to be desegregated, if not the first. UT, which recently prevailed in a U.S. Supreme Court case challenging its use of affirmative action in admissions, and its governing board might be wary of destroying a significant site in the civil rights movement.
“We’re very pleased that they listed the entire course,” said Ken Tiemann, a leader of Save Muny. “I certainly hope it helps UT to see more value in the site for academic purposes, more than a commercial use. It was from our standpoint a process of educating university officials and alumni about the value of the history and hoping that will weigh into any decision they make about the property.”
UT-Austin President Gregory L. Fenves said: “We are reviewing the decision as we discuss the future of the entire Brackenridge Tract, which includes the golf course and other land that was deeded to the university for the benefit of our students. The university and community must continue to discuss how to honor the important civil rights history at the site while fulfilling our obligations to Colonel Brackenridge, our university and the state of Texas.”
George Brackenridge was a banker and regent who donated the tract to the university in 1910 in hopes that it would become the main campus.
Several local black leaders, as well as U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, and three members of the Congressional Black Caucus, had urged the National Park Service to add Muny to the National Register.
Joseph C. Parker Jr., senior pastor at David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Austin, said he was “excited and elated” about the listing.
“My hope continues to be that the University of Texas will respect the desires of those of us who want it to not be redeveloped,” Parker said. “And now with the considered decision of the registry officials, it appears as if our position has been affirmed. It seems to me that some serious weight needs to be given to their decision.”
Austin City Council Member Sheri Gallo, whose district includes Muny, welcomed the listing and said she hoped it would help clear the way for its preservation. Gallo said one possibility is that the city might provide the UT System with expanded development rights on another part of the Brackenridge Tract, such as property fronting the Colorado River, in exchange for preserving the course.
“It’s going to take some creative strategy,” Gallo said.
The system’s Board of Regents voted in 2011 against renewing the city’s lease when it expires in 2019, saying that revenue from leasing the land for commercial and residential development would benefit the Austin campus.
In an interview last month, Kirk Tames, executive director of real estate for the UT System, said a National Register listing of the entire course could limit the use of federal grant money for any development on the property — for instance, if the university constructed a research building. Development requiring a permit from the city of Austin, including by a private party leasing the land from UT, would be affected by a city ordinance that imposes an additional process for National Register properties, he said.
“It would not necessarily prevent development, but it would add an additional regulatory burden to any such development,” Tames said.
The Park Service listed Muny on the National Register on July 7, but the action wasn’t announced until Friday.
Save Muny’s nomination said two black youths walked onto Muny in 1950 and began playing in brazen disregard of Jim Crow laws. City officials decided to let them play despite laws against it. Thus, the course became integrated quietly and peacefully, well before violent confrontations that characterized desegregation of public accommodations elsewhere in the South.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Sheri Gallo’s name.