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.”

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.

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.

AUSTIN ANSWERED: Hobgoblin consistency helped name Austin’s ‘half’ streets

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.”

This street map from 1974 shows that when the new subdivision west of Shoal Creek in Allandale South was built in the 1950s, developers tried to echo the name of West 49th Street, even though interrupted by the creek. Then they created West 49th 1/2 just to the north for more consistency’s sake.

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.