Austinite second most decorated soldier in World War I

Reader Darlene Freitag wondered if we could write about her grandfather, Pvt. Alfred Robert “Buck” Simpson, the second-most decorated American World War I veteran.

Pvt. ‘Buck’ Simpson was interviewed by the Austin Statesman for this Sept. 27, 1925 edition.

The timing is apt given the upcoming 100th annivesary of the war’s end in November 1918.

“He was raised in the Bee Cave area where he was a cedar chopper by trade,” Freitag writes. “I believe his story would interest not only Texans in the area but others as well.”

Born in 1895, “Fighting Buck” appears to have been nearly as effective a marksman as Sgt. Alvin York, the most decorated veteran of the Great War.

On the other hand, Simpson could claim the quicker temper, as stories about his time in the Austin area confirm. By way of contrast, Hollywood star Gary Cooper won a Best Actor Oscar for the 1941 movie about the more stoical Tennessean York.

In his excellent book, “The Cedar Choppers: Life on the Edge of Nothing,” Ken Roberts describes Simpson as part of a large Hill Country clan, unusually productive harvesting cedar in the brakes.

On Oct. 11, 1918, during the the Battle of Argonne-Muese near Somme-Py, France, Simpson captured a machine gun unaided and turned it on the Germans.

According Roberts, his captain wrote to the family: “I told him to run, but he told me: ‘Hell, I come from Texas, and I don’t run from nobody.’” (Naturally, the exact phrasing differs in various accounts.)

Austin tried to reward Simpson by teaching him how to read and hiring him as a guard at the Capitol.

He quit school because: “I got tired of a bunch of little bitty kids smarter than me.” He couldn’t tell time or punch a clock, so he was fired from his job at the Capitol.

According to his gravestone at the Roberts-Teague Cemetery at Cliffs Edge Drive and Creeks Edge Parkway in the Barton Creek West subdivision, Simpson died at age 73 in 1969.

Believe me, there are many more Buck Simpson stories out there, including brushes with the law and a stint in prison, and Freitag has promised to show me her grandfather’s memorabilia.

In 1911, Booker T. Washington drew 5,000 to Austin park

On Sept. 29, 1911, the celebrated orator, author, educator and presidential advisor Booker T. Washington spoke to a very large crowd in Austin at Wooldridge Square. The founder of the Tuskegee Institute came at the invitation of the Rev. L.L. Campbell of St. John Orphanage and Ebenezer Baptist Church.

This 1894 file photo shows Booker T. Washington. AP Photo/Library of Congress

“He started his day at the St. John Orphanage,” said Ted Eubanks, an Austin certified interpretive planner and heritage interpreter. “There is a photo of him having breakfast there. He then visited both Huston and Tillotson colleges before speaking at Wooldridge Square in the evening. The Texas legislature had denied him permission to speak in the Capitol, so Mayor A.P. Wooldridge invited him to speak at the new park in Wooldridge Square instead.”

Newspaper reports put the size of the crowd of mostly African-Americans at 5,000, this at a time when the area’s population hovered around 35,000. To make a not too far-fetched comparison, that would be like attracting 286,000 citizens from our metro population of 2 million to hear a speech today. That would require a hall three times the size of Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium.

Introduced by the mayor, Washington, a proponent of racial conciliation, argued against the Great Migration of rural African-Americans to northern cities and urged blacks to remain in the South and especially on farms.

More problematic from an historical perspective, Washington had, in 1895, struck the unwritten “Atlanta Compromise” with white Southern leaders. In exchange for education and due process in law, blacks in the South would continue to work and bend to white political control and abjure social justice activism.

Washington’s ideas influenced Mayor Wooldridge and some Austin black leaders, Eubanks said, and, subsequently, helped shape the 1928 urban plan that led to a separate Negro District in East Austin, along with promised civic amenities, not always delivered. It of course also led to stricter segregation for decades and lingering inequities today.

On the 29th of this month, a smaller crowd is expected at Wooldridge Square for a 107th anniversary celebration of the big speech. Spectrum Theatre Company will recreate Washington’s speech and today’s leaders will add their thoughts before Eubanks gives a tour of the area around the square, including the site of the First (Colored) Baptist Church where the Austin History Center now sits. The event is backed by Downtown Austin Alliance, Friends of Wooldridge Square, Travis County Historical Commission and the Austin History Center.

