Best Texas books: Lead off with this John Graves literary memoir

These new Texas books — plus one minor classic — reminds us how much is worth reading about our state in early 2018.

“Myself and Strangers: A Memoir of Apprenticeship.” John Graves. University of Texas Press.

One could effortlessly make the argument that John Graves is among the finest authors Texas ever produced. Yet few readers venture beyond his masterpiece, “Goodbye to a River.” This literary memoir, first published in 2004 and spliced with excerpts from Graves’ journal from the 1950s, explains a lot about how he became who he became. A son of Fort Worth, he was educated in a gentlemanly manner at Rice Institute in Houston. He served in the Pacific Theater during World War II before earning his master’s degree from Columbia University in New York. He came away from that experience with a lingering antipathy toward Ivy League types and wanted to plunge instead into the peripatetic life of an expat writer, much like dozens of other American authors before and after the war. This memoir covers mostly his time in Spain and the Canary Islands and records his drinking bouts, love affairs, manly friendships, jagged interactions with other expats, as well as fishing, hunting and sailing trips. Sound like Hemingway? The great man is always in the background of this book and Graves even spots his putative role model a couple times in Spain. The Graves attitude and style is already well developed in the journal entries, although, as he points out, his return to Texas gave him his subject.

“All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music.” Michael Corcoran. University of North Texas Press.

Advice: Read this book with your favorite music streaming device at hand. You’ll want to listen to every artist described by Corcoran, formerly of the American-Statesman and other publications, in this revised version of his 2005 book about key Texas artists. You learn new things about some of them, such as Willie Nelson, Buddy Holly and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Others are musical pioneers who might sound familiar, but Corcoran, an historian as much as a journalist, has tracked down exactly what you need to know. The backstories about what he could or could not discover are as compelling as his authoritative takes on the 42 artists’ histories and musical contributions. Corcoran has chosen fantastic images for this UNT Press edition, and he doesn’t waste a word. As he did during his Statesman years, he can make other writers wish they’d produced this work. The book will wait at eye-level on my Texas  reference shelves for as long as they are standing.

“Hometown Texas.” Photographs by Peter Brown. Stories by Joe Holley. Trinity University Press.

Like Corcoran, Holley has written for major newspapers and magazines. Also like Corcoran, he writes in a tight, precise and yet sometimes expansive manner. To tell the truth, Holley and and I cover a good stretch of the same waterfront, but it is worth it to read about some familiar Texas subjects because he is such an amiable storyteller. Other pieces, especially those with personal meaning for Holley, were completely new to me. Peter Brown’s photographs of small-town or rural Texas open wide and put the subject matter front and center. Nothing tricky here. His instincts and training lead him to the right image time and again. At times, though, one wishes the images raised by Holley were duplicated by Brown. But that’s another book. I know I will keep dipping into this collection of compelling Texas stories that doubles as a handsome picture book.

“The Broken Spoke: Austin’s Legendary Honky-Tonk.” Donna Marie Miller. Texas A&M Press.

Donna Marie Miller’s ace in the hole is her generous access to James and Annetta White, who have run Austin’s legendary Broken Spoke honky-tonk since 1964. It’s clear that Miller warmly admires the White family and cherishes their stories. Her delight is infectious. She sketches out the early years — White grew up not far from our South Austin house! — then records how every family member pitched in when the Broken Spoke opened. One might wish for a little more on the background of the country music and dance styles that flourished at the honky-tonk, but Miller more than makes up for that with accounts of the legends of music that played there and the very localized culture that thrived on the east side of South Lamar Boulevard. Put this on the shelf next to Eddie Wilson’s knock-out 2017 “Armadillo World Headquarters.” Then look up Corcoran’s digital “Austin Clubland.”

ALSO READ: The definitive history of Austin’s Armadillo World Headquarters.

“Thursday Night Lights: The Story of Black High School Football in Texas.” Michael Hurd. University of Texas Press.

Another journalist who has become a historian is Michael Hurd, a former sportswriter for the American-Statesman and other publications. He’s seen a lot. And he understands the connections between sports, especially football, and other, often riven cultural expressions of our state. Until the (white) University Interscholastic League and the (black) Prairie View Interscholastic League merged in 1967, teams from segregated high schools in the same towns or cities played in the same stadiums. African-Americans took the field on Thursdays, Anglos on Fridays. Hurd is especially good on his hometown of Houston, which supported multiple black high schools with blazing rivalries. Now director of Prairie View A&M University’s Institute for the Preservation of History and Culture, Hurd soaks up stories from small towns and big cities. He provides accounts of state championship games in his appendices and, crucially, he reminds us that integration also meant the loss of pride and identity for those who attended black high schools that had excelled at academics and athletics. Even the darkened image of players on the dusk jacket affirms that this is a chapter of our state’s history that must come to light.

