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.

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 has more to say about Stallion Drive Inn

Our story about the Stallion Drive Inn, a comfort food spot on North Lamar Boulevard, stirred strong memories among our readers.

The Stallion Drive Inn on North Lamar Boulevard. Contributed

Steve Hamlett remembers cheap, good food and lots of it. He describes a sign on the side of the building that read: “Flash Your Lights.”

“Were diners supposed to flash their car lights to let the people inside know that more customers were arriving?” Hamlett writes. “Seemed very strange.  I don’t think I ever actually did it or saw anyone else do it.”

Might have been a relic of the Stallion’s curb service days. Hamlett also remembers a Stallion jingle set to the tune of the “Bonanza” theme.

During the 1960s and ’70s, Don Valk usually stopped by the Stallion on the way to the Skyline Club.

“They had a special: For 35 cents got you a couple of chicken wings, small salad and a couple of french fries,” Volk writes. “To get in the Skyline was around 50 cents and there was 10 cent beer from 8 to 9:30 plus plenty of fine looking ladies to dance with.”

Mike Steele dropped into the Stallion often.

“There was a cook there named Willis Earls who had been a professional boxer,” Steele writes. “He had an intimidating presence but was super nice. Biggest hands I’ve ever seen. You could pass a quarter through one of his rings. Not only did he cook, he kept the peace there.”

The color of the cream gravy concerned several readers.

“I remember the gravy being a little green, not orange,” writes Jake Lorfing. “But I ate lots of it!”

“The gravy was yellow green and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen gravy that color again,” writes Mark Peppard. “Just remember how good it was.”

“The gravy wasn’t orange,” Harry Thompson writes. “It was the light from the beer signs.”

As for exactly when the Stallion closed, we received three crucial messages.

Jeanette Breelove recalls that her husband, Mack Breedlove, was the commercial broker who talked the owners, Bill Joseph‘s family, into selling the tract to Macdonalds in the early ’80s But she did have a specific date.

Bill Joseph, son of the owner, said his father operated the Stallion from 1949 until his death in December 18, 1981. His mother kept place open for another year, then it was managed by an uncle, E.C. Mowdy.

Retired and living in Fredericksburg, Joseph, part of the extended Lebanese-Texan family, recalls the spot as a place where World War II veterans gathered to tell stories they wouldn’t talk about elsewhere. (He kept notes!)

Stewart Smiley says the Stallion closed unexpectedly the day before Thanksgiving 1984. “No notice was given ahead of time,” Smiley told us. “It just closed and that was it.”

The Statesman has had more than a dozen homes

Ben Sargent, political cartoonist, printer and history advocate, asks: “Has anyone ever listed all the various places from which the Statesman has been published in its nearly 150 years?”a

“My curiosity was prompted while looking at a 1900 Sanborn (fire insurance) map of downtown Austin, and I noticed that in that year, apparently the paper was occupying the Millett Opera House,” writes Sargent, who is retired from the American-Statesman. “There is even a little structure out back that appeared to be a boiler house and labeled ‘type foundry.'”

 

This detail from the 1900 Sanborn fire insurance map shows the Austin Statesman’s printing facility inside the old Millett Opera House on East Ninth Street.

The Millett Opera House, built in 1878 at 110 E. Ninth St., has played many roles, including as the city’s leading theater. It now serves as home for the Austin Club.

“Anyway, I know of the famous upstairs-from-the-saloon location at 10th and Congress, the wonderful ‘old building’ at Seventh and Colorado (shamefully razed by the University of Texas), and of course the Guadalupe Street and the Riverside buildings where we worked,” Sargent writes, “but there appear to have been some unknown number of other venues.”

I did a spot check among the Austin City Directories at the Austin History Center and found a lot of locations. Apparently printing presses were much lighter and equipped with wheels by the time the tri-weekly Democratic Statesman was founded in 1871. It was listed at Congress Avenue between Hickory (Eighth) and Ash (Ninth) streets in the 1872-73 directory. (Numeral addresses were not uniformly used well into the 20th century.)

It had moved to the northeast corner of Congress and Ash by 1877-1878. The directory lists three other papers including the Texas Stern (German). In 1887-1888, the Statesman (no longer Democratic), was at 126 W. Pecan (Sixth) St. and trundled over to 122 W. Sixth by 1891-92. It was listed at 713 Congress in 1907.

Now here’s where it gets complicated: In 1914, it merged with the Austin Tribune (which had been 400-2 Congress), the same year it earned competition from the morning Austin American (813 Congress).

The Austin Statesman and Tribune didn’t last long as a name and by 1916, the evening Austin Statesman was found on the southwest corner of Brazos and East Seventh and remained there after it merged with the American. The same company put out both papers and the combined Sunday American-Statesman for decades there, and its next home at West Seventh and Colorado streets, until they were combined into one paper with four daily editions in 1973.

Exterior view of The American Statesman building which was located at West Seventh and Colorado Streets in 1947 as photographed by Neal Douglass. Contributed by Austin History Center ND-47-171-05
By this time, it had moved to the location at West Fourth and Guadalupe Streets. It is finally listed at its current location in 1981. At first the address “166 Riverside Dr.” was used for our campus, but we later turned our faces westward for today’s address: 305 South Congress Ave.
UPDATE: The Riverside Drive address was rendered incorrectly in an earlier version of this post.