Expert to talk on old, rare postcards, especially from Texas

Recently, we headed out northwest of Dripping Springs to see Ken Wilson, a retired jewelry maker who is an expert in postcards, especially from the early 20th century, when they were the Facebook, Instagram and emails of their day.


We’ll do a big profile of Wilson and his fascinations, but first, we wanted to alert anybody who collects historic postcards that he will be speaking at the Texas State Library and Archives at 11:30 on July 9. To RSVP, email at

Ken Wilson

The archives, located in the Zavala Building just east of the Capitol at 1201 Brazos St., have produced a small show, “Wish You Were Here,” of rare postcards that illustrate the state’s history. It’s entirely free.

We’ll do a bigger story on Ken before the Austin Postcard & Paper Show, which is Sept. 30-Oct. 1 at the Frank Fickett Scout Centr, 12500 North Interstate 35 at Parmer Lane.



Cheering Mandy Patinkin, Danny Camacho, Lisa Byrd, Ixchel Rosal

What a weekend to cheer local heroes.

Mandy Patinkin feels at home in Austin. His first concert here in 1991 coincided with the funeral of producer Joe Papp, one of his mentors and the man who made his solo singing career possible. Nerves were raw that night. Nobody will ever forget that searing concert at the Paramount Theatre.

Mandy Patinkin

The actor and singer has returned at least four times since then. Last night at the Long Center, Patinkin spun variations on his stripped-down “Dress Casual” series. Patinkin’s voice has darkened these days; it’s less extreme, though no less dramatic. Nobody can take a familiar standard — or even a children’s tune — and make it more intensely human. The big crowd went wild.

The late Danny Camacho

Earlier, we saluted, along with another hundred admirers, community historian and activist Danny Camacho. An East Austinite for most of his life, Camacho grew up in a loving and lively family.

Juan Castillo, Kathy Vale Castillo and Lloyd Doggett at Danny Camacho Celebration.

Camacho spread joy during his seven decades of life before succumbing to a recent heart attack.

They ate well at the Danny Camacho Celebration. He would approve.

At the Emma Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett, former Mayor Gus Garcia, Judge Bob Perkins, Council Members Pio Renteria and Ora Houston, archivist Mike Miller, parks historian Kim McKnight, history advocate Gloria Espitia, school board member, the Rev. Jayme Mathias, MACC board member Kathy Vale Castillo and writer Juan Castillo, looked on as Camacho was granted posthumous honors by Travis County Historical Commission. His sister, Dolly Camacho-Watson, turned in a bravura performance that told Danny’s life story.

Lisa Byrd and Ixchel Rosal at their Farewell Party.

The night before, at a kid-friendly party on the grounds of the Carver Museum and Cultural Center, we bid fond farewell Austin cultural leaders Lisa Byrd and Ixchel Rosal. Something called Columbia University has recruited Rosal, so the family is headed to that other Riverside Drive, the one on the west side in Manhattan.

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What a relief on a warm Austin night.

It’s impossible to enumerate all the Austin communities that this pair has elevated over the past 25 years, but let’s make sure some are recorded: University of Texas, Dance Umbrella, Texas Performing Arts, Ballet Austin, Six Square (formerly the African American Cultural Heritage District) and various predecessors to the Mexican American Community Center.

Early look: Cole Dabney’s first Austin country video

Our dear friend Cole Dabney — once an Austin-based film critic and social-media master, now a California-based movie and video maker — returned to his hometown recently to make his first country music video.


Like all his previous work, it’s just right. New drone angles help. In this Drew Fish Band outing for CMT, look for a cameo from a celebrated country swing artist who happens to be among the most generous, sweetest guys in town.

Orlando shooting report prompts return to 2001 Austin LGBT survey

Last night, we attended the Orlando vigil on West Fourth Street. Despite some antagonists posted on the fringes of the crowd of perhaps 1,500, the event couldn’t help but be moving. The LGBT community and its allies stood tall in all their gorgeous diversity. 


Yesterday, before the vigil, I wrote about how the Orlando shooting related to a sense of LBGT safety in Austin as it has evolved over the past five decades or so. Lots of cool links there to previous stories, too.

One we couldn’t find online was the following article, “Voices of Gay Austin,” written in 2001 by social scientist Sean Massey and myself. We dug it out of the digital archives, without the attendant photos, graphics and individual personality profiles.


