Alternative Austin social options during ACL

The second week of  ACL Music Festival doesn’t stand in the way of these other scintillating Austin social offerings.

Oct. 11: Waller Creek Conservancy Dinner and Concert featuring Oh Wonder with Jaymes Young. Stubb’s Waller Creek Amphitheater.

Oct. 11: 4 x 4 for Nobelity Project. Gibson Guitar Austin Showroom.

Oct. 12: Gateway Awards for American Gateways. AFS Cinema.

Oct. 12: Touch the Stars Gala for Imagine a Way.
Stephen F. Austin Hotel.

Oct. 14: Victor Emanuel Conservation Award Luncheon for Travis Audubon. Austin Country Club.

Oct. 14: 60th Anniversary Celebration of Montopolis Friendship Community Center. 403 Vargas Road.

Oct. 14: The Mask of Limits for ME3LJ Center. Hyatt Regency Austin Hotel.

Oct. 15: Butcher’s Ball for Urban Harvest and Foodways Austin. Rockin’ Star Ranch.

Oct. 15: Fashion and Art Palooza 3.0. Lucas Event Center.


One last blast of Austin parties and shows for May

Wait! The spring social and arts seasons are not over. We blend together the last bast of events here.

May 8-10: Texas Women for the Arts from the Texas Cultural Trust. Various locations.


May 11: Due West for West Austin Studio Tour. Dougherty Arts Center.

May 11: 70th Birthday Bash for Barton Springs Bathhouse. Driskill Hotel.

May 12-14: Ballet Austin’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Long Center.

May 12: Reach for the Stars benefiting Ann Richard School. Four Seasons Hotel.

May 12-21: West Austin Studio Tour. Various Locations.


May 12-21: Fashion X Austin. Various locations.

May 13: Heart Ball for American Heart Association. JW Marriott.

May 13: Paramount Theatre Galas with Earth, Wind & Fire. Paramount Theatre.


May 13-14: Art of the Pot Studio Ceramics Tour and Sale. Various locations.

May 14: Real World Music Showcase for Anthropos Arts. Emo’s Austin.

May 15: Emancipet 18 Anniversary Luncheon. Four Seasons Hotel.


May 16: Great Futures Spring Luncheon. Hilton Austin.

May 18: Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” transfers to Kleberg Stage. Zach Theatre.

May 19-20: Austin Symphony Masterworks with Gabriela Montero. Long Center.

May 20: Austin Humane Society Pup Crawl. Various locations.

May 20: Bats, Birds and Barbecue for EarthShare of Texas. Bracken Cave.


May 20-21: Chorus Austin presents “Southwest Voices.” Various locations.

May 20: 21 County Fair for Central Texas Food Bank. 6500 Metropolis Dr.


May 25: Beto & the Fairlanes: 40th Anniversary Celebration. Long Center.

May 30: Official Premiere Party for RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9. Oilcan Harry’s.

May 30-June 4: “Something Rotten!” Bass Concert Hall.


Joining the revolt against the traditional Austin gala

Austin guests have been in open revolt against the traditional Austin gala for some time. They tell me that the standard black-tie affair is too long, too loud, too starchy and too gabby.

When one of Austin’s top social benefactors, Mary Herr Tally, starts storming the gala barricades, you know that change is in the air.

Mary Herr Tally with a designer pet collar made by Shanny Lott. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

She calls her upcoming benefit for no-kill shelter and service, Austin Pets Alive, a “non-gala,” a term already in usage, or a maybe “neo-gala,” which better fits her slimmed down, unbuttoned strategy.

RELATED: Breathing life into Austin’s No Kill wins.

Even the name of her April 7 event at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum, Tailwaggers  borrowed from Hollywood star Bette Davis‘ animal welfare outings in the 1940s — suggests something spontaneous, serendipitous.

“People ask: ‘How’s your gala?'” Tally reports. “Well, it’s not one. It’s casual cocktails and dinner. You take away all the tedious parts; do your key fundraising prior to the event; and avoid beating your guests down with a live auction or cash call.”

Tally is no stranger to the conventional gala. Since 1994, she has raised money for what used to be called the Austin Museum of ArtLong Center for the Performing Arts and Zach Theatre and Austin Opera as well as Seton Breast Care Center, Center for Child Protection and various animal welfare causes.

She felt Austin Pets Alive needed a signature event. She huddled with social masterminds such as Armando Zambrano and Carla McDonald to brainstorm for Tailwaggers.

A lightbulb moment came when McDonald proposed offering designer pet collars, auctioned silently. Tally was all in: “No painful live auction!”

She described how guests get distracted during the extended bidding of a live auction.

