Looks like we have a winner in the 1950 Austin cafe puzzle

Sept 16, 2017
A downtown Austin cafe in 1950 as photographed by Neal Douglass. Contributed by Austin History Center

Almost 15,000 readers so far have doted on the snappy image provided by Lawrence Da Silva and posted on the Austin Found blog. It shows a split-level downtown Austin cafe photographed in 1950 by Neal Douglass. It was marked with a notation: “Manhattan General Hotel Supply.”

Initial guesses of the actual cafe ranged from the Picadilly Cafeteria to the Scarbrough’s department store lunch counter. Others were fascinated with similarities between the split level cafe and current spots on East Sixth Street. A second wave of readers guessed the PK Grill, Jake’s and Woolworth.

Well, looks like we have a winner. Austin Nelson comes to us with a background in architectural history. He also works for the family business, Nelson Partners, a design firm located at 905 Congress Ave.

And that building happens to be his very convincing candidate.

• The art-deco sconces and the raised area to the rear look very similar to a picture of 905 Congress Ave. from the 1920s when it served as a bank.

• Nelson’s extensive research into 905 Congress reveals that it was at midcentury the Manhattan restaurant/deli. The structure was built in 1885 and it appears on fire insurance maps through 1959. It served as the Household Finance building by the 1970s.

• This is the almost indisputable evidence: The ceiling beams and, especially, the elegant art deco brackets under the beams in the 1950 cafe image exactly match beams and, especially, the brackets in a recent photograph Nelson provided of the upper floor of the current Nelson Partners.


“I can confirm with 100 percent certainty that this is 905 Congress Ave., and that the restaurant was the Manhattan,” Nelson says of the 1950 photo. “The Manhattan had two different locations on Congress, but I am certain in 1950 it was at 905 Congress.”