But this should  do:

“An overwhelming majority of lesbians and gay men feel safe, comfortable and satisfied with the quality of life in Central Texas. Yet they miss certain aspects of traditional gay culture and community, such as social spaces, businesses and other resources dedicated to gay men and, especially, lesbians.

A first-of-its-kind newspaper study found that gay men and lesbians came to Central Texas for the same reasons that brought other newcomers — high levels of education, jobs, natural beauty and tolerance of difference. Yet they are less content with the lack of social opportunities in a city with no lesbian and gay community center or cohesive gay district.

The American-Statesman study, which did not employ random sampling, grew out of a Carnegie Mellon University finding that Austin ranked third in the nation — after San Francisco and Washington, D.C. — for concentration of gay couples among major cities. That same Carnegie Mellon research indicated a high rate of correlation between a city’s attractiveness to gay couples and to the high-tech industry.

More than 1,200 lesbian and gay Central Texans responded to the American-Statesman’s initial questionnaire, which ran in the Life & Arts section Aug. 26, 2000. Open-ended interviews with more than 40 of the survey participants revealed nuanced views of issues concerning the gay community, including:

* Gay men and lesbians who moved to Central Texas from elsewhere were more attracted to the general quality of life and economic prosperity than to its dispersed gay community. They love the natural beauty and laid-back attitudes, but hate the traffic, rising cost of living and sense of increasing political conservatism.

* Most reported being “out, ” or open, about their sexuality. Experiences of discrimination were rare when seeking jobs, housing or medical attention. Reports of discrimination were higher, however, while working on a job, shopping at an area business and in public places.

* Lesbian and gay Central Texans populate every walk of life. Not surprisingly, more than a quarter of the participants work in the high-tech industry. What may raise eyebrows is the indication of greater discrimination in government and education than in other occupations.

* Lesbians are less satisfied with the local culture and community than gay men, while Latinos expressed more satisfaction than non-Latinos. People in relationships — 69 percent of the participants — are more satisfied with the area’s culture than singles.

* Thirty percent of our Central Texas survey respondents are parents of children.

* Eighty percent identified themselves as having some religious persuasion.

Long ago, Austin earned a national reputation for tolerance of difference. Yet it never developed a visible gay district on the scale of Houston’s Montrose or Dallas’ Oak Lawn.

Many gay Central Texans seem to like it that way.

“There is no ‘gay ghetto’ here, ” said Richard Lee Williams, an advertising firm employee who grew up in San Antonio. “On the other hand, gay people are everywhere.”

Lesbians and gay men may live all over Central Texas, but without a street life, some, especially newcomers, encounter difficulty obtaining information about gay-specific and gay-friendly businesses and organizations.

Gay Austinites turn most often to the Texas Triangle, a statewide gay publication, for information, but they find its news and listings far from complete.

The lack of information leads to a feeling of disconnectedness.

“I think of community as a sense of belonging to something larger, in which people share similar outlooks and experiences, ” said Dan Quinn, who moved to Central Texas to attend Southwest Texas State University. “In a place like Austin — with no gay neighborhood or real center and where sharp cultural differences might be hard to see sometimes — it’s difficult to find community beyond your immediate circle of friends.”

Another problem for newcomers: If they are not inclined to Austin’s primarily gay male club scene — only one coffeehouse, Gabby and Mo’s, targets lesbian clientele — they encounter obstacles connecting face-to-face.

“It’s definitely more difficult in Austin than in larger cities, due to the fact that we don’t have many gay meeting places, ” says Tom Formann, who works for the software company Broadjump. “In my experience, the best way to meet is through private parties.”

“Women usually meet through friends or through social or athletic activities — softball, Lady Longhorns basketball or volleyball, ” says Sherry Scott, Web site manager at St. Edward’s University.

Certain Austin neighborhoods bear a reputation for relatively high gay and lesbian density — Wilshire Woods, Clarksville, French Place, Travis Heights, Allendale — a perception supported by a high concentration of survey responses from those ZIP codes.

So why didn’t Austin develop a coherent gay district like many other American cities in the 1960s and ’70s? Some survey participants point to Austin’s overall security and tolerance, thus the lack of need for safety in numbers.

