Learning About Austin’s Urban Cemeteries

Learning About Austin’s Urban Cemeteries

provided by Kim McKnight - City of Austin, Parks and Recreation

When I lived in downtown Atlanta, one of my favorite restaurants was a nearby pub and seafood place called Six Feet Under in Grant Park. The restaurant was right across the street from a cemetery, and, rather than being grossed out at the thought of eating so close to the many corpses buried across the street, I found the view rather peaceful and beautiful.  I enjoyed going to their rooftop deck, ordering a beer, and gazing upon all of the serene tombstones.  With a strange-in-a-good-way feeling, being in the presence of so many that had lived before me helped me feel part of something larger, and put the petty problems of the day in perspective – a reminder that I was part of something much more significant.

Cemeteries are, I believe, an important part of the urban landscape; but a part of the urban landscape that I don’t think many people living in dense urban cities actually think about.  Austin seems to be on the cutting edge of trying to leverage aging infrastructure (or, if you’re into puns like me – “dead weight”) into a modern productive asset, and the current discussions surrounding a cemetery “master plan” are part of that process.

oakwood-cemetery-entranceCemeteries do not just take care of themselves.  There’s an entire system and economy behind operating these pieces of land. There are privately owned cemeteries, and there are municipal cemeteries, which have a basic function of providing affordable burial and related services for those in the community. Here in Austin, Travis County is responsible for providing burials for the indigent population.

Of the ~300 known cemeteries in Travis County, the City of Austin only owns five of them: Austin Memorial Park, Evergreen, Oakwood, Oakwood Annex, and Plummers. The City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department took over maintenance of the cemeteries in 2013.  A 2006 article in the Austin Chronicle explains how these City cemeteries “work” and some of the inherent challenges of running a cemetery:

Part of the difficulty in maintaining Oakwood lies in the fact that, although the city owns the property, caring for individual plots is the responsibility of the families of the people buried in them. As Jay Stone, manager of Austin Parks and Recreation’s financial services division, put it, “It’s no different [from] when you purchase your home. You do the upkeep.” Oakwood – and the city’s four other cemeteries – are like their own neighborhoods within the city. Think of the plots as people’s lots, the graves and mausoleums as people’s houses, and the tombstones and other markers as fences (hence references to the cemetery in old newspapers as “The City of the Dead”). The hole in this rationale, says Dale Flatt, president and co-founder of Save Austin’s Cemeteries, is that many of the families of people buried in Oakwood have long since moved away. In terms of long-term care, those graves have essentially become abandoned houses.

The City of Austin has never had a plan regarding the management and upkeep of municipal cemeteries, and it was the recent announcement of gathering public input for the City’s inaugural Cemeteries Master Plan that got me thinking about the business and real estate of cemeteries.  The fifth and final public input meeting is on Saturday, January 24, 2015, from 10:30am-12:30pm at the Austin Public Library, Carver Branch, 1161 Angelina Street. At that meeting, the Master Plan team will present the draft plan.

The two nearest cemeteries to downtown Austin are

  1. Oakwood Cemetery at 1601 Navosota, 78702, and the Oakwood Annex, City-owned and managed
  2. The Texas State Cemetery at 909 Navasota, 78702.  This is the impeccably manicured burial site of Stephen F. Austin, General Albert Sidney Johnston, Governor Allan Shivers, Governor John Connally, and Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock.

Oakwood and the Oakwood Annex rarely see new burials, and are deemed as historic sites.  Yet, the cheap chain-link fence that wraps the land has been an eyesore for years.  Between the two separate but adjacent sites rest over 35,000 buried bodies!  Oakwood is Austin’s oldest cemetery, established in 1839, when the City was originally platted.  Susanna Dickinson is among other notable Austinites buried there.

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When I read articles online about the urban cemetery as a concept, the theme from the articles was that space for a traditional burials is becoming limited, and urban cemeteries and burial practices are evolving to take into account those needs.

Interestingly, “stacked” burial plots are actually NOT allowed in Austin (I guess the City is presenting obstacles to urban density even in death, wakka wakka).