MORE TEXAS BOOKS WE LOVE: Late 2017.

MORE TEXAS BOOKS WE LOVE: Fall 2017.

MORE TEXAS BOOKS WE LOVE: Summer 2017.

MORE TEXAS BOOKS WE LOVE: Spring 2017.

MORE TEXAS BOOKS WE LOVE: Fall 2016.

At age 10, the Long Center opens its doors wider

If you lived in Austin during the 1960s and ’70s, you called the oddly shaped domed structure on the shores of Town Lake the Municipal Auditorium.

Austin’s Municipal Auditorium under construction in 1958 and photographed by Rockdale Works. Contributed by Austin History Center PICA 26945

If you arrived in the 1980s, it was then known as Palmer Auditorium, renamed after late Austin Mayor Lester Palmer. Maybe you referred to it jokingly as the “Green Turtle,” or variations on that theme.

If you were around during the 1990s and early 21st century, you’ll recall the seemingly Sisyphean efforts to turn that outdated 1959 building into the Long Center for the Performing Arts. Many things were tried; some failed, some succeeded.

And if you were in town March 28-30, 2008, you might have attended one many glorious events staged for the Long Center’s grand opening. One could praise right away  the handsome and lively Dell Hall, the largest performance space, but also the terrace lined with columns — the result of an engineering challenge — that offered one of the finest views of the city skyline.

The center, home to the city’s top symphony, opera, ballet and choral companies, as well as to mid-sized arts groups and touring acts, is back in the spotlight this year. A larger 10th anniversary party is planned for fall 2018, but before that on March 3, the center will blaze with the talents of the Avett Brothers and Asleep at the Wheel for a celebratory concert and after party.

Never one to rest on its laurels, the Long Center staff and trustees have spent the past year reexamining the center’s role in the community. It was known in some circles a decade ago primarily as a place of refuge for the larger arts groups who were nudged out of Bass Concert Hall by the University of Texas. Yet even from days when charismatic leaders such as Cliff Redd explained the unbuilt center’s future role, it was always intended to be a place of convergence for all of the arts.

It became more than that — and, then again, sometimes less. Despite the absence of a hoped-for café or shop, the center swarmed with unexpected activity year-round, much of that outside. The place itself became the main event, not what was booked on its two indoor stages. And even those performance offerings became increasingly varied, less traditional.

Well, after spending a year with consulting creatives from the ad agency Archer Malmo, the Long Center leaders have in hand a plan to fill the spaces, including the much-loved H-E-B Terrace, with an even wider variety of entertainment.

“The landscape of Austin is changing and so are we,” says Cory Baker, president and CEO of the Long Center. “The most immediate changes you’ll see are in our programming, wherein we’re diversifying in order to set the stage for the next generation of artists.”

How that will play itself out remains to be seen. Everyone is aware of the city’s need for affordable artistic venues. What it means, however, for the current resident companies of Dell Hall and Rollins Studio Theatre, who often rehearse as well as perform there, remains unclear.

For now, branding upgrades will suffice while the staff tries to free up more dates to mix in fresh forms of shared activity.

UPDATE 1:30 Feb. 28.: We asked Baker to amplify her comments on the changes at the Long Center.

American-Statesman: What exactly do you mean by more diverse entertainment bookings in the future? The examples you use — movies, talks, etc. — are already a part of your line-up and have been for a while.

 When we say diversifying programming, we are thinking beyond just adding new genres to the mix. We are focused on diversifying the experience options within the performing arts spectrum and being more intentional about our choices in order to expand our reach and engage new audiences.

We strive to be progressive, relevant and genuinely more reflective of our ever-evolving population. This means working with artists to create unique experiences for Austin – the Avett Brothers playing with Asleep at the Wheel, Bill Murray’s critically acclaimed new project – and blurring the lines to surprise our audiences by partnering with b to showcase boundary-breaking opera singer, Joseph Keckler.

We are also expanding the offerings within each genre, for instance, we are proud to present José González and the Boston Pops (coming 2019). Our speaker series goes from world-renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to iconic photographer Annie Leibovitz.

Family programming is another area where our offerings are as different as the many families that we serve, from seeing the Paw Patrol juggernaut in Dell Hall to enjoying free bubble fun on the lawn for Bubblepalooza and our All Summer Long series of community events. This is part of our current programming, and it shows the intentional choices we will be making for the next 10 years and beyond.

What exactly does this mean for the seven resident companies? Less performance time? Less rehearsal time?