“We will be not only talking about Washington the man, but we will also delve into the lost histories of Wooldridge Square, especially African-American histories,” said Eubanks, who has been working on a collaborative project about downtown history called Our Austin Story. “I could make the argument that Washington’s visit in 1911 represents one of the seminal events in Austin history. No only did the city respond in overwhelming numbers … Washington’s influence on city leaders, especially A.P. Wooldridge, can still be seen today.”

Get a rare look at H-E-B Austin Store No. 1

Readers can’t get enough updates about the early H-E-B stores in Austin.

When H-E-B renamed this small, ornate brick shop, a former Piggly Wiggly, as its “Store No. 1” in the mid-1940s it was at West Sixth and Colorado streets. You are looking south on Colorado. Contributed by Austin History Center

You might recall that two weeks ago, we located the first eight spots — two supermarkets and six grocery stores — in directory listings from the mid-1940s. Four of those stores had been purchased from the Piggly Wiggly chain in 1938 — hence the company’s current celebration of its 80th year in town — but the names did not change until 1945.

RELATED: We found the original eight H-E-B stores in Austin.

Brief silliness: Several readers remember being told as youths that H-E-B — owned by the Butt family — had actually merged with Piggly Wiggly. The new corporate name was to be “Wiggly Butt.”

Most recognized this as a joke rather than as business news.

Here’s the real news: Alert reader Kent Maysel sent us an image of the spot that H-E-B had designated as Austin’s “Store No. 1.” One of the former Piggly Wiggly shops, it stood at 117 W. Sixth St. on the southeast corner of Colorado and West Sixth streets.

It was gone by 1954, when the ultra-modern Starr Building, also known as the American National Bank Building, replaced the grocery store. This landmark was lovingly renovated in 2009-2010. It became the stylish “Mad Men” home of the McGarrah Jessee marketing agency.

Delighted with the discovery of the image, we sent out an appeal for personal memories of those original eight stores. Some readers firmly recalled the ones on East Sixth Street, East First Street and the supermarket in the TarryTown Center.

Yet “Store No. 1” received no such love.

Until we heard from May Smith. We had previously written about Smith’s experiences in the Austin Sunshine Camp in the 1930s, when it was run to help prevent tuberculosis.

PREVIOUSLY: Remembering Austin’s Sunshine TB camp.

“I happen to be one of the people who went to work at that first H-E-B on West Sixth Street,” May said. “I’m so happy you’ve found all the stores!”

We found the original 8 Austin H-E-B stores

Last week, we settled a question about a perplexing image of a modern supermarket displayed on the H-E-B website. Turns out that the shop with a tall tower was not located in Austin but instead at 18th and Austin streets in Waco. It now serves as a furniture store.
This entry in the Southwestern Bell directory for 1946 shows eight H-E-B grocery stores in Austin. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

The column generated an online chat about the locations of the first H-E-B stores in our city. The chain’s website reports that three local stores were purchased in 1938. We also found evidence that those markets had been part of the Piggly Wiggly group.

RELATED: No, this not Austin in this picture of H-E-B

To put the matter to rest, we spent some time in the reading room at the Austin History Center. There, we pulled city and phone directories from the late 1930s through the late 1940s.

We were dazzled by the number of listed markets, some just a block or so from the next shopping option. A few were part of national, regional or local groups, such as A&P, Red & White, or Checkered Front. Others bore cool names such as New China (two locales), Handy Hut Food Pantry or Achilles IGA.

Until 1945, however, we found no listing for an H-E-B; we did find six for Piggly Wiggly. The year the war ended, the Piggly Wiggly brand had disappeared. Instead, H-E-B listed two supermarkets and six smaller stores.

Super Mkt No. 1: 2014 S. Congress. Now: Refurbished condos.

Super Mkt No. 2: 3106 Windsor. Now and then: TarryTown Center.

Store No. 1: 117 W. Sixth. Now: McGarrah Jessee building.

Store No. 2: 824 W. 12th. Now: ACC garage.