A little “spooked” (I can’t help myself.) and looking for answers, I called up Kim McKnight (a City employee who is facilitating the discussions around the Austin Cemetery Master Plan, and who has a background in urban revitalization), and she assured me that there is not really a threat of that happening in Austin for the foreseeable future.  However, she did say that part of the purpose of the Master Plan was to find ways for the municipally-owned and operated cemeteries’ use to evolve and perhaps generate some revenue.  She was VERY quick to clarify that the City does not view cemeteries as being the same as other parks, and that they should not be used as traditional recreation spaces, instead stressing “we can do a better job of activating those cemeteries so that they have some relevancy.”

Right now, only two of the five city-owned cemeteries actually brings in revenue.  The master plan seeks to address funding issues to create a sustainable model to keep these historic sites beautiful and maintained as a part of the larger community.  With Oakwood in particular, the City is not only looking at ways to activate the space, but is also considering creating additional burial options like cremation.  The Oakwood Annex is being considered as a site to hold a columbarium.

provided by Kim McKnight - City of Austin, Parks and Recreation

Oakwood Chapel, photo provided by Kim McKnight – City of Austin, Parks and Recreation

The master plan also seeks to tackle the issue of restoration / renovation of the sites.  One interesting project in Oakwood is the planned restoration of the Oakwood Chapel, with the intention to use the space for programming once it is renovated.  Charles Page a significant local architect who also designed the bandstand at Wooldridge Square and whose sons were partners in the well known firm PageSoutherlandPage, built the chapel in 1914.  The master plan will also address how to properly maintain gravestones and monuments, and provide irrigation solutions.

Unique Grave Markers at Oakwood, photo by Taylor Martinez

Tree care is also vitally important, and the City has forked over major funds for a tree inventory and assessment study.  Interesting aside – apparently foxes live in the Oakwood Cemetery – who knew?!

-Amber

Resources:

*A big thanks to Kim Mcknight for spending a good amount of time with me on the phone to talk about cemeteries and the Master Plan, and who also provided some of the pictures and resource links.





How Much Convention Center Is Too Much Convention Center?

How Much Convention Center Is Too Much Convention Center?

block-8 2

Block 8 sits in the southern shadow of the Four Seasons Residences, just west of the Austin Convention Center.  There are signals that the City of Austin is posturing for another Convention Center eminent domain battle (à la the Whittington Saga Part 1 & Part 2, which we wrote about in 2008).

City Staff recently recommended that the City acquire the southern tracts of what’s known as Block 8 to be part of an expansion of the Austin Convention Center, the first step in a larger proposed expansion.

block-8 2

The Convention Center currently sprawls over six city blocks, and hosts 881,400 square feet of space.  The City Memo states that there is “solid evidence” for expansion and is wanting up to 305,000 in additional square feet! No doubt the abundance of downtown hotel rooms recently built, and under-construction is part of that “evidence”.

You can view the memo in a recent report from the Austin Monitor, though talks about this have been going on behind closed doors for a while before this.

block-8-tcad-parcels

Plat map of the southern half of Block 8

Below is the breakdown of current ownership of the southern half of Block 8 that the city is intending to initially acquire:

101 E Cesar Chavez / 302 E Cesar Chavez – this is one of the most awkward buildings in downtown Austin. The tenant, Casa Chapala, recently closed its doors.  The building is owned by Bloctavo Holdings LLC / John Calhoun Miller, a real estate attorney in Texas.

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304 & 306 Cesar Chavez – downtown’s purveyor of Aprilias and Vespas, AF1 seems to hide in plain sight.  Owned by Bandy Real Estate LLC, a family operated LLC located in Kingsland, TX.

af1

AF1 Racing

316 & 316 1/2 Cesar Chavez  – A lovely surface parking lot (sarcasm), adjacent to the Christian Science Reading Room. Owned by Bloctavo Holdings / John Calhoun Miller, a real estate attorney in Texas.

the view of the lot looking to the north

the view of the lot looking to the north

102 / 104 Trinity – The Christian Science Reading Room, owned by the First Church of Christian Science.

front exterior of the Christian Science Reading Room

front exterior of the Christian Science Reading Room

Southwest Strategies has been marketing the assemblage of the southern half of Block 8, hoping to get a developer to build with a long-term ground lease.