“Gay Austinites don’t need the protection of a ghetto, ” finance and marketing consultant Eugene Sepulveda says. Comparing Austin to other cities, he says, “Where there is less comfort with being ‘out’ in public, people tend to be even more outrageous behind the closed doors and windows of gay bars.”

Among the other reasons offered by participants for local tolerance include higher levels of education and lower average age. Another reason may be changes in social values, partially attributed to the media and the gay political movement.

After all, gay men and lesbians — including Texas Rep. Glen Maxey and Travis County Sheriff Margo Frasier — hold high elective office in Central Texas.

“Nowadays, the stigma is gone, ” hardware store department manager Robert Salazar says. “Kids don’t seem to think anything of it.”

Something missing

Why, then, do many Austin gay men and lesbians report longing for the kind of traditional gay society that has developed in larger cities from San Francisco to New York?

Sepulveda suggests that it may come from a mutual sense of not fitting in while growing up: “There is a shared experience that, at some point in our lives, we worried that if people found out that we are different, they might not love us, ” he says.

A transcendent experience for today’s gay men and lesbians is coming out — meaning, being open about their sexuality — to friends, family and co-workers.

Indeed, according to the responses to the survey, gay men and lesbians feel comfortable being out in Central Texas: Ninety percent of those who responded reported that they are out with some, most or all of the people with whom they share their public and private lives.

Living in a city with welcoming churches helps. Eighty percent of those surveyed reported a religious allegiance. Metropolitan Community Church and the First Unitarian Universalist Church are known for their large gay and lesbian adherents, but Austin is home to chapters of Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran and Methodist gay and lesbian support groups, along with welcoming Baptist, Buddhist and Presbyterian congregations.

One disconcerting statistic: Forty-five percent were not out to all their heath-care providers, something that could prevent complete medical attention.

“It is a shame that we are not better at soliciting that information, ” said Dr. Hillary Miller, a general practitioner in a committed relationship with a woman. “(The patient) needs to say: ‘You know, there is this thing about me that may or may not impact on my health, but I just wanted to let you know.’ I don’t think it’s a good idea to be in a relationship that should be about two-way communication and you’re hiding a basic truth about yourself.”

While gay and lesbian Austinites are generally out, they sometimes encounter hostile environments working, shopping and, especially, in public — 35 percent reported discrimination in public places. Some described it as overt antagonistic behavior, some as the hurling of anti-gay slurs, and some simply as a perceived hostile atmosphere.

Anecdotally, these incidents consisted mostly of ill-placed jokes, the adolescent catcalls shouted from passing cars or minor vandalism, but some gay men and lesbians encountered inequities in how they were treated by employers and businesses.

“I have no domestic partner insurance at work, ” says a high-tech worker who asked that his name not be used for fear of retribution on the job. “This means my 59-year-old life partner, who is self-employed, has to pay exorbitant fees for his insurance, while other employees’ opposite-sex mates are covered by the company.”

The State of Texas does not specfically protect gay men and lesbians against employment discrimination, but the City of Austin does. That contributes to Austin’s reputation as a gay magnet, centrally located in a conservative region.

“Austin could not happen any place else but Texas, ” architectural historian Peter Flagg Maxson says. “But it is in no way representative of Texas. When I hear of anti-gay stances of the Legislature, read reactionary newspapers in other Texas cities or hear horror stories from friends elsewhere in the state, it makes me very, very glad to live in Austin.”

Lesbian differences

More confounding is the question of scarce lesbian social spaces, especially in a city that once fostered an active lesbian culture centered around feminist politics in the 1970s and ’80s.

Austin does support versions of Guerrilla Queer Bar (roaming parties that colonize otherwise mixed clubs and restaurants). In addition, a monthly social dance and fund-raiser, Club Skirt, is held at Fiesta Gardens. Still, there’s no exclusively lesbian bar.

Although lesbians complain about the lack of bars, clubs and other venues, business owners have found it difficult catering to them. Gabby and Mo’s, an eclectic coffeehouse on Manor Road, attracts crowds of lesbians for certain music acts or fund-raisers. Nevertheless, its owners are experiencing financial difficulties and are considering closing down.

“We tried to create a space for women in a social setting, ” co-owner Patty Carvajal said. “It’s hard. Some customers want something exclusively for women. We are not. Others are alienated by our straight customers or say we have too young a crowd. I say to them: ‘Make it your own.’ ”

Carvajal also humorously repeated the truism that: “Once women find girlfriends, they don’t go out.” Instead, they connect as couples through extensive networks of friends and colleagues — which leaves singles out in the cold.