“People get up and walk out,” Tally says. “It’s embarrassing. It’s messed up. I mean, the live auctioneers have the best intentions …”

Cash calls — also known as “fund a cause” or, even more colloquially, “paddles up” — are no better if they last more than a few moments.

“Then you get your food. Finally,” Tally sighs. “We’re trying to redefine the gala that doesn’t have to be about a ball gown and and a tux. Austinites are sophisticated. They know what to wear to a good party.”

If forced to pin a name on the Tailwaggers sartorial style, she’d call it “Austin casual cocktail.”

“Just wear what you wear when you go out to dinner!” Tally says. “That could be jeans and a cute top, or it could be a dress. Austinites know how to dress, even if it has to be different at times to get some people out.”

Tally recently adopted a mixed breed dog from the Austin Animal Shelter that had been pulled from the Lockhart shelter’s euthanasia list.

“Annie Richards” was not what she expected to bring home.

“You think you know what you want,” she says. “Then you find the one.”

UPDATE: The origin of Annie Richards was clarified in a recent update.

Firing off bottle rockets for 5 fall Austin parties

More than 30 top parties still to go this fall Austin season — no exaggeration — but we take them one at a time.

Texas wins on a lovely fall day. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Let’s pause for a moment first to salute the Longhorns’ win over the Bears last Saturday. Not as big a deal as the Chicago Cubs breaking a 108-year-old curse, for sure, but fun to watch in person, and a good sign for Austin.

Heather Bendes and Georgia Fontana at Girls Empowerment Network 20th Birthday Party at W Austin Hotel. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Girls Empowerment Network of Austin 20th Birthday Party. Originally, it was called the Ophelia Project, inspired by Mary Pipher’s “Saving Ophelia,” a 1994 book about the social pressures on American adolescent girls. The Girls Empowerment Network now tackles body image, peer relationships and juvenile justice, as well as mental and physical health for girls. The cocktail party at the W Hotel Austin featured some of the city’s most empowered women, including Austin first lady Diane Land. Board chairwoman Heather Bendes outlined for me all the group’s activities, but I could still learn much more. Note on the clever event timing: Many hosts try to beat the traffic with a rush hour reception, but they don’t start early enough. At 5:30 p.m., this one was not hard to make while 6 p.m. seems to be cursed.

Helen and Ed Ingram at Pease Park Conservancy Fall Party. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Pease Park Conservancy Fall Party. Never underestimate the power of a well-produced video for a nonprofit. The Pease Park Conservancy was blessed with cooler weather this year for its fall fundraiser at Allan House, the mansion just northwest of the Travis County Courthouse, which makes an unpredictable events venue. In this group’s case, the choice was emboldened by its perch above the nearly forgotten Little Shoal Creek Canyon. I spoke with numerous engaging citizens, including District 9 Austin City Council Member Kathie Tovo and District 10 candidate Alison Alter.  (Someday, I’ll learn the new districts by heart.) Back to that video: It features some swell drone shots of the city’s first park, but also some testimony from people we really respect, such as architect Emily Little, activist Richard Craig and civic leader Tom Spencer.

Joyce Blaxingame has manned this gate at Royal-Memorial Stadium for longer than she can remember. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Longhorns 35, Bears 34. For more than 30 years, I’ve tried to make at least one University of Texas Longhorns football game every season at Royal-Memorial Stadium. The rest of match-ups, I watch on TV. Still, there’s no beating the pageantry and potency of 100,000 fans and all that action. I’ve watched from luxury boxes, from student bleachers, from high up on the west side, to down on the sidelines. I’ve rarely had more fun than hanging out recently with Kristy Ozmun, who reps for the Longhorn Network, and her husband, American-Statesman reporter Ben Wear. They know the stadium like the backs of their hands. And Wear, a part-time official, knows the game backwards and forwards. When we sat down, it was in a tiny, semi-tented area overlooking the network’s commentators, who included this game superstars Vince Young and Ricky Williams. But we also spent time blithely on the field and there met Joyce Blaxingame, who has manned the same gate for decades. We want her stories.

Sparky Pocket Park won a Merit Award from Preservation Austin.

Merit Awards for Preservation Austin. There are few more closely scrutinized local honors than the Merit Awards for Preservation Austin. And properly so. There so many ways that Austinites are saving their built heritage and only a few prizes to go around each year. Usually, at this Driskill Hotel ceremony and luncheon, I scribble notes about future articles based on the winners. This time, I was gratified that I had already written, if sometimes briefly, about advocates Jill and Stephen Wilkinson, the Save Muny campaign, the city’s Cemetery Master Plan and the Neill-Cochran House Museum. More of that reporting to come. The gentleman sitting next to me made a salient point: The guests are here for the awards and the conversation. Why have a speaker? After all, they say the same worthy things every year: Demolition bad, preservation good.