Store No. 3: 601 E. Sixth. Now: Nondescript offices.

Store No. 4: 1405 San Jacinto. Now: Capitol complex garage.

Oddly, there was no Store No. 5.

Store No. 6: 1111 E. First. Now: Central Health.

Store No: 7: 39th and Gaudalupe. Now: Natural Grocers?

So eight shops as Austin launched into the postwar boom. By 1948, the numeration had changed, but the addresses remained the same.

No, this H-E-B was not in Austin

Reader Steven Swinnea spotted some contradictions in a H-E-B promotional piece, material taken from the grocery chain’s website, that ran in the American-Statesman earlier this summer. The image in the piece shows a streamlined supermarket, but the clues in the caption and in the markings on the photographic print do not match.

The information on the photographic print and the caption don’t match. Contributed by H-E-B

“The writing purports it to be ‘Austin #1, 18th & Austin,” Swinnea writes. “Where is 18th and Austin? Where would a supermarket fit on 18th — unless it was in the pre-Interstate-35 days?”

He also wonders how the pictured market could be “Austin No. 1,” since the accompanying text says that the earliest H-E-Bs here were elsewhere in town, including at least one on East Sixth Street.

In fact, H-E-B’s homepage reports that the company, founded in Kerrville, then based in Corpus Christi before it settled in San Antonio, purchased three Austin markets in 1938. Based on the car models in this image, the photo, also incorrectly identified on the H-E-B site, was taken in the late 1950s.

Also, several Texas cities do come with Austin streets, some named after the colonist, others after the road toward the state capital.

More Mysteries: Time travel to 1973 on the Drag.

We posted the mystery on three Facebook pages. Two readers solved the puzzle almost immediately, using different methods.

Sam Sargent located the surviving building at 18th and Austin in Waco. How did he find out?

“Googling ‘HEB Food Stores’ and ‘Austin’ to see what came up,” Sargent writes. “I just knew we didn’t have a building like that … in Austin.”

On another page, Donald Spradlin picked the same location.

“I worked through a Google Image Search and TinEye (a reverse image search tool) to get to old images of a close-up of the tower,” he writes, “and went backwards from there.”

Reader Gentry McLean found a KXXV.com article that says the Waco building opened in 1949. It’s now a Sedberry Furniture store.

Next week, we follow the subsequent online discussion about where those first three H-E-Bs, reportedly purchased from the Piggly Wiggly chain, were located in Austin.

From the photo vault: Summer fun at the lake in old Austin

So many readers liked our first foray into the old Austin photo vaults for memories of summer fun, we decided to dive in again. This time we look at the evolution of lake life.

A group of four women in a boat feed a flock of white ducks on a lake in Hyde Park. One could date this scene any time between 1890 and 1900. Austin History Center PICA 19797

The 1890s Hyde Park trolley development, Austin’s first specifically segregated subdivision, was built partially atop an old race track associated with the Texas State Fair. It included a lake and a pavilion approximately where Baker Elementary School later rose in 1911. These women dressed in their best to take in the watery oasis across Asylum Road from what was called the Texas State Lunatic Asylum.

Fish fry in 1921 at the dam, most likely on Lake McDonald, predecessor to Lake Austin. Jacob Fontaine Religious Museum via  Portal to Texas History

Picnics, barbecues and fish fries near cooling waterways were attractive ways to keep religious communities together socially on long Sundays. This photo includes: William Tears Sr., Rev. L.L. Hayes, Rev. and Mrs. J.E. Knox, Rev. and Mrs. Pius and their daughter Ruth Augusta, Sister Mollie Perry, Bualie Murphy and Lewis Mitchell.

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Water skiing on Lake Austin in the 1940s. At least we think it is Lake Austin in this William Hague Foster photo. Contributed by Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary via Portal to Texas History

Lake Austin was formed in 1939 when Tom Miller Dam impounded the Colorado River and replaced Lake McDonald, which dated to the 1890s. Long, serpentine and narrow, Lake Austin was protected from high winds by the surrounding hills and it was soon recognized as an ideal setting for water skiers. They share the lake now with kayakers, paddle boarders and other lake lovers.

