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.”
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.
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.”
The best historical evidence indicates that the house at Boggy Creek Farm is, along with the French Legation, one of the two oldest homes in Austin. Unlike the residence on Robertson Hill that was intended for ambassadorial usage and now owned by the state of Texas, the farmhouse on the creek remains in private hands and so private funds must keep it in one piece.
To that end, owners Larry Butler and Carol Ann Sayle, who have been farming the last five acres organically, are holding a benefit to fix its windows. The event is 1 p.m.-4 p.m. June 24 at 3414 Lyons Road. Expect food, drink, tours and auctions.
“A community benefits when its history is known and preserved,” Sayle says. “Not just by story telling but also by the actual survival of buildings and homes. At Boggy Creek Farm, in the fertile bottom land of East Austin, the farmstead, dating to 1839-1841 still exists. Still ‘standing’ are the remaining five acres of farmland and the modified Greek Revival farmhouse, where the first President of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston, dined in 1841.”
Sayle reports that the house is in good condition, except for the windows.
“They are fragile and beyond band-aid glazing,” she says. “They need to be taken out of their walls for professional restoration. The experts at Red River Restoration will clean the windows of aged glazing materials and remove all of the paint. Then they can assess what wood needs repair or duplication. The process takes two months, and the restoration is scheduled for fall. The estimate for the 14 windows is $30,000.”
As stewards of this homestead, Sayle and Butler have been growing good food, resisting development, keeping the house in good repair, and sharing it through many house tours over the last 26 years.
“With the generosity of our community, and with newly sound windows, this important example of history can weather the next generations and beyond,” Sayle says. “We love this community and we are honored by your help!”
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.
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?”
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.
The Lone Star Library has released a second edition in paperback of “Texas Towns: From Abner to Zipperlandville,” revised by Paris Parmenter and John Bigley from the late Don Blevins‘ nifty thematic guide to name origins, settlement dates and driving directions for hamlets, villages and towns all over the state.
Here are some choice, out-of-the-way spots in the greater Austin area. Although the authors have researched their entries assiduously, their versions of civic origin myths might differ from what locals claim.
Nameless (Travis County) off FM 1431, five miles northeast of Lago Vista. “Settlers were on the grounds by 1869. When residents of the new established community applied for a post office, officials rejected every name the proposed for the facility. After half a dozen names were turned back, somebody it on him- or herself to write the Post Office Department, “Let the post office be nameless and be damned!” Apparently, taking the writer at his words, Nameless became official in 1880.
Oatmeal (Burnet County) on FM 243 eight miles southeast of Burnet. “This is the second oldest community in Burnet County. A German family, reportedly named Habermill, came into the region in 1849 and settled on what is now Oatmeal Creek (near the headwaters of the San Gabriel River). Some believe the name of the stream and ultimately the settlement, came from that of Othneil, a mill owner, or a supposed translation of the name Habermill (haber is a German dialect word for hafer, “oats”).”
Mud City (Travis County) on FM 969 four miles southeast of Austin. “The settlement date is unknown. Little is left of this hamlet, whose claim to fame is that FBI agents once hid out here waiting for 1920s outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (they didn’t show). The hamlet acquired its designation becaus when Cottonwood Creek flooded, the roads became so muddy that walking on them was virtually impossible.”
Radiance (Travis County) on FM 1826 south of Oak Hill. “Developed in the 1970s as a commune for practitioners of transcendental meditation. The name Radiance comes from Super Radiance Effect, the theory that communal meditation brings peace and understanding and will ultimately serve to cure many social ills.”
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.’
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.
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.
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 JimRitts,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 ParamountTheatre‘s 100+ year history.An early appointee to the Parks and Recreation board, she led the way for Pease Park, Roy Guererro Park, Reed 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.
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.”
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.
Our story about theStallion Drive Inn, a comfort food spot on North Lamar Boulevard, stirred strong memories among our readers.
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.”