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.

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.

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.

Pinpointing a 1940s Bluff Springs baptism

Reader Craig Scott contacted our Austin Answered project:  “I recently saw a photo of people getting baptized in the springs at Bluff Springs dated back in the 1940s,” he writes. “It had a concrete enclosure. Can you run a story on where the actual springs were or are?”

“Preparing for their baptism by Brother Cole, members of the Manchaca Baptist Church joined hands at Bluff Springs and had this great picture taken.” Contributed by Joy Simmons/Manchaca-Onion Creek Historical Association.

The compelling image, shared on the Facebook page of the Manchaca-Onion Creek Historical Association by Joy Simmons, shows congregants from the Manchaca Baptist Church dressed nicely but up to their waists in water.

For his part, Scott’s family history stretches across South Austin from Creedmoor to Pleasant Hill to the area now most associated with the name that history advocates would like spelled “Menchaca” after its real namesake.

We turned to our regular, selfless group of Austin history advocates for answers. One of them, Bobby Cervantes, grew up on Bluff Springs Road in Southeast Austin and has been active in preserving cemeteries and old structures in that area.

“There is also a property just over Onion Creek headed towards Slaughter on the right hand side,” he guessed about the possible site. “There are old cabins and wagons on the property. It is a big property.”

That area on Onion Creek was once home to a freedman’s community and at least one country school by that name.

Lanny Ottosen, who is writing a book about southeastern Travis County, was much more specific. He attached contemporary digital maps that show a very likely location just west of Bluff Springs Road and just south of Onion Creek; a 1937 excerpt from a Travis County listing of springs with a map that reads: “Bank of creek. Flow 5 gallons a minute from sandy gravel. Supplies water for swimming pool. Known as Bluff Springs. Temperature 74 degrees F”; as well as a 1954 aerial shot of the property that shows a similar concrete structure.

Then he hit pay dirt: A text exchange with the current owner not only confirms three springs on the property, but also included a picture of the owner’s husband swimming in a concrete enclosure that looks almost exactly like the one in the baptismal photo.

 

Revisiting the Continental Club in the 1960s

A reader asks our Austin Answered project: “Was the Continental Club a sleazy topless bar back in the early 1960s? I remember having a roommate in 1963 who danced there.”

Yes. What was founded by Morin Scott in 1957 on South Congress Avenue as a swanky jazz supper club became by the early ’60s what has been variously described as a “burlesque,” “strip club” or “topless bar.”

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There’s more to this image than meets the eye. ©Andrew Shapter

According to the Handbook of Texas, Martin Schuler took over the lease in the late 1960s and turned it into a neighborhood tavern. He purchased the club in the 1970s and leased it out. That’s when it became a music venue again. Mark Pratz and J’nette Ward operated it during the 1980s before it was made over by Steve Wertheimer, the current owner, in 1987 as part of an effort to revive some of the club’s ’50s allure.

MORE OLD AUSTIN SPOTS: Stallion Drive Inn

On his Austin Clubland website, music journalist and historian Michael Corcoran reports that the building had an earlier history as a laundromat in 1947. He also reminds us that during the tawdry ’60s, happy hour ran from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. — “That’s not a misprint” — and that it briefly served as a disco.

Now about the striking image that accompanies this story. It is not what it seems. And there’s a great story to go with it.

“It was spring of 1993, almost exactly 25 years ago from today,” wrote Andrew Shapter, photographer and documentary maker, when we asked to republish it. “It was a Sunday and at that time, very few people were around (unlike today). I was doing a portrait session on South Congress when rain interrupted the session and forced me to reschedule my client.”

The roll of black and white film in his camera had a single frame left.

“I was aiming my camera up towards the Continental Club sign just as the sun had broken through the clouds. It was a near perfect photo,” Shapter wrote. “But just before I snapped the picture, a guy named Steve, the iconic club owner, popped out and said ‘You’d get a much better picture from the roof.’”

Next thing he knew, Wertheimer escorted him to the roof.

“Just seconds before I snapped it, a lone vintage motorcycle pulled out from a side street into the center of the shot,” Shapter says. “Flash forward to years later, The New York Times was doing a travel story on South Austin. The photo caption read ‘The Continental Club, circa 1960.’

“I took it as a compliment.”