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Fishing scene in the shallows of Lake Travis. No date. Austin History Center PICA 16753

When Lake Travis began to fill up in 1942 — it took a while — the flooded tributary creeks and hollows turned into excellent fishing waters, in part because of recently submerged vegetation. This image was taken for the Texas Highway Department, so was likely part of a campaign to lure tourists to the new lake. Roads were still pretty primitive, so communities like Lakeway and Lago Vista would have to wait.

People wading and floating in the water at Lake Austin Beach. No date. Austin History Center PICA 21752

I’m going to take a wild guess and say that this scene is where the Walsh Boat Landing now sits on Scenic Drive near Lake Austin Boulevard and Enfield Road. These days, residences rise on the hills in the background. Although this historical image is not dated, I’d guess the 1950s. During that decade, my family patronized a small recreational lake like this one on the Texas-Lousiana border, not far from our home in Shreveport.

In 1979, hard-living Oscar winner Broderick Crawford lit up St. Ed’s

Longtime photojournalist Robert Godwin has been going through his archives to rescue an abundance of Austin history.

This arresting image catches Hollywood actor Broderick Crawford, who won an Academy Award in 1949 for his role as populist politician Willie Stark in “All the King’s Men,” in half light.

“I remember wanting to move his drink,” Godwin says, “but thought I’d pull back a stub if I reached a hand towards it. It was about 9 or 10 in the morning and he finished his third Bloody Mary — that only had a splash of tomato juice — and then started on martinis that came in a tumbler instead of a martini glass! Never blinked or slurred a word while I was there.”

So why was hard-working, hard-living Crawford in town? He was best known at the time for the syndicated TV crime series, “Highway Patrol.” Yet he came to Austin in November 1979 to reprise his role in “Born Yesterday.” Almost 30 years earlier, in 1950, Crawford had played the bullying boyfriend of Judy Holliday in the film version.

In Austin, he worked with Mary Moody Northen Theatre founder Ed Mangum, who fertilized his budding Equity acting union program at St. Edward’s University with the stars of stage, screen and television. So Crawford joined the ranks of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Mercedes McCambridge and Sal Mineo as a guest star.

“During the 1950s, Crawford became known for his large appetite for food and alcohol,” writes actor, teacher and writer Ev Lunning, Jr. “He brought these appetites to Austin, along with his crusty personality.”

Lunning recently released “Stars over St. Edward’s: The SEU Theater Arts Program, 1962-1982,” a thorough and invaluable online resource published by the Munday Library.

Zelma Richardson, in charge of Crawford’s publicity appearances, was so put off by his brusqueness that she as Bill McMillan to accompany Crawford on one day’s publicity itinerary. When McMillan reported to the hotel, he found Crawford beginning his breakfast Bloody Mary. After each appearance and interview, Crawford suggested a stop at a tavern.”

The long day did not end well for McMillan.

Crawford’s co-star, Susan Loughran, remembered one of Crawford’s first evenings in Austin.
“He drank,” she says. “Tom Graves, who also drank, and Broderick and I went out to talk about the show. We went to — I don’t think it’s there anymore — there was a bar at the corner of Oltorf and Interstate 35 and it had a second story, and it was dark, and the reputation was that there were a lot of divorcees and it would be a good place to meet if you wanted to have an affair. And we went up there to have drinks.”
She recalls that Crawford ordered scotches on the rocks.
“Some manly drink — he was a very manly man, a big rumbling voice, and he wore this hat, a hat that he got from Bear Bryant,” Loughran says. “I probably had maybe two drinks but the bar bill was something like $150. You know, when drinks were maybe $2 apiece. … So that was my introduction to Broderick.”

 

1940-2018: Joe Lung of longtime Austin eatery family is dead at 77

Joe Lung, whose family operated popular Austin eateries for three generations, died of complications from a stroke at Hospice Austin’s Christopher House on Wednesday evening. He was 77.

Joe Lung’s family came to Austin in the 1880s. They owned a series of diners, restaurants and sandwich shops. Late in life, Lung welcomed visitors from around the world at the State Capitol gift shop. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

This is a developing story. Check back for details.