Bethany Andrée on the last day of Snack Bar. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Snack Bar Last Hurrah. We were among the first customers seven years ago. We were among the last on Oct. 30, as Snack Bar closed with a big blast. Bethany Andrée’s team was all about hospitality. Sure, the fare was healthy, affordable and sometimes innovative, but it was a just great, open place just to hang out, or to interview somebody for the newspaper. Sure, it was right down the hill from our house, which made it particularly convenient. But to tell the truth, there are more than 50 eateries within easy walking distance of our house, and more than 10 made Matthew Odam’s Top 100 restaurants list recently. I’m sure something rewarding will take Snack Bar’s place under Liz Lambert’s expansive leadership. (A reader suggested that that stretch of South Congress be nicknamed “SoLiz.”) Still, I’ll miss the welcome that waited for me every time I stopped by to snack and more.

*Editor’s note: This story previously referenced Georgia Fontana as the Girls Empowerment Network’s chairwoman. 

Preservation Austin lauds our people and places with 2016 Merit Awards

ALERT: The Preservation Austin Merit Awards are on their way!

The Merit Awards Celebration will take at the Driskill Hotel on Friday, Oct.28 from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The featured speaker will be Paul Gunther, executive director of the Gracie Mansion Conservancy in New York City.

And now for the winners:

Hendrick Southside Medical
500 Chicon. Photo by Kevin Halliburton, AIA

500 CHICON (1923) – East Cesar Chavez  Recipient: Texas Society of Architects Preservation Award for Sustainability.

Highland Avenue Bungalow. Photo by Whit Preston.

HIGHLAND AVENUE BUNGALOW (1918) – Old West Austin Recipient: Nick and Kathleen Deaver Preservation Award for Contemporary Addition to an Historic Building.

Neill-Cochran House Museum. Photo: Bill McCullough

NEILL-COCHRAN HOUSE MUSEUM (1855-1856) – West Campus Recipient: National Society of the Colonial Dames of America Preservation Award for Restoration.

Sparky Park_Photograph Courtesy of Austin Parks and Recreation Department.JPG

NORTH AUSTIN ELECTRIC SUBSTATION AT SPARKY POCKET PARK (1930) – North University City of Austin Parks & Recreation Department Preservation Award for Rehabilitation.

ARNO NOWOTNY BUILDING (1857) – University of Texas “Little Campus” Recipient: University of Texas at Austin Preservation Award for Restoration.

Pohl House. Photo by Trey McWhorter, Courtesy of Mid Tex Mod.

DR. DONALD AND MARJORIE POHL HOUSE (1955) – Highland Park West/Balcones Recipient: Trisha and Douglas Shepard Preservation Award for Rehabilitation. (Here’s my story on saving Austin’s midcentury modernist gems.)

CEMETERY MASTER PLAN + OAKWOOD ANNEX LADIES RESTROOM City of Austin Parks & Recreation Department Special Recognition for Outstanding Planning + Preservation of Cultural Landscape. (Here’s my story on Oakwood Cemetery.)

SAVE MUNY Special Recognition for Outstanding Public Service: Lions Municipal Golf Course National Register Listing . (Here’s my story on a century of Lions Club life in Austin.)

JILL AND STEPHEN WILKINSON  Special Recognition for Outstanding Public Service: Neighborhood Preservation in Aldridge Place and Heritage Neighborhoods. (Here’s my story on the Wilkinson’s campaign.)

21 sizzling Austin parties for late September

Here’s a mid-September update on Austin parties that I prophesy will please.


Sept. 14: Liz Carpenter Lecture featuring Gloria Steinem. LBJ Presidential Library.

Sept. 14. A Night with the Stars (Dancing with the Stars Austin). Dine.

Sept. 14: Chef’s Table Austin for Water to Thrive. Brodie Homestead.

Sept. 16: Imaginarium for the Thinkery. JW Marriott.

Sept. 16: Authentic Mexico for the Hispanic Alliance. Long Center.

One of the historical treasures from the Briscoe Center.

Sept. 16: Briscoe Center’s “25 Years/25 Treasures” opening reception. LBJ Presidential Library.

Sept. 17: Little Black Dress Soirée for Dress for Success. Palazzo Lavaca.

Sept. 18:Voting Rights in Texas and Beyond.” LBJ School.

Sept. 17: Ballet Austin Fête and fête*ish. JW Marriott.

Sept. 17: Opening of the Austin Opera season, “The Manchurian Candidate.” Long Center.

Sept. 17: Moonlight in the Gorge GalaCanyon Lake.

Tara Doolittle is among the journalists honored at the Mike Quinn Awards.