Honoring Austin patron saint Roberta Reed Crenshaw

Roberta Reed Crenshaw was an Austin patron saint with a double halo. She permanently blessed both the environment and the arts.

On Friday, city leaders honored Crenshaw, who died in 2005, with the dedication of the Roberta Reed Crenshaw Overlook, an arced terrace above Lady Bird Lake near the southwest corner of West Cesar Chavez and Congress Avenue.

Phoebe Allen and Mary Arnold, motivated by Shudde Fath, pushed for the Roberta Reed Crenshaw Overlook. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

The most revered among the present dignitaries was Shudde Fath, 102, herself a framer of Austin’s culture in the areas of ecology, affordability, transparency and social justice. And of course Fath stole the show with her personal memories of “Bobbie” Crenshaw.

RELATED: Activist Shudde Fath at 100.

Others present on or off the dais under a giant cedar elm were Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, historian Phoebe Allen, open-space activist Mary Arnold, architects Evan Taniguchi and Sinclair Black, parks historian Kim McKnight, Paramount leaders past and present John Bernadoni and Jim Ritts, Austin Parks Foundation captain Colin Wallis and many others.

So you are new to town and you didn’t know Crenshaw? Thrice married, she was one of those charismatic civic leaders that didn’t take “no” for an answer. If she wanted it done, it got done almost every time.

She was crucial in the founding of Ballet Austin and the nonprofit chapter of the Paramount Theatre‘s 100+ year history. An early appointee to the Parks and Recreation board, she led the way for Pease ParkRoy Guererro ParkReed Park and the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum. Almost always, she rolled up her sleeves, forged ahead, and let the city staff and politicians follow in line. On more than one occasion, she gifted the land for the parks.

RELATED: How Roberta Crenshaw became the Paramount’s patron saint.

But the reason why the Overlook sits high above the lake and the trail below: Crenshaw was among the first to promote the idea of a trail soon after the body of water was impounded in 1960. She fought off a commercial amusement park and motorboat races on the lake.

And she discovered that, by state law, anything below the high water mark on Texas rivers was deemed public. So she had both sides of the lake declared parkland and, by doing so, prevented an expressway that would have severed the lakefront from downtown. For that alone, she deserves our eternal praise.

At the ceremony, Fath recalled what she had said about Crenshaw at her funeral.

“She was responsible for starting more good things in this city than almost anyone else,” Fath said. “She was my hero. She never gave up.”

Austin Answered: Why all those names on dedication plaques?

A reader asks our Austin Answered project: “Why do politicians and construction companies place their names on public property? These places are for people. They are not billboards.”

We asked for a clarification: “Do you mean the cornerstones and dedication plaques that go onto structures honoring the folks who authorized them, or paid for them, or built them? Or are you talking about sidewalks, curbs, manhole covers, etc., that usually indicate the company that constructed them?”

The reader sent a prompt and thoughtful response.

Dedication plaque attached to the Pfluger Bridge Extension. Contributed
“See the plaque attached,” he writes about the 2010 dedication plaque attached to the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge Extension. “This is the one that makes me question why all those names on this plaque. Architect, I understand. Even builder or one or two people who played a key role in the project.”
The reader put his finger on an old practice. Dedication plaques and cornerstones with similar extensive credits go back to the ancient world. Memorial or historical markers survive in the thousands from the medieval period.
“It would have been much more meaningful to say that this bridge was built for the people to keep them safe from the traffic on Lamar Boulevard,” he continues. “Followed by a simple thanks to those involved for designing a wonderful bridge. I’ve been in Austin 20 years and heard there was a guy that was even killed in traffic on Lamar. I believe his name has been painted on the pillar under the train bridge to memorialize him, but I doubt many people know that.”
Indeed, the narrow sidewalk on the Lamar Boulevard Bridge, completed in 1942, was — and remains —  extraordinarily dangerous. A pedestrian was killed when a car jumped the curb in 200o. A drunken driver struck and killed a cyclist on the sidewalk in 1991.
The James D. Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, named for a notable architect who helped design the city’s trail system, was completed in 2001, but was avoided by many until the extension spanned West Cesar Chavez Street and linked cyclists, walkers and joggers to the Lance Armstrong Bikeway and North Lamar, completed in 2011.
UPDATE: The reader who made this Austin Answered request did not want his name published with the response.