The Long Center is proud to continue to be the home of our resident companies. Our strategy has been to look at the calendar and performance spaces as creatively as possible in close coordination with our partners. An example of this is that the Austin Opera graciously works with us so that we can present on their dark nights. This year, we have already presented many incredible artists … through our willingness to share the space in creative ways.

When it comes to Rollins, the venue was always intended to be a shared community asset — an accessible, affordable and practical performance space for a wide array of local artists to create and present work. With the space crisis in Austin growing and demand on the room increasing, we have challenged ourselves to think proactively about how we can serve an extended range of arts groups in the city and work creatively with our existing partners to find practical solutions that will best serve the arts ecosystem here in Austin

 

Five Austin parties we loved so much

One can relax during the Feed the Peace Awards for the Nobelity Project at the Four Seasons Austin Hotel. You know why? Because even when the AV system crashes or a stray joke bombs, Turk and Christy Pipkin are going to smile, glide back on stage and make it all better.

Wardaleen Belvin and Sherry Matthews at Feed the Peace for Nobelity Project.

The highlight of the most recent event was a speech by honoree Dan Rather who gave an oration about today’s crises so timely and rousing that every statesman wishes he or she had written and delivered it. He’s truly a treasure. I didn’t stay long enough to witness the plaudits for the Flatlanders, but they surely deserved the recognition.

RELATED: Turk and Christy Pipkin have transformed charitable giving in Austin.

How to throw a party

Nina and Frank Seely are candidates for the best party hosts in town. Their afternoon spread for a perfectly poised Valentine’s soiree was what every guest hopes will greet them from a party buffet. The crowd fit the room and the room the crowd. Can we talk about the social star power? Carla McDonaldVenus StrawnWendi Kushner, George Elliman, Eva WomackLarry ConnellyDonna Stockton Hicks, Margo SawyerLance Avery Morgan, Rob Giardinelli, Nona NilandPatty HoffpauirGreg EasleyJames Bryant, Richard Hartgrove and Gary Cooper were just some of the highlights.

RELATED: How ballet won over the hippies at the Armadillo World Headquarters.

Jill Kuhn and Bob Fuentes at the opening of “Vaudeville” at the Ransom Center.

Two magnets

Two opening receptions made me very happy about my alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin. There’s growing excitement about the maturing cultural attractions on or near campus. One week apart, we attended “Vaudeville” at the Ransom Center and “Form into Spirit: Ellsworth Kelly‘s Austin” at the Blanton Museum of Art. Both were mobbed with fans. Within fairly easy walking distance are the LBJ Presidential LibraryBriscoe Center for American History, Bullock Texas State History Museumthe UT Visual Arts Center and more than a dozen public art projects from the Landmarks program, all worthy of sustained attention. Good times.

RELATED: Ellsworth Kelly crowns Austin with an artistic jewel.

‘Masters of Dance’

Although traditional story ballets and evening-length concept concerts are always welcome, I’m partial to short abstract pieces, such as the three on display during “Masters of Dance” from Ballet Austin at the Long Center. Reserve time for dance at its purest: music and movement aided by minimal design elements. Loved the furling and unfurling, folding and unfolding to Philip Glass‘s music in Justin Peck’s “In Creases.” Enjoyed the beskirted, stuttering angularity of Pam Tanowitz’s “Shade.” David L. Lang‘s music for it? Not so much, despite conductor Peter Bay‘s valiant efforts. The third slot was reserved for a revival of Stephen Mills‘s rhythmically mesmerizing “Kai” set to the percussion of composer John Cage. I’d see this again and again for as long as dancers dance.

RELATED: Ballet Austin explores love, death and sex with “Belle Redux.”

Glimpse inside Austin parties for history and the arts

Two subjects galvanized this year’s Angelina Eberly Luncheon, which benefits the Austin History Center Association, the nonprofit ally of the Austin History Center.

Monte Akers and Charles Peveto at Angelina Eberly Luncheon for the Austin History Center Association. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

One hot topic was the Driskill Hotel, traditional site of the always gratifying midday event. Leading the public chat about the venue’s rollercoaster past was Monte Akers, attorney and author, whose “The Grand Dame of Austin: A History of the Driskill Hotel” was recently released by Waterloo Press (must be transparent, also the publisher of my two books).

His best anecdote, however, was told off the cuff: Before lunch a lady introduced herself as Helen Corbitt. Could she really be the celebrated Driskill chef who had popularized the cheese soup that we sipped in the lobby? (She died in 1978.) Perhaps it was her daughter? Akers asked around. But the well-attired woman had vanished for a while like a Driskill ghost. Luncheon chairman Charles Peveto put the questions to rest: That was Helen Covert, not Helen Corbitt.

