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.
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.
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.
Longtime photojournalist Robert Godwin has been going through his archives to rescue an abundance of Austin history.
This arresting image catches Hollywood actor Broderick Crawford, who won an Academy Award in 1949 for his role as populist politician Willie Stark in “All the King’s Men,” in half light.
“I remember wanting to move his drink,” Godwin says, “but thought I’d pull back a stub if I reached a hand towards it. It was about 9 or 10 in the morning and he finished his third Bloody Mary — that only had a splash of tomato juice — and then started on martinis that came in a tumbler instead of a martini glass! Never blinked or slurred a word while I was there.”
So why was hard-working, hard-living Crawford in town? He was best known at the time for the syndicated TV crime series, “Highway Patrol.” Yet he came to Austin in November 1979 to reprise his role in “Born Yesterday.” Almost 30 years earlier, in 1950, Crawford had played the bullying boyfriend of Judy Holliday in the film version.
In Austin, he worked with Mary Moody Northen Theatre founder Ed Mangum, who fertilized his budding Equity acting union program at St. Edward’s University with the stars of stage, screen and television. So Crawford joined the ranks of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Mercedes McCambridge and Sal Mineo as a guest star.
“During the 1950s, Crawford became known for his large appetite for food and alcohol,” writes actor, teacher and writer Ev Lunning, Jr. “He brought these appetites to Austin, along with his crusty personality.”
“Zelma Richardson, in charge of Crawford’s publicity appearances, was so put off by his brusqueness that she as Bill McMillan to accompany Crawford on one day’s publicity itinerary. When McMillan reported to the hotel, he found Crawford beginning his breakfast Bloody Mary. After each appearance and interview, Crawford suggested a stop at a tavern.”
The long day did not end well for McMillan.
Crawford’s co-star, Susan Loughran, remembered one of Crawford’s first evenings in Austin.
“He drank,” she says. “Tom Graves, who also drank, and Broderick and I went out to talk about the show. We went to — I don’t think it’s there anymore — there was a bar at the corner of Oltorf and Interstate 35 and it had a second story, and it was dark, and the reputation was that there were a lot of divorcees and it would be a good place to meet if you wanted to have an affair. And we went up there to have drinks.”
She recalls that Crawford ordered scotches on the rocks.
“Some manly drink — he was a very manly man, a big rumbling voice, and he wore this hat, a hat that he got from Bear Bryant,” Loughran says. “I probably had maybe two drinks but the bar bill was something like $150. You know, when drinks were maybe $2 apiece. … So that was my introduction to Broderick.”
These days, readers provide the lion’s share of material for Austin Found. Or at least they get the ball rolling.
Last month, we serialized the report of a 1911 double murder on West Monroe Street as reported in Ken Roberts‘ new book, “The Cedar Choppers: Life on the Edge of Nothing.” John Teague, son of a Hill Country clan, killed John Gest, owner of the Little South Austin Saloon, attempted to kill his bartender, Max Himmelreich, before heading west to the Balcones Escarpment. Around South First Street, he encountered Deputy Sheriff George Duncan (sometimes referred to as Lemuel). They wrestled and Teague killed Duncan as well. He received a 99-year sentence, yet less than 10 years later, Teague was released from prison.
Anna Galloway, who had worked with me on a story about the old rural community of Duval, which is now subsumed into North Austin off Duval Road, called to say: “That murdered deputy sheriff was my grandfather.”
“Of course you’ve heard the story that when Gov. Pa Ferguson was impeached, he asked for the names of 99 felons with 99-year sentences and pardoned them all,” Galloway relates about the extraordinarily corrupt politician. “John Teague was one of the 99.”
In fact, Teague was only on trial for the murder of Gest, since Himmelreich was a living witness. The authorities figured they had him.
Some 40 years later, Galloway says, one of Duncan’s five orphaned girls, Alta May Duncan, was working at Brackenridge when Teague was hospitalized. As a nurse, she was required to attend to the man who had murdered her father. She refused and was backed up by an upper supervisor who had the good sense to realize that Brack would be held liable if something fishy happened to Teague under her care.
Online records indicate that Teague died in May 1972.
“The irony is that my great-grandmother made a decision soon after the funeral to move the widowed mother and her five girls to Hays County,” Galloway says. “They bought acreage with a lot of cedar trees. They built a charcoal kiln, chopped cedar and burned it in the kiln. Then they sacked charcoal which was brought into Austin and sold.”
