Recently for our Austin Answered project, we responded to reader Sue Fawcett‘s question: “Whose idea was it to create ‘½’ streets, such as 38th ½ Street, instead of creating a different street name?”
City archivist Mike Miller at the Austin History Center told us: “Nothing in old city codes. In looking at old maps and comparing to today, it looks like ½ numbers were used when a block or blocks bounded by numbered streets was resubdivided and a new street was made.”
That made sense.
After the story about fractional streets ran in print, reader Frank De Groot contacted us to suggest that city planners, at least in the postwar period, had something else in mind — a sort of hobgoblin consistency. After all, if street names follow a rigid pattern, it’s easier to approximate distances, find addresses and estimate travel time. But it might have gone too far.
“I can tell you with certainty that West 49 ½ St. was designated in the original platting,” De Groot writes. “I started working for Grey & Becker, the builder/developer of the neighborhood (west of Shoal Creek, sometimes called Allandale South) in early ’50s, while a fifth-year student in the University of Texas studying architecture. My pay: $1.25 an hour. I think that the city encouraged, maybe required, that street nomenclature show continuity when there was separation created by the river, creeks, railroads, ravines, etc.”
That would also explain why a name such as “Gibson Street” is applied to five stretches of road in South Austin, separated by two dog legs as well as by a creek, a railroad and the Texas School for the Deaf. (We’ll leave widely separated “Barton Skyway” for another column.
In the case of Allandale South, the developers picked up West 49th from the older neighborhood to the east, then created West 50th and West 49 ½ to augment the pattern.