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!”

Time travel to 1973 Austin Artists Market on the Drag

Reader Sean Massey was going through a stack of family photos and found a series of undated black-and-white images related to his father, Austin counterculture jeweler Jerry Massey.

Two possibilities presented themselves right away, the what is now known as the open-air Austin Renaissance Market on the Drag, or possibly the City Wide Garage Sale at the since-demolished City Coliseum. The former seemed more likely, especially since the garage sale did not take off until 1977, and this outdoor scene looks very early ’70s. The checkered vest is a clue.

“It appears to be the 23rd Street Artists Market, if that’s the Tower in the background and the Union in front of it,” determined Sam Sargent right away on Facebook. “The building to the upper right should be on the Architecture Building. That’s my guess.”

Sargent had plenty of company on three Facebook pages where we subsequently posted the query: “Austin As It Used to Be,” “Old Austin Dives, Greasy Spoons, etc.,” and “Dazed and Confused/Keeping Our Austin Memories Alive with Its Rich History.”

Journalist and cultural historian Joe Nick Patoski pegged the date circa 1973. Laurence Eighner Hexamer agreed and pointed out the stripes on the pavement that defined the stalls.

“That would have happened about 1972,” Hexamer writes on “Old Austin Dives.” “I think we should see a scrap of the mural if it was there, but it won’t be until 1974. The customer looks familiar, but I cannot name him — note slightly flared pants. I don’t recognize the vendors at all.”

The picture attracted more than 50 comments and replies on “Dazed and Confused,” a good number devoted to the displayed watercolors by Walter Falk, who still has plenty of fans. Others detailed the history of the market, including its slight move away from the Drag proper in 1974, while still others wondered whether they had met up there more than 40 years ago.

The apparent presence of the high-rise Dobie Center in the upper right corner offers another dating clue since it opened in 1972.

“It’s pretty much where all the street venders have been for decades,” writes Gary Klusczinski on “Austin As It Used to Be.” I’d say the timeframe would be somewhere in the early seventies.

 

 

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.”