Tales of historical murder and mayhem mean a lot more when they happened on your street.
Ken Roberts’ excellent “The Cedar Choppers: Life on the Edge of Nothing” (Texas A&M University Press) thoroughly chronicles the clans who until recently lived mostly isolated lives in the Hill Country west and north of Austin. The book is packed with surprises.
For various reasons that Roberts carefully lays out, these mostly Scots-Irish clans were prone to violence. One incident concerning the Teague family near the turn of the past century, however, made me sit bolt upright. I had to share the tale right away. It concerns the trial of John Teague for the murder of John Gest and a deputy sheriff.
“John Gest and his bartender Max Himmelreich ran a saloon in 1911 at the southwest corner of South Congress and Monroe Street,” Roberts writes. “Bars like this were abundant in what is now downtown Austin: the 1910 city directory lists two beer gardens and for 40 saloons for a town of less than 30,000 people.”
Hey, wait a minute. That’s the current site of the South Congress Cafe. Today, the building is mostly exposed brick, but remnants of stonework can be detected on the north wall. Indeed, a stone structure, set back from the street, marks that very spot on the 1921 Sanborn insurance map of the neighborhood.
One of John Teague’s sisters, Mamie, had married Gest, who was of German origin. But she disappeared. Another sister, Myrtle, 16, served as his informal housekeeper. In 1911, John Teague’s wife, Mattie, witnessed Gest abusing Myrtle, so he decided to investigate.
After confronting her, Teague got very drunk. Late at night, he showed up at Gest’s Monroe Street bar with his .44 Winchester rifle in tow.
“Gest cut his eye up at me that way (grimacing) and threw his hand down this way and I ups with my gun and shot him,” Teague later testified. “Before he fell, I shot him again, and after he fell, I shot him again.” Teague was heard to say, “God damn you — I’ll show you how to insult my sister.”
Bartender Himmelreich saw the whole thing from behind the bar, Roberts’ story continues. “I believe I’ll just kill you, too,” Teague said, but his shot narrowly missed and shattered the mirror behind the bar. Himmelreich ducked out back as Teague continued to fire.
Then Teague headed west on West Monroe Street toward East Bouldin Creek, presumably on his way to the Balcones Escarpment and the rugged mountains further west.
“But the shooting had been heard all over South Austin,” Roberts writes. “And a deputy sheriff named George Duncan pulled on his clothes, grabbed his pistol, and ran out of his house — right into John Teague. He wrestled with Teague, who shot him several times, leaving him writhing in the middle of the road.”
The killer’s next stop was the house of John Freitag, brother-in-law of John Almar Roberts, where he demanded cartridges and water. He told a woman there: “My name is John Teague. I have killed John Gest, his bartender and another man. He is laying down there in the road.”
He was easily apprehended the next day after having fallen off a 10-foot cliff.
The murder trial was a circus. The state called for the death penalty; the defense pleaded that insanity ran in the family and also hid behind an “unwritten law,” meaning “homicide is justifiable when committed by the husband upon one taken in the act of adultery with the wife.” As Roberts points out, this defense remained on the books in Texas until 1974.
In other words, Teague claimed to be defending Mamie’s and Myrtle’s honor. As for the congenital insanity, Teague’s mother testified, according to the Austin Statesman before the full house: “The astonished courtroom attendants and hangers-on were afforded the novel spectacle of a woman, promulgating it for the consideration of all, that her husband was partially insane, that her eldest son, a second son, and at least one daughter were afflicted with the mental defect, and that another daughter was an idiot.”
As Roberts research shows, John Teague’s previous record indicates he had been in at least one gunfight over a woman’s honor before, including one with his brother Tom. That one didn’t sound like an act of insanity.
“The jury in the 1911 case voted eight to four for the death penalty, and later three of the four jurors agreed to go with the majority,” Roberts relates. “But one man whose brother had been spared from death by an insanity plea held out, and John Teague was sentenced to prison for life for killing Gest, and again for killing the deputy. He was pardoned 10 years later in 1921.”
John’s sister and Gest’s widow, Mamie, married bartender Himmelreich. He died in 1937. Mamie died in 1984. She was 104 years old.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this post reported the wrong population for Austin in 1911.
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.”
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.
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.’
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.
“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.