A proposal for downtown Austin from the 1970s

June 17, 2017
The city did plant trees along Congress Avenue, as proposed in 1976, but opted out of the long, elevated signs. Contributed by John Andrew Gallery via Towers.net.

Few Austinites have cultivated downtown real estate, development and urban planning contacts as meticulously as Jude Galligan, whose blog, Towers, edited by James Rambin, regularly informs us about the past, present and future of downtown Austin.

It was Rambin who recently uncovered an article published in the American-Statesman in 1976 about a proposal to modify Congress Avenue. The plan was put together by John Andrew Gallery, who was then dean of the University of Texas School of Architecture.

Now, many designers and urban planners have been attracted to the city’s wide main street. In fact, the city and the Downtown Austin Alliance are studying more possible changes.

Dean Gallery’s prescient proposal, made with assistant professor Leslie Gallery, suggested limiting the height of future buildings and tailoring them to the older ones. They liked the idea of courtyards, plazas and arcades for shops behind the street line. Most importantly, they recommended the planting of trees, which came about two years later, according to former Mayor Lee Cook.

Imagine Congress Avenue without those trees and the spacious granite sidewalks. Cook rightly claims that move sparked the revival of downtown.

Rambin contacted Gallery where he lives in Philadelphia and — bingo! — received high-resolution copies of the original visuals.

“Man, this thing is quintessentially 1970s,” Rambin writes. “Right down to the header set in Eurostile Bold Extended, essentially typographic shorthand for ‘this is the future.’”

While several of Gallery’s proposals came to pass, two things were best left on the drawing board: plans to paint red, white and blue stars at the center of every intersection and a long, connected band of elevated signs along the curb.

Rambin: “I can’t imagine getting anyone excited in 2017 about making Congress Avenue look like a strip mall.”