Also on the stage in the banquet room were Luci Baines Johnson and Julian Read. Johnson’s family was closely associated with the hotel. For decades, LBJ held periodic court in the ornate 1886 palace. His daughter told the stories behind the stories, including the fact that LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson‘s first breakfast date at the hotel was later rendered in several conflicting versions by her parents and their friends.

Read, one of the greats of public relations and public affairs, shared a detailed history of the hotel’s modern ownership. Best known in some circles for his work with Texas Gov. John Connally, Read represented the Driskill through several of those owners, all struggling to bring the building up to its historic potential.

The other subject? The association plunged deep into the campaign to give over a portion of the shuttered Faulk Library to the center, which long ago maxed out its storage, exhibition and office space. It would take $11.8 million for critical infrastructure to bring it up to code, then another $3 million for the center to expand into two floors and the basement. For a long while, leaders have endorsed a public-private partnership that could mean little or no cost to taxpayers. Luckily, in the audience this day were Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, as well as former mayors Lee Cooke and Frank Cooksey, all strong backers of the center.

Out into the arts

Sandhya Shardanand, Stephen Torrence and Janet Brooks at Malcolm Bucknall opening at Wally Workman Gallery. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

The Austin spring performing arts season is up and running. We thoroughly enjoyed Zach Theatre‘s staging of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” a fluid telling of 15-year-old Christopher’s experiences as he negotiates parents, teachers and strangers through the lens of autism in the United Kingdom. Director Dave Steakley‘s team was particularly good at visualizing the mindset of Christopher, played expertly by Texas State University student Preston Straus. It will be remembered as one of the performances of the season.

We also finally caught cabaret singer Ute Lemper live at UT’s McCullough Theatre as presented by Texas Performing Arts. The modern embodiment of the 20th-century cabaret scenes in Berlin, Paris, New York and Buenos Aires, Lemper can channel Marlene Dietrich and any number of performers set off into the world in part by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, while sharing the theater history in priceless asides. That is not all. Lemper spent a good portion of the show with a pianist and a bass player scatting in high jazz form. Although technically amazing, this style paled in comparison to Lemper’s clear-eyed, clear-edged cabaret. Note of approval: “Mack the Knife” should always be performed in German. Always.

We also stopped by the opening reception for artist Malcolm Bucknall at Wally Workman Gallery. The longtime Austin artist presented exquisite amalgamations of human and animals, of in Victorian or Edwardian dress, as if borrowed from outrageous children’s books from the period. We had a fairly long talk with Bucknall about his time in the U.K., India, Cyprus and ultimately Austin, after his father moved here to start UT’s metallurgy program in 1958. We plan to hear more of these stories at his studio this week.

Mark Updegrove returns to Austin and the LBJ legacy

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Mark Updegrove, who transformed the LBJ Presidential Library during eight years as its director, is returning to become president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation as of March 1, 2018.

Mark Updegrove

In a dizzying leadership shuffle, current Foundation Executive Director Amy Barbee will be promoted to its Vice-President. Foundation Chairman Larry Temple will continue on as chairman, but he will transfer the title of chief executive officer to Updegrove. Meanwhile, Foundation President Elizabeth Christian will transfer the title of president, becoming a vice-chairwoman of the Foundation, the same title held by former Texas Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes and former Ambassador to Sweden Lyndon Olson.

Got all that?

During his eight years at the Library, Updegrove directed an $11 million redesign of its core exhibits. He also oversaw two big symposiums, the Civil Rights Summit in 2014 and the Vietnam War Summit in 2016. Both events provoked examinations of Austin’s own history with civil rights and the Vietnam War.

Earlier this year, Updegrove, an author and former media executive, accepted the position as CEO of the newly minted National Medal of Honor Museum planned for Charleston Harbor in Mount Pleasant, S.C. He has resigned that position, al though he will continue to serve through January

Yet he and his wife, former Texas Monthly publisher Amy Banner Updegrove, had put down deep roots in Austin. He also encountered a recent health scare.

“I could not be more excited to be back in the world of LBJ,” Updegrove says. “After resolving a case of early stage prostate cancer, I look forward to leading the 50th anniversary events recognizing LBJ’s momentous last full year in office, 1968.”

Dates set for big Mack, Jack and McConaughey benefit

The Austin triumvirate of Matthew McConaugheyMack Brown and Jack Ingram has already raised $7.5 million for youth charities through their Mack, Jack & McConaughey golf-plus-music-plus-dinner-plus-fashion-plus-auction-plus-good-will weekends.

Mack Brown, Jack Ingram and Matthew McConaughey at 2017 MJM. Suzanne Cordeiro/American-Statesman

Now the Academy Award-winning actor, the ESPN analyst and former Longhorns coach and the ACM Award-winning recording artist have set the date for their sixth annual fundraiser that culminates at ACL Live: April 12-13, 2018.

