When the foot bridge over Town Lake officially opened on June 16, joggers, bicyclists, hikers, and drivers breathed a collective sigh of relief as non-combustion traffic was routed away from the narrow sidewalks of the old Lamar bridge - thankful that pedestrians and bicyclists no longer have to risk their lives crossing Town Lake alongside SUVs and their attendant cell phones, and impressed that we got a new bridge with its own personality, not just a sidewalk strapped to the old one. Named for an architect who helped design the Town Lake hike-and-bike trail, the Pfluger pedestrian bridge took several years and too many fatal accidents for the city to approve construction, but once they committed to the $8 million project it took contractors three months to get it up and open, heralding a new era of transportation planning for Austin.
Since Computer Sciences Corporation "displaced" Liberty Lunch to locate its city-subsidized corporate headquarters downtown, high-end condos and apartments have sprung up from Town Lake to Red River like weeds in fertile soil. Now CSC's third building - for which the Lunch made the ultimate sacrifice - looks like it ain't going to happen. But upscale apartments, sadly, continue to sprout apace. One such complex, being built on Town Lake by Lumbermen's Investment Corp., promises to displace the Cedar Door, Austin's most mobile institution. Our solution? Move the Door to the all-but-abandoned CSC block, so laid-off techies have a convenient place to throw their pink-slip parties.
Being that this new addition to the Red River strip is named after a Rat Pack caper film and that it's owned by Austin's most steadfast Rat Pack torchbearer, Mr. Fabulous (aka Dino Lee), Ocean's 11 is a shrine to Dean and Frank and Sammy (and Peter and Joey and Henry, and let's not forget Angie too) -- but the overriding theme of the bar is exotica. All bamboo wall covering and leopard prints and tiki lights and velvet paintings (and the froo-froo Polynesian drinks with paper umbrellas to match), Mr. Fabulous is paying homage to the likes of Les Baxter, Martin Denny, and Yma Sumac, too.
Our anticipation mounted as the construction site on MLK & Congress evolved from a tower of scaffolding to a grandiose temple fit for our state's grandiose history. But then one day we drove by and nearly ran off the road. What the ??! This huge brown Lone Star plopped in front of the building, looking as if it fell from some dung-colored galaxy. Yeah, everything's bigger in Texas, but we're filing this 35-foot bronze monument under Texan Things that Prove Bigger Ain't Necessarily Better, along with tree roaches and Dallas mall hair.
Aside from the vaguely Road-Warriorish taco stand compound on the east side of the highway and the Caldwell County Courthouse in Lockhart, the journey from Austin to Luling (home of the annual Watermelon Thump) has little to recommend it architecturally. But the rolling Blackland prairie is a sight to see, and the San Francisco Catholic Church is the perfect gateway to that reverie. Located just a tad past the airport on Hwy. 183 and set on a small rise framed by an expanse of grassland, the small and lovely house of worship seems tailor-made for the gathering of the flock: The 1941 Mission Revival building, with its fieldstone facade, rock grotto, and tidy topping bell, is the perfect place for pastoral inspiration. Jam-packed jamaicas and an overflowing Sunday lot attest to a still-vibrant congregation, despite the transition of the little mission's locale from rural enclave to a site seemingly more appropriate for a rest stop. Personally, we prefer to experience it from the highway, with the prairie unfolding behind it, reminding us that we're headed for South Texas.
San Francisco Catholic Church
9110 Hwy. 183 S.
That's the sign that gleams red in the night, "City of Austin Power Plant." You may be surprised to know that this particular power plant hasn't even been operational for more than 10 years. Future plans may change the building into an aquarium, but we hope the sign stays the same. It might not make too much sense, but the fish won't mind.
The out-of-place pine tree growing on the corner of 29th & Jefferson illustrates the home built around it perfectly - both stand out from the rest of the neighborhood. "I don't know if my house stands alone or all the other houses stand together," says Beth Thom, who painted the bright pink, orange, and yellow colors over the stucco. Some sections are dotted with designs copied from the Mission de San José in San Antonio, one of a number of designs added to the house since the Thom family bought it in 1994. The interior of the house is just as unique and Thom says it keeps her busy while the kids are at school. "Just wait until Christmas season," she says with a wink.
Since the airport moved down south, the city of Austin has been given a unique opportunity. A second chance to develop land in Central Austin into something everybody might enjoy. Hyde Park lies just across the highway from the neighborhood this tract of land affects and provides a nice template for the city to work with: Businesses within walking distance of residential areas that don't overwhelm the residents, parks interspersed with asphalt to give inhabitants a break from the city. It's like a rosy dream from the storybooks, and perhaps the city of Austin can find the right fairy godmother to make it all happen.
It wasn't just flamenco dancer Jose Greco who made us leap out of our seats at intermission at One World Theatre; we wanted to see the view. Peering out over the hills from the balcony, we don't even discuss the meaning of whatever we've just seen inside the theatre with our date, our spouse, our whomever. We just stare. Then again, we often find that the view inspires us in an entirely unprecedented, lovely way.
For the Village Cinema, the end was looking sad indeed. The once-vital North Austin arthouse had been relegated to third-run obscurity when Regal Cinemas finally announced its closing. Those who cared were mostly too tired to fight, resigned to another Starbucks, another monster multiplex courtesy of the Stepford Wives. Yawn, stretch, another beloved Austin location goes down. But wait: The show wasn't over yet. In a last-minute save worthy of the silver screen, Tim and Karrie League bought the Village in order to open a second location for their venerated Alamo Drafthouse. A few months later, it's all dolled-up with new seats, new sounds, and new smells. Not so much arthouse as cinema funhouse, the Alamo North is programmed with first-run movies and still subscribes to that comfy, suds & grubs ethos of the original Alamo. Now, if the Village had to go and shut down, we couldn't have written a better ending.
Alamo Drafthouse Village, 2700 W. Anderson #701, 512/861-7030
Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, 1120 S. Lamar, 512/861-7040
Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz, 320 E. Sixth, 512/861-7020
Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane, 5701 W. Slaughter, 512/861-7060
Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline, 14028 Hwy. 183 N., 512/861-7070
As monuments to hubris go, Austin has its share. Take the Bob Bullock State Amusement Park - er, History Museum - at the Capitol complex, or the towering McMansions that clutter the hillsides from Mount Bonnell to West Lake Hills. But for real evidence that the mighty have the farthest to fall, look no farther than the abandoned Intel building downtown, where a concrete skeleton has replaced city leaders' vision of a dynamic, tech-driven "digital downtown."
No doubt meant to inspire big ideas within the ranks of the downtown ad agency McGarrah Jessee, or humble said employees by making them channel Lily Tomlin in The Incredible Shrinking Woman, this stool stands about 10 feet high, and passersby can behold its splendor from the corner of Third & Brazos. Oh, we should clarify that this is the seating kind of stool, not that other kind.
121 W. Sixth
Perched atop the roof, 21 stories high, the Omni's hot tub gives patrons a gorgeous eastward view of the city and a spectacular place to watch the sun rise. It's an exclusive view, that comes with about a $100 price tag - only hotel guests have access to the pool area. Next time you're considering spending a romantic in-town weekend, remember the Omni, and watch the day awake with your honey soaking by your side. Ahhhhhh.
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