Black lesbians face special obstacles related to traditional cultures.

“Being lesbian is un-African, ” says poet and independent filmmaker Chinwe Odeluga. “In the ’60s and ’70s, the whole idea was to be progressive. Being gay or lesbian was considered by many within the movement to be nonprogressive — it was European American — it’s a white thing.”

Odeluga, who praises the inclusiveness of the Latino organization, ALLGO, is trying to get lesbians of color to be more visible.

“You think you’re the only one, ” she says. “And, when you go to lesbian events, it looks like you are the only one — so many lesbians of color will not go to public gay events, but will instead go to someone’s house — watch sports or party, but won’t be out.”

Susan Post, longtime owner of the feminist shop Book Woman, urges newcomers to volunteer for charities or attend lectures or bookstore events to meet other women. She also thinks the charitable aspect of Club Skirt and its once-a-month schedule guarantee its success with women who prefer not to attend bars or clubs.

What’s missing in Austin, according to many survey participants, is a sense of larger gay identity. The loss of the Cornerstone community center several years ago — reputedly because of lack of interest among gay and lesbian Austinites — still saddens and confounds those who want a shared social space.

Meanwhile, other gay men and lesbians are more concerned with their level of comfort in a thoroughly integrated Austin. Dr. Miller foresees a time of greater acceptance for gay men and lesbians when they no longer worry about the subtle perception of judgment from other people, even at highly public events.

“When we’ve arrived, we won’t sit down during a slow song, ” Miller says. “If I had to say the one reason that I’d put a rainbow sticker on my car is so that my child or somebody else’s child in the next generation can go to an Austin club or a gala and feel free to dance to a slow song.”

Although increased social spaces and other resources would please Austin’s lesbian and gay community, many feel there is no need for a traditional gay ghetto.

“When people moving here ask me the location of the gay district, ” says real estate agent Todd Adkins, “I say, ‘We don’t have a gay neighborhood. We have a gay city.’ ”

Others feel that a special sense of gay and lesbian community is inevitable.

“We are as diverse as the entire world, ” Sepulveda says. “We are white, black, brown, yellow, male, female, Democrat, Republican, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and every other population niche.

“Some folks warn that when we are fully assimilated and no longer discriminated against, there will no longer be any sense of community. But I don’t really see that happening. We’ll all probably still share that experience of once having a deepest, darkest secret, the one we couldn’t even let our mom and dad know because they might not love us anymore.

“So, yes, there is definitely a lesbian and gay community in Austin, ” Sepulveda says. “I feel part of it. I’m proud of it. But not all gays and lesbians feel the same way.”


What the Orlando shooting says about LGBT safety in Austin

The place matters.

Dylann Roof chose an African-American church in Charleston. Adam Lanza picked out an elementary school in Newtown. James Eagan Holmes decided on a crowded movie theater in Aurora.

It appears that Omar Mateen, who lawmakers say had pledged his allegiance to ISIS, settled on an LGBT club in Orlando.

That matters.

All these places give vulnerable people a sense of safety. During decades of overt persecution, the LGBT community sought out bars and clubs like Florida’s Pulse because they offered refuge.

Austin, historically a tolerant place, never hosted a “gayborhood” because, generally, we felt safe here.

Gay Pride on West Fourth Street in Austin.

A 2001 study that I conducted with social scientist Sean Massey — published in the American-Statesman — confirmed that sense, along with some discontents.

“An overwhelming majority of lesbians and gay men feel safe, comfortable and satisfied with the quality of life in Central Texas,” we concluded. “Yet they miss certain aspects of traditional gay culture and community, such as social spaces, businesses and other resources dedicated to gay men and, especially, lesbians. A first-of-its-kind newspaper study found that gay men and lesbians came to Central Texas for the same reasons that brought other newcomers — high levels of education, jobs, natural beauty and tolerance of difference. Yet they are less content with the lack of social opportunities in a city with no lesbian and gay community center or cohesive gay district.”

We’re more visible every year. In 2015, we revisited 25 years of Austin Pride and focused on the huge Apple presence at the 2014 parade.