Sept. 17: Mike Quinn Awards Luncheon. Headliners Club. DATE CHANGED.

Sept 19: Upbring Golf. Avery Ranch Golf Club.

Sept. 23: Hill Country Nights for Hill Country Conservancy. Fair Market.

Sept. 23: Tribeza Style Week Kick-Off Party. ACL Live.

Sept. 23: Grand Opening. Sheraton Georgetown Texas Hotel and Conference Center.

Sept. 24: Trash Makeover Challenge for Texas Campaign for the Environment. Scottish Rite Theater.

Sept. 25: Inherit Austin’s Somewhere in Time. Huston-Tillotson University. DATE CHANGED.

Sept. 25: Ken Hafertepe signs “The Material Culture of German Texans.” Neill-Cochran House.


Sept. 28: Austin City Social. Nordstrom Domain.

Sept. 29: Tribeza Style Week Fashion Show. Brazos Hall. DATE CHANGED.


Count on it: Someday, I will call it ‘Petticoat Junction’ by mistake

I had fun reporting and writing about Petticoat Fair, the lingerie outfit run by three generations of an Austin family.

Yet it is almost impossible for me to rid my mind of associations with the the 1960s sitcom “Petticoat Junction.”


So you can bet that some day I’ll slip and call the boutique by that name instead.

Here’s an excerpt from the story:

“In 1963, the sitcom “Petticoat Junction” first aired on CBS.

The show about a rustic railroad hotel run by a steadfast matron, her lazy uncle and her three voluptuous daughters ran for seven seasons, yoked in American minds with “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Green Acres,” two other shows that riffed on the juncture between rural and urban ways.

In 1964, Petticoat Lane opened on Austin’s Guadalupe Street. The Andrews family, headed by Bob and Betty Sue, were already running two dress shops on the Drag. Their new idea, later redubbed Petticoat Fair, was a full-service boutique selling just women’s undergarments.

It still thrives today, now as a one-of-a-kind shop with extensive dressing rooms in the Northcross Center off West Anderson Lane.

Early on, the sitcom’s insistent theme song — “lots of curves / you bet / even more / when you get / to the junction / Petticoat Junction” — echoed in the ears of their Austin customers.

“It was funny,” Betty Sue says. “Customers would make their checks out to Petticoat Junction.”


Austin wonders at video of UT’s first living wall

Readers are loving this video we posted yesterday from the University of Texas and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It shows a cool modular “living wall,” a honeycomb structure that explores the intersection of ecology and architecture.

Critters seem to love it. People, too. Or at least a few dozen who “liked” the video.

Jessi Kulow, School of Architecture Visual Resources Collection.

Sharon Sparlin writes: “So great to see it in action. Inspires me for my own walls.”

Tony Couin-Pascall responds: Look at Patrick Blanc’s work in Paris; here’s one of his larger pieces.…/quai-branly..

Sparlin sweetly replies:”The Paris work is beautiful, yes. But this project is in Texas – a very different climate and ecosystem. And their project had several distinct goals in mind, which I think they’ve tackled, if not reached, admirably.”

How do we get one?

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.

Preview: For 50 years, Rudy Rodriguez cut hair in East and West Austin

A profile of barber Rudy Rodriguez, who grew up in East Austin, will appear online Saturday or Sunday, then in print on Monday. Here’s a short preview.

Austin barber for 50 years, Rudy Rodriguez at the University of Texas Club.

At age 14, Rudy Rodriguez picked up the scissors and comb.

Barely tall enough to clip his clients’ hair, he managed to graduate from Austin Barber College, back then on East Sixth Street across from the Ritz Theater. The next year, he began working at Ledesma Barber Shop, run by an elderly haircutter, at East Sixth and Waller streets in East Austin.

“My only customers were my buddies,” Rodriguez, 64, says with an affable grin. “Ten years later, I bought him out.”

Why would a ninth-grader, who also caddied at the old Austin Country Club on East Riverside Drive, take up this line of work?

“One brother was a barber, and a sister a cosmetologist,” he says. “Uncles, aunts, cousins are barbers and beauticians. I guess it runs in our family.”

During his 50 years behind the barber chair, Rodriguez has sheared the pates of major East Austin players such as former State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, former Travis County Commissioner Richard Moya and former Austin City Council Member John Treviño.

He also has done up Longhorn athletes, including star quarterbacks Rick McIvor, Robert Brewer and Randy McEachern as well as Todd Dodge — also a former quarterback and now coach at Westlake High School.

“I still enjoy cutting and styling hair,” he says over lunch at the University of Texas Club, inside Royal Memorial Stadium, where he sold souvenirs at age 11, when game tickets were $5. “If you love what you do, it ain’t work.” …