Joe Lung, whose family operated popular Austin eateries for three generations, died of complications from a stroke at Hospice Austin’s Christopher House on Wednesday evening. He was 77.
This is a developing story. Check back for details.
This is a developing story. Check back for details.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.”
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.'”
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.