SEE PHOTOS: Mack, Jack and McConaughey gala with Miranda Lambert.

No headliner named yet, but past musical partners have included Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley, Kacey Musgraves, Toby Keith, Sheryl Crow and John Mellencamp. Additionally, Camila Alves will bring back your signature fashion show that weekend; past spotlighted designers have included Jason Wu, Veronica Beard, Badgley Mischka, Lela Rose, and Milly.

HISTORY: 17 parties that altered Austin.

This mega-event benefits groups such as CureDuchenne, Dell Children’s Medical Center, HeartGift, just keep livin Foundation and The Rise School of Austin.

Taking social flight with Travis Audubon, Waller Creek Conservancy, American Gateways

It was like drifting from one waking dream to another.

Heading to the Waller Creek Conservancy benefit. Contributed by © David Brendan Hall / http://www.davidhallphotog.com

I first encountered that certain fantastical aspect of the Waller Creek Conservancy, which plans a series of high-design parks along a neglected stretch of downtown waterway, at a large dinner party in the Four Seasons penthouse of Tom and Lynn Meredith. All sorts of important and influential Austinites were present on that fateful and whimsical night. Despite the mammoth scale of the proposed project, I sensed that those gathered in the room high above the creek, which included fellow Conservancy visionaries, Melanie Barnes and Melba Whatley, could get it done.

Two of the biggest guns: Gary Farmer and State Sen. Kirk Watson. Contributed by © David Brendan Hall / http://www.davidhallphotog.com

Over the next few years, a series of magical benefit parties and concerts were staged with the help of Lonesome Dove chef Tim Love and C3 partner Charles Attal at the Stubb’s complex right on the banks of the creek. This time, there was something tangible to celebrate: The group had broken ground on its Waterloo Park segment with the generous help of a $15 million grant from Ross Moody and the Moody Foundation.

The Tim Love dinner was served family style. Contributed by © David Brendan Hall / http://www.davidhallphotog.com

BACKGROUND: Grant to fund Waterlook Park makeover.

Well, this year’s dinner was like walking on a cloud. Everybody, including Conservancy CEO Peter Mullan and his gracious wife, Melanie Mullan, a strategic advisor, fairly glowed with felicity. Melanie led a group of her lively friends in a conversation at our table that could, from my perspective, have gone on all night. But then there was a concert by alt-pop duo Oh Wonder waiting just outside the door of the events room.

Isn’t it great when the photography, including this shot of Oh Wonder, is done by a pro such as © David Brendan Hall / http://www.davidhallphotog.com

Victor Emanuel Conservation Awards

Mickey Burleson wanted to set the record straight. She did not plant Blackland Prairie seeds by moonlight at her ranch with her late husband, Bob Burleson, because of some nebulous spiritual reasons. The pair, credited with restoring some of the last remnants of a critical and highly endangered ecosystem, simply broadcast the carefully collected grains after the end of long days because the seeds would have turned too hot if stored with other remnants from their old-fashioned grass seed harvester.

The ideal swag at Travis Audubon event. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

In probably the most thoughtful charity swag ever, guests at the Victor Emanuel Conservation Award luncheon, which benefits Travis Audubon, each received a small “Ecosystem in a Bag” of more than 1,000 grains from Native American Seed company. Some of the seeds in the Blackland Prairie Mix were descendants of those collected by the Burlesons. Heaven on Earth.

Nandini Chaturvedula and Brandi Clark Burton at Victor Emanuel Conservation Awards for Travis Audubon. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Mickey Burleson accepted this year’s award from titular award from Valerie Bristol, the chief warrior on the Balcones Canyonlands preservation. She was last year’s honoree. I’ve doted on everyone who has received this prize, including its namesake, Victor Emanuel, the nature guide who set next to me during the luncheon. Consider the rest of the honor roll: Bob AyresGeorgean KylePaul KyleJ. David BambergerCarter Smith and Andy Sansom.

To borrow a phrase from frequent emcee Evan Smith at an earlier benefit, they all could be my spirit animals.

Gateway Awards

You’d need a heart of stone to turn away from the stories generated by American Gateways, the group that provides legal services to immigrants who can’t afford them. The staff in Austin, San Antonio and Waco, along with an army of pro bono attorneys, deal with heartbreaking cases every day. They don’t need to be told that our immigration system is broken. They are on the front lines.

Tiffany Carlson and Keenan Wilson at Gateway Awards for American Gateways. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

The second annual Gateway Awards were distributed during a taco dinner at the new AFS event room at its complex in the Linc. (I saw the bedazzling movie musical, “Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” there on my birthday last week.) The entertainment at the banquet was pretty amazing, too, starting with the New Generation Children’s Choir, made up of African refugees, and ending with San Antonio-based, all-female Mariachi Las Coronelas, who know how to get an audience going.

