The shower-curtain-used-as-stall-doors motif in the women's restroom is interesting all by itself. Particularly the Mother Goose theme. But the added flair of cigarette burns in the eyes of the ducks is really very special. Of course, imagining each designer's touch as they sit in front of their canvas is a delight unto itself. These doors will become collector's items, with or without the No Smoking ordinance.
Robert Leeper and Joel Mozersky, the boys of Buzz, know how to take a concrete stand - on floors, that is. The jewel-toned triangles they stained into the 100-year-old floors of this new aromatherapy center in the Hyde Park Market Place makes you wonder why sheet vinyl isn't outlawed.
Strung across Lake Austin are four telephone wires, one on top of the other. And dangling from them in a wide array of colors and sizes are dozens of pairs of sneakers. That's right. Whole pairs. Some of 'em not even worn out. Probably even more on the bottom of the lake from failed artistic attempts. Of course, you have to wonder how it got started. Was it part of a ritual, some hurling competition, or a jealous mate's expulsion of the tennis pro's shoes from under the bed? You cannot get there by common transportation. You must either hitch a ride on someone's speedboat or know the owners of the property nearby. You know - you have to know someone.
Hey - plant a tree. Home to hordes of allowance-rich coeds, next door to the University, and home to record stores and bars, Guadalupe between 19th and 26th could be the pedestrian space of the century. But retailers and the city seem to feel the risk that inviting people to the strip in traditional ways, like benches and shade, access, parking, etc., would also increase the population of drag worms. Instead of the Rive Gauche we get, let's see... a sidewalk in the blazing heat. Whatever.
The crosses that used to dot FM 2222 had a chilling effect on any trip to and from Lake Travis, a constant reminder that one of the prettiest local drives was also one of the most deadly. Now that the worst curves have been straightened out, the drive is safer, more efficient, and more enjoyable, and the fun of an outing at the lake is no longer haunted by the specter of the lives the road once claimed.
We'll admit that there are grander vistas in our city limits, but there are few drives with both the view and old Austin beauty of Scenic Drive, which runs along the edge of Lake Austin in Tarrytown. The glimpses over the lake are just part of the charm as the road winds underneath a canopy of trees in between the 1600 and 2500 blocks. The setting and the houses provide a reminder of how Austin must have been before the growth of recent decades. Once you hit lake level north of the 2500 block, the view may be less vast, but it is certainly no less enjoyable. The fact that the road offers a lovely rural, lakeside setting in an urban environment convinces us that it's a drive every Austinite should at some time cruise and enjoy.
While there may be better murals spread around Austin, perhaps none has transformed a building the way Sean French's mural inside Liberty Lunch has changed the live-music venue. Once a rather ramshackle concrete sweatbox, the Lunch has undergone a myriad of structural changes over the past year, and none has changed the atmosphere inside the club as much as French's cool tropical images of island foliage. Cold beer and hot music in paradise.
Admittedly, there are numerous Hill Country drives whose grand scenic charms are breathtaking, but this one is a particular favorite. Stopping at a scenic overlook, one is reminded that many of the best things about Texas are big, and here the view is as grand as the mythic allure of the American west. Taking this drive always provides a fine reminder of just how glorious our region is.
With the strain of urban sprawl already tainting the greater Austin area - where it seems like every major roadway is starting to feel like Burnet Road - and faceless housing subdivisions resemble Anywhere, USA, the compact city philosophy urges us to look inward. Downtown Austin still has many open spaces left from the purge of the last boom, lots that could be sensibly filled with the sort of businesses and structures that have already revived much of the center city: retail spaces, restaurants and clubs, and apartments. We've already got enough skyscrapers to satisfy our edifice complex; let's now forgo the tenuous supermall concepts and rebuild our downtown into a sensible cultural and business center that invites pedestrian usage.Likewise, the region around and east of US183 offers an environmentally sound area for industrial and large-scale retail development, with, hopefully, an economic spillover into disadvantaged East Austin. With the new airport at Bergstrom and the possibility of MoKan looming, designating the corridor an enterprise district is the sort of sensible policy we hope our city leaders might consider. Directing development eastward might help ensure that the next boom benefits all of Austin, and helps bring this sometimes fractured community together.
More often than not we're annoyed at the sight of a concrete car mausoleum rising up in the middle of nowhere like the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, we're not opposed to 'em being sunk underground. We like this idea for the city of Bee Caves in particular, because we wouldn't want to spoil the picturesque beauty of the rolling hills out there by planting a garage right next to the place that needs it the most, the Backyard. This would save patrons the trouble of traversing the Ponderosa, walking the highway, or having to bring their rock climbing gear to get to the venue.
As you cruise south into Austin on the Interstate, and the highway divides between the lower local lanes and the through traffic skydeck, a barrier is created, one that reflects the city's most shameful division - between primarily white West Austin and black and Hispanic East Austin. To compound the crime, it's also an ugly, intrusive, and dangerous stretch of road. If, somehow, we could funnel through traffic off of I-35 - maybe some intelligent variation on the MoKan idea - we might then look at changing the superhighway slicing our city apart into something more civil: a parkway, perhaps, one whose construction invites an east-west cross-feed, a highway that can stitch our city together rather than a wall dividing us, a thoroughfare that reflects the natural beauty of where we live instead of a dirty, dangerous concrete and steel scar.
If, as is likely, the Holly Power Plant closes, the question then becomes: what to do with the site? It's a lovely riverside location adjacent to parkland, convenient to downtown, in an area needing an economic boost. So if riverboat gambling is going to come to our city, why not here? Are we kidding? Maybe, but the notion is no more absurd than a riverboat on some fake lake in the middle of downtown.
Holly Power Plant
There are many lovely vistas of our city center from the hills west of town, but few match the glorious warmth and proximity of the view from the Zilker Clubhouse, especially at night. From the patio, the neon-lit skyscrapers glisten like jewels, seeming so close you can almost reach out to touch them. Town Lake threads through the scene, providing an appropriately reflective foreground. From this vantage point, it's easy to see why we consider our city one of the most beautiful burgs in the nation, if not the universe.
Lemens' tiny building juts out from the much, much larger Clements Building that houses the Attorney General and staff, because owner Vernon Lemens would not yield to development pressure in the Eighties. The contrast between the modest brick structure and the overwrought postmodern monolith behind it perfectly symbolizes what went wrong during the previous real estate boom.
William P. Clements Jr. State Building
300 W. 15th
The old Administration Building at Huston-Tillotson College was completed in 1914 with blocks hand-made by the school's students. The white-stucco structure, a rare surviving example of the modified prairie style popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright, was a source of pride for alumni and the East Austin community until the mid-Fifties when it began to deteriorate. A fiscally lean institution, Huston-Tillotson's commitment to the educational needs of its students has always taken precedence over the $2.5 million investment required to completely renovate the building. In 1984, it was declared structurally sound; the City designated it an Austin historic site in 1992 and it was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. A $25,000 grant from the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau Heritage Marketing Program and the Historic Landmark Commission in May will be used to improve the appearance of the building before its ultimate overall renovation and preservation.
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