The Rainey Street House

The Rainey Street House


It looks like Rainey Street District will be getting a history center!  The big question is: where will it go?

On June 12, 2014, Councilman Mike Martinez made a motion, which was amended by Councilman Chris Riley and passed a council vote to essentially read as follows:

Directs the City Manager to accept the donation of the structure formerly located at 93 Rainey St. from Austin Rainey St. D/E/P, LLC, a Delaware, LLC., for use as the Rainey Street History Center.

Here’s the house at 93 Rainey in 2012 (taken from my MEGA Rainey post from 2012) – standing on one of the sites where Dinerstein is building the Millenium Apartments.

The ~1600sf structure as it stands today:


This structure, which will be refurbished using funds from the Rainey Street District Fund, will be placed on a TBD location within the next 180 days.

Currently, these three locations are being considered:

64 Rainey, 700 Cummings, and East Avenue – all pictured below:

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There are pros and cons to each of these sites, and the Rainey Neighbors Association will be discussing all the issues, and likely selecting the location THEY endorse (several other stakeholders may need to agree, including the MACC and the Waller Creek Conservancy) on 10/21 at 6:30pm at the Towers of Town Lake Library. If you are an RNA member – you’re welcome to come to the meeting! Otherwise, submit your thoughts on these sites in the comments below!

For more information, download the attached presentation by Austin Parks and Rec: Rainey-Street-House

Public Art and Austin Floods

Public Art and Austin Floods


I recently wrote a little blurb on The People’s Gallery, a project that’s part of the Art in Public Places program by the City of Austin’s Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services department.  I’m a fan of the program, and think these types of City projects and programs help to make our city great!

That’s why I’d like to continue, from time to time, highlighting these little gems of public works in Downtown Austin. Today’s piece, I’m embarrassed to say, just came into my purview, even though I’m an almost daily runner of Lady Bird Lake’s 3 mile loop.

I happened to notice it the other day, and thought I’d share some shots of the work, particularly since they highlight some history of the lake and Austin.  The piece is done by Deborah Mersky and is called [Read more…]

Judges Hill Neighborhood in Downtown Austin Applies to Become Local Historic District

Judges Hill Neighborhood in Downtown Austin Applies to Become Local Historic District


We recently received notice that the Judges Hill Neighborhood Association, representing the area of downtown Austin between W 15th and W 18th and West Avenue and San Gabriel has applied for a rezoning to a Local Historic District.

Per the notice:

Local historic districts were created by the City Council as a tool to preserve the historic character of the city’s older neighborhoods by introducing design standards for additions and changes to existing buildings and for new construction within the district.  Designation of a neighborhood as a local historic district helps ensure that new construction within the district is compatible with the character of the area.  Local historic district designation does not prohibit change or new construction, but rather sets design parameters based upon historical precedents while encouraging conservation and energy efficiency.

Here’s a link to the notice, in its entirety. (note, in the second to last paragraph on the first page, it mentions “Hyde Park Local Historic District.”  We are assuming this is a typo and that the Hyde Park notice was used as a template for this notice).

A Local Historic District is not to be confused with a National Register Historic District:



If everything goes as planned, Judges Hill Historic District will join Castle Hill, Harthan Street, and Hyde Park as LHD’s.

If you live in Judges Hill and want more info – we came across this website that has a PLETHORA of info (we’re not sure how often it’s updated, though – so read with caution).

Families in Downtown Austin Condos

Families in Downtown Austin Condos


Sometimes when I’m chatting with a peer of mine about where they’d like to live, I ask them if they would consider downtown.  A common response to that question is “Well, I have (or want to have) kids….so….” as though that’s the consideration keeping them from a condo. I guess when people think of the demographic of downtown Austin (and, I guess, downtowns in general), they think that high-rises are for singles, young couples, or empty nesters – most folks don’t feel like condo buildings are places where families do or should dwell.

Well, believe it or not, there are lots of families living in downtown Austin that are bucking the stereotype.  I’ve had the chance of over the last several months to interview a few families living in downtown Austin [Read more…]

Higher & Better Use For Downtown Alleys

Higher & Better Use For Downtown Alleys


This effort could yield some cool results.  The idea is in focus as Art Alliance Austin will feature in April an alley installation adjacent to the Austin Club.

Councilmember Tovo’s office is capturing the attention of downtown stakeholder groups, including Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association and the Downtown Commission, which has spun off a working group, for consideration of a masterplan for downtown Austin’s alleyways.

“Traditionally [alleys] are associated with garbage collection and can be associated with crime,” Tovo says “so, there’s the notion of kind of taking another look at them and really thinking about what kind of potential they might bring to our downtown area.” – KUT News

Repurposing alleys is not a new idea, and many cities around the world have embraced them as valuable real estate.

In fact, the concept for revitalizing downtown alleys has come before Austin City Council at least once before.  Back in 1971, architect David Graeber proposed repurposing the alleys behind 6th Street, from the Driskill Hotel to Waller Creek.