Mariachi Las Coronelas at the Gateway Awards. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Juan Belman, a dreamer and the University of Texas graduate who famously confronted President Barack Obama at the Paramount Theatre, picked up the Social Justice Award. Lawyer Valerie Barker of Baker Botts, LLP, was named Pro Bono Attorney of the Year. Charismatic Jae Kim from Chi’Lantro Korean barbecue acclaim, won the Immigrant of Achievement Award.

New Generation Children’s Choir at the Gateway Awards. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Makes me proud that American Gateways is based right here in Austin.

Paying homage to the Big Give and Texas 4000 Tribute Gala

Just about every Austin nonprofit of a certain size fields a young leaders group or stages a giving event geared for young backers. Few feel as authentic or as lively as the Big Give from I Live Here I Give Here.

New neon at the Big Give. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Credit Executive Director Celeste Flores, but also her excellent party team, who put the focus this year squarely on the Patsy Woods Martin Big Giver, Brittany Morrison, of Hospice Austin. Her speech hit every right note about personal investment in a specific charity. (We promise to interview her soon.)

Additionally, the K Friese +Associates Small Nonprofit Award went to  Partners in Parenting and the RetailMeNot Nonprofit Award was taken home by Big Medium.

Roxanne Schroeder-Arce and Erica Saenz at the Big Give. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

I had an ideal time at the Hotel Van ZandtChatted for a long time with two people I know and admire, Erica Saenz and Roxanne Schroeder-Arce; spoke briefly with a dozen other guests; ate three small, salty snacks; and drank one signature cocktail. Never waited in line. Never endured long distractions. Ninety minutes max. The best.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this post switched the nonprofit awards winners.

TEXAS 4000 TRIBUTE GALA

While Hurricane Harvey bore down on Texas, several Austin nonprofits chose to forge ahead with their galas. When I heard that the Texas 4000 Tribute Gala that benefits the cancer fight was not canceled, I responded “I guess if you’ve biked 4,000 miles from Texas to Alaska, a little hurricane is not going to stop you.”

Luckily, the happy warriors at the dinner sent me this report, lightly edited:

Jeff Conley, Riddhi Patodia, Krishna Patel, Alex Shrode, Zack Kingsak, Chris Hamborsky, Mikaela Casas, Audrey Nguyen, Nina Lemieux, Amar Sheth, Catherine Butschi and Cienna Taylor at Texas 4000 Tribute Gala. Contributed

“Despite the wind and rain, Texas 4000 for Cancer had its most successful Tribute Gala to date. The funds raised at the JW Marriott, along with what was raised by the riders throughout the year, resulted in over $1 million in fundraising in 2017.

“Suppoerters were determined to not let Hurricane Harvey affect the evening, and one board member even drove round trip from Houston on Friday morning to ensure his auction items made it to the event.

“The 70 riders who biked from Austin to Alaska in the effort to fight cancer were celebrated by the 550 Tribute Gala guests, comprised of alumni, families and supporters.

“Videos portraying the 70-day summer ride reflected the many emotions the riders’ experienced, and shared some of the stories for why they ride.

“The 2017 Texas 4000 riders celebrated throughout the evening as they became Texas 4000 alumni, and the organization inspired others to help put the 15th Texas 4000 team on the road next summer.”

Best Austin parties for late August

Despite the unbearable heat, Austin throws some pretty fine parties in late August.

2016 Texas 4000 Gala

Aug. 16: Brian Jones Classic Etiquette Dinner for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area. Four Seasons Hotel Austin.

Aug. 18: Opening of “Chicago.” City Theatre.

Aug. 19: Austin Originals Benefit Concert for Austin Child Guidance. ACL Live.

Aug. 19: An Evening with NASA Pioneers from Texas State Historical Association. Driskill Hotel.

Aug. 20: Pure Prairie League. One World Theatre.

Cynthia Lee Fontaine rides on the Oil Can Harry’s float as it makes its way through downtown in the Pride Parade on Sept. 7, 2013. Christina Burke / American-Statesman

Aug. 20: Cochon 555 US Tour. Four Seasons Hotel Austin.

Aug. 23: “An Evening with the Piano Guys.” Long Center.

Aug. 25: Texas 4000 Tribute Gala for Cancer. JW Marriott.

Aug. 26: Austin Pride Festival and Parade. Downtown Austin.

RELATED STORY: 25 years of Pride.

Aug. 26: Ice Ball for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. JW Marriott.

Aug. 26: Studio 54lift for Forklife Danceworks. 5540 N. Lamar Blvd.

Aug. 27: “Gregeriart” from Rude Mechs. Carousel Lounge.