They describe Block 8 as follows:

The Block 8 Tracts are an assemblage of 4 smaller tracts. Currently, the western portion of the property along San Jacinto is improved with a two story building containing 6,103 sq. ft. currently leased to a restaurant on a short term basis. The central part of the assemblage is improved with a one story building containing 5,320 sq. ft. Tenant is on a month-to-month lease. The eastern portion of the assemblage consists of a paved parking lot utilized for contract parking and an owner occupied one story building consisting of 4,161 sq. ft.

It’s true that the block sits on a prime redevelopment location.  It’s near the convention center, has CBD zoning, and “is unencumbered by any Capitol View Corridors.”

block-8-capitol-view-corridor

Per the Austin Business Journal, “City officials invested about $110 million to expand the convention center in 2002 by several city blocks.”

In their memo, the City states that it has already sent what’s called a Letter of Intent to Acquire to the property owners, and is also already throwing around eminent domain references (though the memo does state that the City will make a good faith attempt to acquire the properties at market value).

The above lots are just the first part of the plan.  From the Austin Monitor: “Rizer suggests the city will need to acquire ‘the equivalent of three to four City blocks‘ to accumulate enough room for the additional space.”

As a resident of downtown, the prospect that an additional three to four blocks of CBD zoned downtown Austin land, currently occupied by thriving businesses, would be annexed by a sprawling Convention Center is alarming.  This would divide downtown Austin using brute force malaise-era design principals.  The City should instead be investing in sustainable design that enhances the preciously compact pedestrian experience our downtown currently affords to residents and visitors.

I call BS on the dogma that Convention Centers can only expand horizontally.  City leadership should invite world class designers to show us a better path to expand vertically on the already significant Convention Center footprint.

-Jude





Three More In-Home Services For Downtown Dwellers

Three More In-Home Services For Downtown Dwellers

austin-delivery-services

I’ve written about food delivery services for downtown Austin residents, including some areas outside of downtown before, proclaiming my undying appreciation for the convenience they bring.  Downtown Austin Blog has also written of our support of Uber, and most Uber drivers I’ve talked to say the majority of their business is in downtown & central Austin.  Convenience services have been propelled into our lives within the past couple of years.  Unlike some startups from the early 2000s, these players seem to have entered a convenience economy, with consumers willing to consistently spend the extra money.

Below are a handful of services that you might not have heard of, but I wanted to highlight for the convenience seeking, time-crunched DAB reader (more after the jump):

[Read more…]





Handful of This Week’s Downtown Austin Events (and one on the East Side)

Handful of This Week’s Downtown Austin Events (and one on the East Side)

"Flow" installation, Design Workshop

DANA Urban Core Happy Hour
Sunday, November 16, 2014 – 2pm-4pm
Hotel Ella

RSVP Required.

hotel-ella

DANA members and guests are invited to enjoy the hospitality of the recently revamped Hotel Ella.

On the menu:

  • Truffle Risotto Cakes
    Crab Cakes with Lemon Aioli
    Chorizo stuffed bacon wrapped dates with piquillo pepper sauce
    Antipasta Buffet Bar with imported cheese, house cured meats, preserved local fruits, and peppered flatbread with assorted crackers

+ complimentary beer, wine, and cocktails!

Creek Show, Light Night
Thursday, November 13, 2014 – Sunset ’til Late
Waller Creek (between 5th street and 7th street)

Event website.

"Flow" installation, Design Workshop

“Flow” installation, Design Workshop

As the sun sets on Waller Creek, five site-specific light installations will be revealed. These installations, all created by Austin-based architects and landscape architects, will illuminate Waller Creek in new and exciting ways. See the designs, hear local music and learn more about the future of Waller Creek.

East Austin Studio Tour
2 Weekends: November 15-16, November 22-23 – 11am-6pm
Various locations

Event website.

hallie

Big Medium presents the 13th East Austin Studio Tour! EAST is a free, annual, self-guided art event occurring over two weekends in November, providing the public with an opportunity to meet the makers: the local artists and artisans who leave a lasting imprint on Austin’s vibrant, dynamic culture. Tour-goers are invited to discover new artistic talent, see working studios, learn about artists’ tools, techniques, and inspirations, and explore unique exhibition spaces and local businesses.