Unhappy twist: O. Henry’s Austin honeymoon cottage went up in flames

Reader Susan Wukasch writes: “I found an old paper from October 2016 and I read your Austin Found column about houses being moved, so I decided I’d ask you about the O. Henry House.”
As a child, Wukasch remembered being told that the famous author’s house had been moved from its original site to a place on Shoal Creek Boulevard, down the hill from Pemberton Heights and facing Lamar Boulevard where Gaston Avenue dead-ends.
This image was taken on April 28, 1949 by Neal Douglass of the O. Henry Honeymoon Cottage when it stood on East 11th Street, before it was moved to Gaston Avenue. Contributed by Austin History Center ND
“And I remember vividly driving with my family down Lamar one night — probably in the mid-to-late 1950’s — when we came upon this house in flames, with firetrucks around fighting the fire,” she writes. “We stopped and watched for awhile, I remember.”
Subsequently Wukasch, whose father was an architect with a fondness for preservation, heard that the remains of the house had been moved downtown and the home rebuilt.
“Your Austin Found column reported the house (in Brush Square) originally was downtown, not far from where it now stands, so I’m confused about why I thought it was placed for several years a significant distance north and west of that area before moving it back,” she writes. “You say the original move was carefully documented, leading me to wonder what I saw burning on the side of Lamar Boulevard all those years ago. Might my small-child self gotten the name of the house wrong?”
There’s no question that the O. Henry House, now a small museum, was moved to its present location in 1934, and that when O. Henry’s family lived in it, the house stood at 308 E. Fourth St., about a block away.
However Wukasch’s memory serves her well.
There was a second preserved O. Henry House, his Honeymoon Cottage, that stood in what was Wooten Park (Pease Park now) on Gaston Avenue. It was moved there from the 500 block of E. 11th Street.
The new neighbors didn’t like the idea of it being there, or the Heritage Society‘s plans to move the other O. Henry House there as well.
On Dec. 23, 1956, it went up in flames. It was actually the third fire reported at the house, each likely deliberately set. All that was left was two recently reinforced chimneys.
Historian Bonnie Tipton Wilson wrote a fine article on the conflagration entitled: “Somebody Around Here Wants to Start a Fire.”

New life for a 1939 Austin gem of an apartment building

Reader Elayne Lansford invited us to an unusual party, which turned into a time machine to the a personal past.

“It is about an old building at 1105 Nueces St., built in 1939, one of many examples of little apartment buildings in that time, offering ‘modern’ places for people to live rather than boarding houses,” Lansford wrote us. “These apartments were once all around the center of town, but now only a tiny handful survive in Austin.”

Elayne Lansford inherited the four-unit 1939 apartment building in downtown Austin from her uncle. She fixed it up. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

She had me at “1939.”

By the time I had arrived on a steamy Friday afternoon, a crowd had gathered outside the recently renovated four-unit brick apartment house. Lansford, dressed period attire, addressed a crowed that included Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, neighborhood organizer Ted Siff and project historian Terri Meyers.

RELATED: Ransom Williams farmstead unearthed.

“I call them the missing middle,” Meyers told me later about the 1930s and ’40s housing options in the downtown area for professional women. “They were not boarding houses or Victorians broken up into apartments. They were modern but with homey touches in a residential scale with revival styles. There were schools and jobs nearby and each unit probably went for $100 a month.”

A small crowd cheered the city and federal historic designations for the building on Nueces Street. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Lansford and Meyers worked with designer Tere O’Connell to bring it back to life. The city and federal governments have recognized the historic value of these once ordinary homes.

“My grandmother, a Jewish immigrant and widow who made her living as a landlady after the death of her husband, bought it in 1945 when she moved to Austin for my mother and uncle to attend the University of Texas,” Lansford says. “It was the height of modernity at that time, fully furnished, with full kitchens, wood floors, faux fireplaces, attic fans for cooling, and a shower and tub both in each apartment. It was largely untouched for 70 years, until I inherited it from my late uncle and decided to do a historical renovation of it.”

This four-unit apartment house on Nueces Street was built in 1939 for professional women. It has been restored and honored by the city and federal government. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Why did it serve as a time machine for me? My first grown-up apartments in the early 1970s were created in almost the same mold — same fixtures, same tiles, etc. — during the same period in Houston.