Aug. 29: Opening of “Austin at Midcentury: Photographs of Dewey Mears.” Austin History Center

Aug. 30: Opening of Robert Schenkkan’s “Building the Wall.” UT campus.

Aug. 30: “An Evening with Carrie Rodriguez.” Long Center.

 

Best loved Austin neighborhoods: Aldridge Place & Hemphill Park

We cherish these memories of strolling through Aldridge Place and its sibling district, Hemphill Park.

Originally published Dec. 16, 2010.

Terri Givens, an Associate Professor of Government at the University of Texas, was a newcomer to the neighborhood in 2010. Her family has since moved away. Julia Robertson/American-Statesman

Walking through an old Austin neighborhood with a sharp eye is like scrutinizing the tree rings of an ancient oak. One finds evidence of lean years and fat. Of rapid change and relative stasis. Of momentary crisis and long-term stability. The social trunk in the tiny, paired Aldridge Place and Hemphill Park neighborhoods – north of the University of Texas campus – is incredibly compact. Just two streets – 32nd and 33rd streets between Guadalupe Street and Speedway – make up Aldridge Place proper, according to some of its most ardent advocates.

Others, pointing to the original plat, insist on including Wheeler and Lipscomb streets, plus Hemphill Park, split down the middle by upper Waller Creek and its tree-pegged banks. A later strand – Laurel Lane – was added to the old subdivision. Notable families have lived here, behind deep, shaded front yards and a variety of provincial European and American-style façades. Golf guru Harvey Penick brought up his children here. Folklorist J. Frank Dobie owned a house at 3109 Wheeler St. The Rather clan, which produced broadcaster Dan Rather and political activist Robin Rather, lived down the way on Laurel Lane.

Late journalist and presidential press secretary George Christian Jr. was born and grew up here in the house of his father, an assistant attorney general and judge, George Christian Sr., on Wheeler Street. Regan Gammon, lifelong friend to former first lady Laura Bush, lives in a surprisingly modest house adjacent to a guest cottage. (Bush visits frequently. Follow Secret Service advice: Stay away.)

Musicians Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison raise their children here. James Galbraith of the famed scholarly family lives not far away in a multifaceted house. Add to that Texas French Bread founder Judy Willcott and arts leader Laurence Miller, along with “house whisperer” Kim Renner, academic Terri Givens, actress and musician Chris Humphrey, and Silicon Laboratories’ David Welland and his wife, Isabel, both prolific contributors to the Glimmer of Hope, Miracle and Sooch foundations. Nearby live Rick and Nancy Iverson in a 19th-century stone structure that reportedly served as a stagecoach stop. Among the gay couples are Austin social all-stars Steven Tomlinson and Eugene Sepulveda, along with Web designer Bob Atchison and oenological consultant Rob Moshein, known as the “Austin Wine Guy” – and my guide on this fine fall day.

But let’s start with the land. As with almost all Austin neighborhoods, this one is defined by higher elevations roosted above waterways. Upper Waller Creek is sometimes merely damp, thanks to this area’s many springs. Yet it drains a huge amount of land to the north and becomes a raging stream after any storm. “It takes on a crazy amount of surface water, ” says house rescuer Renner, who lives just to the creek’s east. “The rise is amazingly rapid.” The creek is also famous for its tunnels, which lead to the Texas State Hospital grounds a mile to the north. Brave neighborhood children crawled up these tunnels to what was once called the “insane asylum.” A metal floodgate now bars passage.

The ascent on both sides of the creek is not steep, but it’s unmistakable. On Wheeler, it forms a gentle curve for houses on a ridge whose properties back onto Guadalupe near Wheatsville Co-op. On the eastern side of the creek, the rise merely makes for a healthy cardio workout. Pecans, oaks and elms dominate the canopy, myrtles and other ornamentals the lower strata. The area hosts an unusual number of magnolias, trees that don’t usually thrive in Austin’s alkaline soil without help. “We almost lost that one during the last drought, ” says Renner, pointing to a double-trunked magnolia outside her spacious bungalow overlooking the park. “We nursed it back to health.”

According to neighborhood historians, the region north of what became the UT campus was first settled under a land grant to Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar in 1840. The bluff above today’s dual neighborhood, where the Kirby Hall and the Scottish Rite Dormitory now sit, saw the first houses. Exposed to Comanche attacks during the mid-19th century, the land later supported dairy farms, general stores, schools and, eventually, residential subdivisions such as Harris Park, Hyde Park and the lesser known Grooms, Lakeview and Buddington.

