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.