One of the artists we love to support, Hallie Rae Ward, will be showcasing her work at Createscape Coworking.  Check it out!





From Bail Bonds To Condominium

From Bail Bonds To Condominium

908 Nueces Rendering - Perales Engineering

12/10/2014: Updated rendering below!

While many of DAB’s friends will be sad to see Bail Bonds (777-7777) office go [sarcasm], we are interested in what is planned to replace it: 908 Nueces Condominiums.

908 Nueces LLC purchased the site in July.  The address for 908 Nueces LLC on the deed records matches up to several entities, but it looks like the management of 908 Nueces LLC is a company called Scotia Western States Housing LLC, based in Tucson.

Through a little research, we’ve confirmed that a builder in Tucson, A.F. Sterling Homes, will be the company developing this project.  While the company owns some single family rentals in Austin , this project will mark their first foray into developing dense housing in Austin.

Perales Engineering, who posted the below rendering of the project on their FB page in September, will be working with Urban Foundry Architecture on the project.

Here’s what we know so far:

  • Address = 908 Nueces
  • Lot =  0.29 Acres (~12,800 sf)
  • Proposed structure =  (~34,000) sf
  • Number of stories = 4 + 1 level of parking
  • Number of residences = 32
908-Nueces-Today

Google Street View Image of 908 Nueces Today

A rendering of the northeast perspective, given to us on 12/10/2014.  All renderings subject to change.

A rendering of the northeast perspective, given to us on 12/10/2014. All renderings subject to change.

 

908 Nueces Rendering - Perales Engineering

Rendering of the future 908 Nueces Condos, posted by Perales Engineering on Facebook





First Look: The Bowie Apartments in Downtown Austin

First Look: The Bowie Apartments in Downtown Austin

TheBowieApartments1

The heavy lifting at The Bowie Apartments is nearing completion, and we were able to get a sneak peak tour to look at some of the units.

Previously named 3Eleven, a reference to the street address of 311 Bowie, The Bowie Apartments are attempting to raise the bar beyond the previous luxury apartment towers, The Ashton and The Whitley.

What we saw was an exceptional building, with pricing to match: studios starting at around $1550/mo, 1 Beds around $2k/mo.  Two bedrooms begin around $3300, and large three bedrooms plans begin at [gulp] $9100 per month.

 

The Bowie offers 34 different floor plans.  Whole Foods Corporate will have offices on their 8th and 9th floors (which, we are told will have a separate entrance).The Bowie’s interior features & amenities include:

  • Floor to ceiling windows,
  • hardwood floors
  • solar window shades
  • Gas Ranges (we don’t know of a downtown competing class apartment with this offering)
  • Full-size, front-load Washers and Dryers
  • 2 outdoor common area decks (w/fire pits, grilling areas, etc)
  • Rooftop Pool
  • Catering Kitchen / Clubroom / Conference Room
  • Concierge Service
  • Bicycle Storage

The Bowie Apartments will have a heated swimming pool atop their 37th floor, boasting the “the highest pool in Texas!”  We can’t confirm this, but it seems plausible.

What’s really going to set this apartment high-rise apart from others is its prime location: across the street from Whole Foods.  At least until Seaholm is completed, to truly have walkable lifestyle in downtown, there will be a premium for close proximity to Whole Foods.

Competition-wise, The Bowie is likely to go head-to-head with the Ashton, Whitley, the neighboring Monarch, and individual for-lease units at the Spring Condos.  Price wise The Bowie will also be competing with condos for rent at the Four Seasons and W Hotel.

The ground floor of the building will host a restaurant. We are told that there are several inquiries into the space, but no contracts have been signed to occupy the space.

Move ins begin December 15.  If you’re looking to get some info on how The Bowie stacks up to other downtown rentals – just contact us and we can walk you through the details.

-Amber





Austin Fairmont Hotel To Break Ground November 3rd

Austin Fairmont Hotel To Break Ground November 3rd

Fairmont_Rendering_Oct2014_final

Some people, myself included, were beginning to think downtown Austin’s Fairmont Hotel was becoming development vaporware.  Back in March there was proof-of-life when they began fencing off the site.