On May 15, 1912, Lewis Hancock, developer of the Austin Country Club and namesake for Hancock Center, began selling tracts in Aldridge Place. Deed restrictions included a minimum sale price, no apartments, and, in line with growing segregation, no sales or rentals to African Americans unless they were live-in servants. Located so near the campus, churches, trolley lines and retail development along Guadalupe Street, Aldridge Place and Hemphill Park grew rapidly during the 1920s. “It’s residential but urban, ” says Willcott, who started Texas French Bread in the basement of her former house on 33rd Street, then opened her first store in a converted bowling alley at Guadalupe and 34th streets.

This day, our walk started on Laurel Lane at Speedway. “Aldridge Place looks down on us, ” Moshein jokes. “We’re on the wrong side of the tracks.” A pair of fanciful houses, designed by UT’s first architecture dean, Hugo Kuehne, flank the lane’s entrance. Carol McKay’s is notable for its steep, curling roofline and hidden gardens. On the other corner, Moshein and Atchison live in the old Rather house, best described as “Hollywood Spanish Colonial.” The surprise inside is a treasure trove of Czarist art, antiques and artifacts that the couple have collected for decades. It’s more than a little disconcerting to attend a party here, where Russian royalty stares down at the folks dressed in the usual casual Austin wear sipping exceptional wines.

None of the houses in this neighborhood are what one would call grand, more akin to ones found near almost any American university campus. These proud structures housed large families, until the kids grew up and the parents grew old. Then, college students moved into rentals – a point of contention for some residents – until new families, not all of them with children, fixed up the homes, now deemed historical by the so inclined. Renovators are transforming houses that had “gone hippie” during the 1960s and ’70s. “We are under huge pressure from the university, ” says former museum director Miller, who shares his current house on 33rd Street with Willcott. “To keep the neighborhood intact, you must be constantly vigilant.”

In fact, one neighborhood constant has been the number of people who have never left the area, or returned after a few years. Retired psychologist Mary Gay Maxwell has lived in three nearby houses; Clayton Sloan lived down the street from her current residence when she was a student. “I thought I was the luckiest person in the world, ” new mom Sloan says. “Living on this pretty street, walking distance to everything. Trees arched over. It’s an urban environment, but it’s very safe.” Maxwell agrees: “People never go away.” This loyalty fits neatly with the stories I heard up and down the streets from people walking their dogs, or working in their yards, or just passing by. (There seem to be as many canines as humans here, and at least one feline doesn’t seem to mind. Whirley, a dark, mottled cat, follows pedestrians up and down the streets, far away from his home on 32nd Street.)

Givens, who teaches at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, and her high-tech husband, Mike Scott, moved to Aldridge Place from the West Coast. Before they purchased their house on 32nd Street, the previous owners interviewed them carefully, and when tests were passed, gave them a party. “We realized we were not buying a house, ” Givens says. “We were buying a neighborhood.”

One reason residents might act so neighborly is the subdivision plan: All houses must face the inner streets or the park; alleys are forbidden and sidewalks are mandatory, making it a front-porch society. “We all know each other, ” Renner says, recalling regular holiday parties and a July 4 parade. “I would say (the urban plan) completely fulfills its original intentions.” The residents so treasure this life, they fought tooth and nail, as part of the larger North Campus Neighborhood Association, against the so-called “super-duplexes” and other concentrations of sometimes rowdy students who did not share their web of seemingly constant social connection. Student parking was also a sore point, until the City of Austin nixed nonresident parking during weekdays. “You couldn’t get down the street during the day, ” Moshein says. “You’d try to come home for lunch and couldn’t make it down the narrow streets for all the parked cars.”

Here, preservation is less about tax breaks and more about enduring social bonds, an argument one hears from East Austin to Old West Austin. “It was important to keep this neighborhood as it is, ” says Maxwell, who ran herd on the planning commission and Austin City Council to solve some of the destabilizing development. “This street was in decline, but it’s come back.” Gentrification and higher land prices might actually contribute to stability – at the potential price of diversity, Moshein points out – but neighborhood leaders won the battle to direct dense housing toward West Campus instead. That student-saturated neighborhood is now home to numerous midrises and ever-greater arrays of commercial life.

This leaves Aldridge Place-Hemphill Park almost completely protected. It can’t claim the same historical significance of Hyde Park, a few blocks to the north and a generation older. Yet its residents are, if anything, more intensely loyal and alert to historical distinctions (you’ll discover that if you ever mix up Hemphill Park or Aldridge Place!). “We’re not going anywhere, ” says Robert Marchant, as his children frolic on a shared swing aside his family’s humble home. “It’s paradise, ” says Scott Sloan, balancing an infant in the kitchen of his renovated bungalow. “And people are optimistic about the neighborhood. That makes it a good investment.”

As Maxwell says: “It’s a little enclave of real neighborhood experience.”