“That one of the country’s leading corporations assembled more than 3,000 supporters — twice the total number of participants in the first Gay and Lesbian Pride Fiesta in 1990 — for a Pride Parade that attracted north of 125,000 spectators to downtown Austin last year says something about the seismic shifts in social attitudes during the past 25 years. Consider, too, that in April 1970, not long after the Stonewall Riots ushered in the modern era of gay rights, the first publicly promoted meeting of Austin homosexuals drew only 25 brave souls to the University Y on Guadalupe Street.”

And yet every few years, there’s an incident, sometimes violent, on West Fourth Street, where LGBT businesses congregate. We are not immune to hate as a city.

Tonight, civic leaders will join mourning members of the LGBT community on West Fourth and at the State Capitol for vigils . I plan to be there. Not as a journalist, although I will report what I see and hear in these pages, but as a gay man, out since 1972, who is stricken with grief for a community that might never feel completely safe.

UPDATES: An earlier version of this post provided the wrong name of the Charleston shooter. Also, a second vigil has been added.


Austin culture: The hot stories so far this year

These stories about Austin’s people, places, culture and history rang true with readers during the first six months of 2016.

Her first foray into open combat saved a fire station. In the early 1970s, the Austin city manager wanted to move the fire station on Kinney Avenue in the Zilker neighborhood to the other side of Barton Creek. “If the fire station was out there, from one direction they’d be blocked by trains, from the other direction by floods,” says Shudde Fath, who turned 100 on Monday. “I’d seen them save a child who was choking and a neighbor’s mother having a heart attack.”

Early on June 26, 2015 — the day that the crucial U.S. Supreme Court decision was announced — their phone rang and rang. A voice crashed over the line, “You guys can get married!” William “Bill” Lavallee drowsily replied, “We can’t afford to get married!” Two days later, friends of Lavallee, 88, and Forrest Hooper, 83, picked them up from their South Austin apartment to obtain a marriage license. The merry troupe arrived at the Travis County offices bristling with official papers collected over the couple’s 59-year partnership.

Seven years after civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down in Memphis on April 4, 1968, there was no public monument to his legacy in Austin. No statue. No park. No school. No street. No community center. Although it was relatively painless and inexpensive in April 1975 to change much of East 19th Street — the part that runs through East Austin from Interstate 35 to Ed Bluestein Boulevard — into Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the battle for public recognition was far from over.


People thought they were crazy.Not that relatives, friends and coworkers actually believed that Gail Vittori and Pliny Fisk III were unbalanced in the 1970s. Just that their life goals and their choice of location — Austin — didn’t make conventional sense.  “People thought I was going off the deep end,” says Vittori, co-director of the globally admired Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, about her early, idealistic search for the roots of human conflict. “A lot of what had fascinated me was how to democratize access to resources.”


The cottage at 1203 South Third St. hasn’t changed that much since the 1930s.“There was a store that sold wood in the next block,” says Ken Ashworth, gesturing across West Gibson Street. “My mother sent me up there with a nickel to fetch wood. At age 5, it was my first errand.” Ashworth, former Texas Commissioner of Higher Education, described this one-bedroom — now expanded — house with its little wood-burning tin stove in his magnificent 2015 memoir, “Phantom in the Family: Tracking Down My Runaway Father.” It was the first secure retreat for his mother and his three siblings, abandoned by their mysterious father, H.L., who had as many as nine children with five or possibly more wives.
In 1910, Antonio Rodríguez, a 20-year-old Mexican, was accused of killing Effie Greer Henderson at her ranch home near Rocksprings, close to the jagged southern slopes of the Edwards Plateau. A posse took him to the Rocksprings jail, but two days after the killing, a mob yanked him from his cell and burned him alive at the stake. His extrajudicial execution — one of many documented during the political violence along the border from 1910 to 1920 — caused an international diplomatic incident. Riots raged in Mexico City and along the Texas-Mexico border, just as Mexico was tilting toward a revolution that would send up to 1 million war refugees northward.
Bit by bit, historians add to history. They exchange findings. And, along the way, they make new friends. And look at what Richard Denney and Lanny Ottosen, two history buffs working separately, found: Two burgs dubbed Montopolis. One on each side of the Colorado River. In an American-Statesman article published Jan. 31, 2015, I described a personal tour of today’s Montopolis neighborhood on a muddy, chilly day. My intrepid guide was Fred McGhee, author of “Austin’s Montopolis Neighborhood.” As we zoomed around the semirural district in Southeast Austin by car and on foot, McGhee, a noted activist who trained as a marine archaeologist, pointed out remnants of the old settlement’s past.
Two Austin houses turn 175 this year. You know one — the French Legation — as the “oldest house in town.” Locals and tourists love this Creole-style home that rests on a steep crest; it was built for Alphonse Dubois de Saligny, France’s chargé d’affaires to the new Republic of Texas. A museum since the 1950s, it hosted a 175th birthday fête on March 5. You are probably familiar with the other handsome house — Boggy Creek Farm — because of its organic foodstuffs rather than its history. Yet builders likely finished both structures, the latter for settlers James and Elizabeth Smith, almost simultaneously in 1841 in what is now East Austin.