“By establishing cafes, boutiques, business offices and unusual shops, the alley could be a major economic stimulant to the downtown area.  Businesses could face either the alley or 6th Street, or more advantageously, both.” – David Graeber

Austin Architect, David Graeber's "Serendipity Alley" concept from the 1970s.  Daily Texan, September 24, 1971

Austin Architect, David Graeber’s “Serendipity Alley” concept from the 1970s. Daily Texan, September 24, 1971

[Image credit Art Alliance Austin/Creative Action and TBG/Dan Cheetham (Fyoog) and Michelle Tarsney]

Food Fight on Sixth: Bratwurst VS. Oysters

Food Fight on Sixth: Bratwurst VS. Oysters

Best Wurst Cart

Over the past few weeks, an interesting “struggle” has been growing between Austinites on the issue of whether the Best Wurst sausage cart should have its sidewalk permit renewed to vend in front of Parkside Restauarant.  The scene is the southeast corner of East 6th Street at San Jacinto, the heart of the East 6th Historic & Entertainment District.

Best Wurst has been selling yummy treats from its cart there for 17 years and has grown quite a popular customer following.  The owner, Jon Notarthomas, is a hard-working Austin musician and entrepreneur.  He pays $450 per year for the vending permit and transacts tens of thousands of dollars in business from his cart.

Parkside is a lovely fine-cuisine restaurant that opened in the circa-1920 building where Dan McKlusky’s steakhouse previously existed.  Shawn Cirkiel, the chef, and his Austin family purchased their building, valued by TCAD at $1.6 million, and completely renovated the property when opening the restaurant a couple of years ago.

Sidewalk vending permits must be renewed every 3 years and it is now that time for Best Wurst.  Parkside is opposing the renewal.  There are many reasons involved but the basic one is simply “incompatibility”.  This restuarant is not happy with having another food vendor directly outside of its front door.  City officials are caught in the middle.

There are many opposing perspectives arising through discussions of this matter:

“Old/Iconic Austin” versus “New/Emerging Austin”.

Upscale dining versus inexpensive street food.

Property owner rights versus temporary permitted uses.

Large investments and big taxes on property+liquor+sales versus modest investments, small fees and sales tax only.

The sensibilities of Austin’s sidewalk vending permit process versus national best-practices for kiosk-style vending in public common areas.

The growing desire for East 6th to revitalize itself to make better 24/7 use of its century-old historic district presence versus maintaining its more recent four-decade reputation as “Dirty 6th” where young folks go to get shitfaced.

Phew.  That’s a lot to take in right there.

What do you think about all of this?

Loads of media coverage and other resources available if you’d like to absorb further before weighing in:  News story on the Austin American-Statesman’s Austin 360.  TV coverage on News 8, Fox News and KXAN.  Best Wurst’s website and its new Save The Wurst Facebook site with some 3,000 fans.  Parkside’s website.

Photo Of Waller Creek Flooding In 1935

Photo Of Waller Creek Flooding In 1935

Waller Creek flooding Cesar Chavez (Water St) @ Red River in 1935

Thanks to LoneStarMike at SkyscraperPage for finding this.  What a great photo.  It looks as if this photo was taken from the vantage point of where the Austin Convention Center is today.  You can see the intersection of Red River and Cesar Chavez St (formerly and appropriately known as Water St, historical map).  It’s striking to see a large house on the southeast corner where we now have a surface parking lot.  It appears that gas cost $0.12 per gallon.  And, what is the sign on the shed towards the right?  Crazy.

You can see a BBQ joint on the left, but it doesn’t seem to be located where Iron Works BBQ is today.  The structure in the photo looks like it is west of Waller Creek …interesting.

From the Weigl’s website“Fortunat quickly filled the hole and the Weigl’ operation found a new home in 1935. Shortly after their opening, disaster struck. On June 5, 1935, one of the worst floods Austin has ever seen raged throughout the city. After the waters receded, the Weigls were forced to cut out pieces of floorboard to scrape massive amounts of mud into the basement.”

Click on the photo to enlarge.


Waller Creek flooding Cesar Chavez (Water St) @ Red River in 1935

Waller Creek flooding: Cesar Chavez (Water St) @ Red River in 1935

For Real This Time: The I-35 Makeover Is Happening

For Real This Time: The I-35 Makeover Is Happening

I-35 Makeover, Day Perspective
I-35 Makeover, Day Perspective

I-35 Makeover, Day Perspective

In 2006, neighborhood associations on both sides of the interstate were empowered to develop a concept to enhance East-West pedestrian movement beneath I-35.  The vision was to take what is the most trafficked overpass in Austin, and create a landscape that is lighter and smaller in scale than the one currently dominated by the car.

The downtown Austin segment of I-35 was constructed in 1962 and served to physically reinforce the racial divide that East Avenue had historically represented.

Now, the City of Austin leases from the State the land below the I-35 freeway.  The area is uninviting to say the least.  As part of the makeover, that area will remain parking, while the perimeter and sidewalks connecting East Side to downtown will get something closer to the “Great Streets” treatment including trees, wider sidewalks, and benches.

From Cotera+Reed Architects:

“Fourteen curved and tapered galvanized steel poles will be supported under the freeway deck, and area lighting is attached along the undersides. Individually, the shape of the poles resembles a suspension bridge – re-associating the spot with connecting. Connecting land masses, across an interruption of the landscape, proposing the idea of separation and connecting at the same time. It is intended to be a gesture – a handshake under the freeway.”

Construction is scheduled to begin as early as February 2010.


I-35, night perspective

I-35 Makeover, Night Perspective