Today, according to a press release sent to DAB, the Fairmont Austin, the first hotel providing direct access to the Austin Convention Center, is announcing that it has secured financing and will break ground on November 3, 2014.

Colony Capital has stepped in with project financing for the $370 million luxury hotel, which is expected to open June 3, 2017.

The site, located at the northeast corner of Cesar Chavez & Red River is a 1.74-acre parcel situated along the bank of Waller Creek. The hotel will be notable for having a direct connection to the Austin Convention Center, via an arial promenade being designed by Thomas Phifer and Partners (the firm selected by the Waller Creek Conservancy to develop a master plan for the Waller Creek district).

The finished building will no doubt add to downtown Austin’s skyline. At 595 feet tall, it will be second tallest structure in downtown Austin – the tallest being the 56 story, 680-foot Austonian.

Summary of what we know about the Fairmont Hotel…

  • Number of rooms = 1,066
  • Number of stories = 37
  • Square Feet = 1.4 million
  • Building Height = 595 feet
  • Delivery = June 2017

-Jude

Fairmont_Rendering_Oct2014_final

Fairmont Hotel, Red River @ Cesar Chavez, southwest POV





Some Downtown Austin Events – Family Friendly

Some Downtown Austin Events – Family Friendly

A pic from a DANA Garden Day of yesteryear...

Three family-friendly downtown Austin events happening next week, in no particular order….

Event 1

Trick or Treating with DANA at The Shore Condos, Thursday, 10/30/2014 – 5:30-7pm

Pretty self-explanatory.  This event is restricted to downtown residents and their children (or grand-children, etc) and should be absolute cute overload. RSVP required. Click link above for details and RSVP. Here are some pics from last year’s event:

Event 2

DANA Garden Day, Near Pfluger Bridge, Saturday, 11/1/2014 –  9am

Calling all city dwellers! You may no longer have a garden to tend, but come get your hands dirty and meet your neighbors as we beautify part of the hike and bike trail near the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge. DANA adopted a garden on Lady Bird Lake (Cesar Chavez side of Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge). It’s a busy spot on the trail and will be enjoyed by all that pass by.

A pic from a DANA Garden Day of yesteryear...

A pic from a DANA Garden Day of yesteryear…

If you are interested in volunteering, please just email DANA at info@downtownaustin.org so they can send you additional information if necessary.

DANA Garden Day
Saturday, November 1, 2014, 9am-12noon
About 999 W Cesar Chavez
map   transit

Event 3

Movies in the Park in Wooldridge Square – Beetlejuice, 10/29/2014 @ 7pm

movies-in-the-park

The 2014 Fall Movies in the Park series continues on Wednesday, October 29 with Beetlejuice at 7:00 p.m. This week is sponsored by the Downtown Austin Alliance and will change things up by moving to Wooldridge Square.

Movies in the Park is a series of free films brought to you by the Austin Parks Foundation, and presented by the Alamo Drafthouse. The 2014 Movies in the Park theme celebrates the Alamo 100 – a list of 100 movies deemed essential by our beloved Alamo Drafthouse. The last movie of the season will be The Dark Night on November 13 at 6:15 p.m. in Republic Square.

Dogs, picnics, and lawn chairs are welcome. Alcoholic beverages, glass, and styrofoam are not permitted in the park. Recycling bins are provided, but we ask that you help us out by packing out all of your own trash. Smoking is also prohibited in the park, per city law. In case of rain, please visit http://austinparks.org/moviesinthepark.html for updates.





Based on information from the Austin Board of REALTORS ® (alternatively, from ACTRIS) for the period through 12/21/14 10:47 AM PST. Neither the Board nor ACTRIS guarantees or is in any way responsible for its accuracy. All data is provided “AS IS” and with all faults. Data maintained by the Board or ACTRIS may not reflect all real estate activity in the market.

Information being provided is for consumers’ personal, non-commercial use and may not be used for any purpose other than to identify prospective properties consumers may be interested in purchasing.

This IDX solution is (c) Diverse Solutions 2014.