On Saturday, March 19 — as the 30th annual South by Southwest Festival wound down to a close — South Congress Avenue swam with locals and tourists. Though the weather had turned chilly, folks dressed in funky outfits strolled slowly up and down the wide sidewalks. Peaceful and relaxed, they stopped to chat, to drink in some street music, or to browse the hand-made crafts hawked by outdoor vendors. Some ventured into shops or eateries, virtually all of them locally generated. At scattered spots along the way, eager young activists used their charms to sign up passers-by for idealistic causes. Every once in while, one could catch the foxy whiff of a still-forbidden substance. If the alert observer squinted very hard — and blocked out decades of intervening memories — one could almost be transported to Austin’s Drag along Guadalupe Street opposite the University of Texas campus in the 1970s.  Sure, the hair is shorter, the crowd is more varied, the causes have evolved, and the prices on those modish crafts have skyrocketed. Yet so much about Austin’s culture in the 2010s reflects an unmistakable provenance in the 1970s.


Dapper in a dark jacket and jaunty hat, Roger Lambert relaxes in the gleaming lobby of the historic Gunter Hotel in San Antonio. His bushy, well-trimmed beard lends him a professorial air, and his wise eyes dance with avuncular warmth. When he sits down behind the grand piano in the hotel’s darkened Bar 414 to play his signature mix of jazz, blues and classical tunes, Lambert looks as if he has always belonged right there. How many of the spiffy bar patrons would guess that not long ago, Lambert — seven years homeless in Austin — had camped out in a bamboo jungle off of East Riverside Drive?



On Sept. 3, 1968, Robert Brooks, then 21 and president of the St. Edward’s University Students’ Association Inc., boarded Air Force One with Lyndon Baines Johnson, president of the United States, for a flight from Austin to Washington, D.C. The native Austinite had gone along with his father, Max Brooks, an architect and Johnson family friend, already at work on plans for the future LBJ Presidential Library. Onboard, the country’s leader, who had announced on March 31, 1968, that he would not seek re-election, pulled the younger Brooks aside and asked for his advice about the polarized Vietnam War homefront.


