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.





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!





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.





Downtown Austin Voting Guide

Downtown Austin Voting Guide

us-flag

We know you’ve heard this a bajillion-million times, but this year’s election on November 4, 2014,  is VERY important. Particularly for Downtown Austin, as the new 10-1 district system has the potential to really adversely affect policies that support a vibrant and growing downtown.

First things first – when, where, and how to vote:

When

The actual election is November 4, 2014, but EARLY VOTING starts Monday, October 20, 2014, (prompting some discussion between Jude and I as to what the real difference is between early voting and just regular voting).  Early voting runs through Halloween this year.

Where

Early Voting Locations: Oddly, there are no stations officially defined as “Early Voting” stations in downtown proper (weird, huh?) – but there are some MOBILE Voting locations downtown for Early Voting (sheesh – confusing, I know) – here are a few:

  • Mon 10/20/14 THROUGH Fri 10/31/14, 8am-7pm: Mobile Voting Station at ACC Rio Grande (1212 Rio Grande) – no voting station on Sun 10/26, and hours are 9am-6pm on Sat 10/25
  • Tues 10/21/14, 1pm-3pm: Mobile Voting station at Lakeside Senior Center (85 Trinity)
  • Mon 10/27/14 THROUGH Fri 10/31/14, 7am-7pm: Mobile Voting station at Austin City Hall (301 W 2nd)
  • Tues 10/28/14, 8am-5pm: Mobile Voting station at Travis County Commissioner’s Court (700 Lavaca)
  • Wed, 10/29/14 & Thurs 10/30/14, 8am-5pm: Mobile Voting station at HM Sweatt Travis County Courthouse (1000 Guadalupe)
  • Fri, 10/31/14, 8am-5pm: Mobile Voting station at the Sam Houston Building (201 E 14th St)

early-voting-austin-election

On November 4th:

  • Austin City Hall (301 W 2nd) – 7am-7pm
  • ACC Rio Grande (1212 Rio Grande) – 7am-7pm

Here’s a LIST of all the mobile voting locations, sorted by date. For a comprehensive map of ALL Early Voting, Mobile Voting, and Election Day Voting locations – click here.

How

Now, as to the ballot itself – we won’t go into every race, in the interest of everyone’s sanity, but, we will give an overview to  a couple of the downtown-related / pertinent issues:

There’s the General Gubernatorial ballot which has things like US Representatives, State Representatives, Judges, and County offices….

Then, there’s the CITY Ballot which will have some very important races for Downtown on it:

  • For District 9 (the district which includes downtown Austin), we personally support Chris Riley.  The Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association also supports this candidate.
  • For Proposition 1 (the “rail bond”), while there is quite a bit of debate about this bond, we think it’s important to note that the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association has given $4,000 in funds to the Let’s Go Austin political action committee, who has campaigned to support the bond. The Downtown Austin Alliance and the Austin American Statesman also support Prop 1.

Also, here’s a handy dandy tool you can use to remind your friends to Go Vote!

-Amber

 





The Most Insane Private Railcar You’ve Ever Seen Visits Downtown Austin

The Most Insane Private Railcar You’ve Ever Seen Visits Downtown Austin

We've got to do something about that graffiti.

Jude and I ride the Amtrak Texas Eagle from Austin to Little Rock at least once a year to visit my family.

We get a private cabin and find train travel to be a great alternative to the hassle of air travel – the slower pace IS the luxury.  We bring several books and just enjoy a relaxing day of reading and appreciating the scenery.

But, DAAAAAAMMMMNNN! – Now that I’ve seen Patron Billionaire John Paul DeJoria’s private passenger railcar up close and personal, while enjoying sips of $600/bottle Patrón Burdeos and noshing on delicious tex-mex cuisine, every single other travel experience I’ve ever had pales in comparison.  Shout out to Michael Tashnick (local hero and owner of the best Austin sports bar) for extending the invite to us.

The railcar, originally built in the 1920s and owned by DeJoria since 1996, has been lodged at the Amtrak station just to the west of downtown Austin since last week (if you live at The Spring Condos in downtown Austin and face west – you may have seen it through your window), and last night Patrón held a special, intimate gathering to promote their fine, fine liquor and show off The Patrón Tequila Express.  I ate to my heart’s content, took a ton of pictures (including one with the billionaire himself – I die!), and reveled in all the cool stuff (special things happening all the time, that don’t make it to the mainstream) that happens in Downtown Austin!

I think the pictures speak for themselves! (Many thinks to friend and Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association President Mitchell McGovern for sharing some of his pics, too!).  Just FYI, this was pretty much Jude and I’s reaction faces the whole time we were in the train:

cat-awe

Gallery after the jump…. [Read more…]





Free Dance Classes in Downtown Austin This Weekend (Sunday)

Free Dance Classes in Downtown Austin This Weekend (Sunday)

comedance_hula3

I’ve been taking dance and fitness classes as Ballet Austin for a while (read my review of my first class here) and I love it!  My absolute favorite class is the Cardio Blast, but I take several classes there.  And I found out the other day that they are doing an ENTIRE DAY of FREE CLASSES this Sunday, August 25, 2013!

If you are looking to spice up your workout routine, or just looking for something free and fun to do this weekend in downtown Austin – I definitely suggest checking this out.  Here are the deets:

When: Sunday, August 25, 2013, 1pm-5pm.  Schedule of classes HERE (scroll down). Each class is 40 minutes long with a 20 minute transition time between classes.

[Read more…]





FLOR coming to Downtown Austin’s 2nd Street District March 7, 2013.

FLOR coming to Downtown Austin’s 2nd Street District March 7, 2013.

flor-austin-1

Looks like FLOR will be opening in downtown Austin’s 2nd Street District (209 W 2nd to be exact, where Mercury Design Studio was – they’ve now moved 2 doors down).

They’ll be opening a day before SXSW 2013 starts, just in time for the crazy crowds.  We suspect they’ll do well in the area with DWR and Mercury Design Studio nearby – as well as several high-end downtown austin condos and apartment buildings, and look forward to doing a little shopping there ourselves.

 

austin-flor





Glee. (Indirectly) Making Downtown Austin a Little More Environmentally Friendly

Glee. (Indirectly) Making Downtown Austin a Little More Environmentally Friendly

St. David's should totally enter the O. Henry Pun Off

Oh, Glee.  I  sometimes enjoy you, but often I am overcome with shame for watching you.  But, last week –  you actually accomplished something useful.  Because of you, Glee, I finally recycled my big ol’ bag o’ batteries.

Okay, let me explain. See, up until last week, I had been keeping this huge Ziploc bag stuffed with used up AA batteries under my kitchen sink.  I didn’t know where to take them and I always seemed to forget to Google a nearby location. So, the bag o’ batteries just kept getting bigger.

And then I started seeing this Glee PSA about recycling batteries.  Over. And over. And over again. [Read more…]





Based on information from the Austin Board of REALTORS ® (alternatively, from ACTRIS) for the period through 12/22/14 11:07 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.