Early one February morning, nine history buffs huddled on the south shore of Lady Bird Lake. They carried with them maps in paper and digital editions. Egos left snugly at home, they readily shared anecdotes and insights about the potential Colorado River crossings of the Chisholm Trail, the multipronged Texas-to-Kansas routes for vast post-Civil War cattle drives, some of which were funneled through Austin. The nine gathered outside the youth hostel on Lakeshore Drive where Tinnin Ford Road dead-ends. How many Austinites who park here to jog or walk their dogs pause to wonder how this short, southwest-to-northeast street earned its name?
“Val M. Keating.” I certainly didn’t expect to stumble on those three words while looking into a Texas group that had reformed mental health care in the 1930s.  But there in black-and-white pages was a familiar name on a list of founding directors. That would be my grandmother, my mother’s mother. Alongside her name was an additional clue: “Texas Relief Commission.” All along I had known that Grandma Keating — a kindly but complex woman — had been a social worker. And that she had held fairly high positions in her field. Although I have researched diverse topics since the sixth grade, I had never bothered to find out more about her. A reminder: If you are interested in history, start with your family.
When Jim Ritts ascends the Paramount Theatre stage on Saturday for the populist palace’s annual gala, he will have much to extol. During 2015, the director of the Paramount and State theaters toasted the older venue’s 100th birthday with a string of parties, a careful revamp of its façade, and the crowning addition of a vertical sign absent from Congress Avenue for more than 50 years.  Ritts can look back, too, on the first five years of his tenure, which saw steady audience growth for movies, comedy, music and special events, including the scene-altering Moontower Comedy & Oddity Fest. And perhaps most importantly, plans for a key project that he has quietly promoted for years — a proposed 30-story tower to replace a derelict building at the corner of East Eighth Street and Congress Avenue — were made public recently. The tall “car-free” project will not only give the theater block a whole new look and feel, but also provide a floor of free offices for Ritts’ staff, along with extra cash to renovate the interiors of both theaters.
When Gobi-Kla Vonan served as a junior counselor at the Austin Sunshine Camps, he welcomed a 9-year-old boy on the first day. “He had never been to Zilker Park,” says Vonan, now 21 and studying architecture at the University of Texas. “And he lived in Austin.” Right away, Vonan filled in the new camper about Sunshine activities. “We’re going canoeing and swimming,” Vonan said. “We’ll have big-group games and small-group games. And team-building activities like ropes courses. You are going to have a good time and learn a lot.’” A similar welcome scene has been played out thousands of times since 1928, when the Sunshine Camps — founded by the Young Men’s Business League and the Travis County Tuberculosis Association — were first set up in the middle of Zilker Park.
When war broke out in Bangladesh in 1971, Mohsin Khataw was rebuilding jetties in Chittagong harbor, then part of East Pakistan. He was serving as project manager for a team of engineers from West Pakistan. “I was advised to leave,” Mohsin recalls of the bloody civil war between East and West that ended in Bangladeshi independence. “They said: ‘You are not very safe here.’ I had a team of West Pakistanis who begged: ‘Mr. Khataw, please go away.’ I couldn’t. … I can’t abandon my people. We were rounded up and put into prison. Very bad conditions.” When he was released on bail, Mohsin, disguised and pretending that he could not speak, flew through several Asian capitals before reaching his home in Karachi, Pakistan. “We did not know if he was alive or dead for nine months,” his wife, Amina Khataw, says. “If he even existed. When he came back, the airport was filled with people.”

Lisa Byrd has paid heed to East Austin history. She also has seen how the story can go astray. “There were freedmen, for instance, in Austin prior to Emancipation,” Byrd says. “Austin was a mecca in part because there already was a free black population. At one time, African-Americans made up 30-35 percent of the population.” The outgoing director of Six Square, formerly known as the African American Cultural Heritage District, grew up in Philadelphia. Being from somewhere else helped her bridge the gaps in the city’s shared memory about East Austin. She has observed the narratives ever more carefully since she was appointed in 2005 to the African American Quality of Life Initiative, a response to police mistreatment of the city’s black community, as well as to studies about local health, education and employment disparities.

Evan Smith and Matthew Dowd fire up crowd at Franklin BBQ

Presumptive Republican Party nominee Donald Trump could win the presidency, but probably won’t.

Voters will be choosing between two presidential candidates who most people don’t like.

A loss at the top of the ticket might actually help down ballot.

The two-party system as we know it could very well spin apart. And that might be a good thing. Especially for monopoly states like Texas.

Ashley Schroeder, Gretchen Alarcon and Scott Alarcon at Toast of the Town for St. David’s Foundation.

These are some of the political gems gleaned from a machine-gun-style talk from Evan Smith and Matthew Dowd at Franklin Barbecue. The Toast of the Town event, which benefited the St. David’s Foundation‘s health science scholarship program, was not only sold out, it attracted a record waiting list.

Part of that can be credited to the brisket. After all, most of the guests raised their hands when foundation captain Earl Maxwell asked who had ever eaten at the landmark spot.

Now, I’ve tasted this manna from heaven several times, but never stood in line, thanks to hosted parties such as this one.

Yet even those motivated primarily by meat got the show of the month. Smith, formerly of Texas Monthly, now at Texas Tribune, was every bit as entertaining as Dowd, a practiced political consultant and opinion-maker as well as entrepreneur (also, our neighbor).

Big heads. Fast talkers. Unconventional thinkers.

Their conclusions about the current political climate could fill a slim book.

Yet the takeaway, especially according to Dowd, is the possibility of a multi-party system in the near future.


Experts chosen to pick Texas Medal of Arts

They call it the Texas Medal of Arts, but the biennial awards cover lot of territory — film, TV, education, multimedia, literature, corporate giving, individual patronage, design — as well as traditional fine arts.

In 2017, the slick ceremony moves from the Long Center to Bass Concert Hall on the University of Texas campus. Dates for the bifurcated event are Feb. 21-22. The big public show is on the second day. It benefits the Texas Cultural Trust, which supports arts advocacy and programs statewide.

Ray Benson won a Texas Medal of Arts for multimedia and serves on the selection committee for the 2017 honors. (Stephen Spillman for the AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Nineteen Austinites* were named to the selection committee for the 2017 honors.

The 2017 Texas Medal of Arts Selection Committee:

Debbie AllenHouston – Texas Medal of Arts Honoree, Dance

*Brendon Anthony, Austin – Texas Music Office, Director

Gigi AntoniDallas – Big Thought, President; Texas Medal of Arts Honoree, Arts Education

*Don BacigalupiAustin/Houston – Lucas Museum, President; At-Large Member

*Ray BensonAustin – Texas Cultural Trust Board Member; Texas Medal of Arts  Honoree, Multimedia

*Mark BordasAustin – Anheuser Busch, Region Vice President of State Affairs; Silver Sponsor

Tina BrownNew York City – Tina Brown Live Media, Founder & CEO; At-Large Member

Rebecca CampbellAustin – Austin Film Society, Executive Director; Organizational Partner

*Elaine GarzaAustin – Giant Noise, Principal; Texas Medal of Arts Public Relations

*Dr. Gary GibbsAustin – Texas Commission on the Arts, Executive Director

Dean GladdenHouston – Alley Theatre, Managing Director

Chris HarrisonDallas – The Bachelor host, previous Texas Medal of Arts Host, At-Large Member

*Craig Hella JohnsonAustin – Conspirare, Founder & Artistic Director; At-Large Member

*Theresa JenkinsAustin – GRAMMYs, Executive Director; Organizational Partner

*Lois Kim, Austin – Texas Book Festival, Executive Director; Organizational Partner

Katy FlatoSan Antonio – Lake Flato Architects, Texas Medal of Arts Honoree, Architecture, At-Large Member

Linda LaMantiaLaredo – Texas Cultural Trust Board Member

*Terry LickonaAustin – Austin City Limits, Executive Producer; Texas Medal of Arts Honoree, Multi-media

Robert LynchWashington, D.C. – American for the Arts, President; Organizational Partner

*Christine MessinaAustin – The Messina Group, At-Large Member

*Lance Avery MorganAustin – The Society Diaries, Editor-in-Chief; At-Large Member

*Heather PageAustin – Texas Film Commission, Director

Aaronetta PierceSan Antonio – 2005 & 2007 Texas Medal of Arts Co-chair

*Don PittsAustin – City of Austin Music & Entertainment Division, Program Manager

Dan RatherWharton – Texas Medal of Arts Honoree, Television

Ginger ReederDallas – Neiman Marcus, Vice President of Public Relations; Texas Medal of Arts Honoree; Corporate Arts Patron

*Autumn RichAustin – Autumn Rich & Co., President; Event Producer

*Maggie Rivas-RodriguezAustin – University of Texas at Austin School of Journalism, Associate Professor; Organizational Partner

Judy RobisonEl Paso – Texas Cultural Trust Board Chair

Charlotte St. MartinDallas – League of America Theatres & Producers, President; Organizational Partner

Dian StaiFredericksburg – Texas Women for the Arts Chair

Shawn StephensHouston – Texas Commission on the Arts, Commissioner

*Kathleen Brady StimpertAustin –University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture  Chief Communications Officer

James SurlsTerrell – Texas Medal of Arts Honoree, Visual Arts

*Brian SweanyAustin – Texas Monthly, Editor-in-Chief; Texas Cultural Trust, Board Member; Texas Medal of Arts Honoree; Corporate Arts Patron; Silver Sponsor

*Nelda TrevinoAustin – Texas Lotto, Director; Silver Sponsor

*Leslie Ward, Austin – AT&T, Vice President of External Affairs; Texas Cultural Trust Board Member; Gold Sponsor

Nancy WoznyHouston – Arts + Culture Texas Magazine, Editor-in-Chief At-Large Member