A good gargoyle is hard to find in Austin, but the Norwood Building at 114 W. Seventh St. has some pretty cool ones. The Central Christian Church at 12th & Guadalupe has some of the strangest adornments of any building in Austin. What are they and what do they mean?
Central Christian Church
Capital to the left of me, SOCO to the right, here I am, stuck in a hotel bar with you. Once upon a time this was a 1930's motor inn, but now is an upscale minimalist paradise. It's the only bar in town we know of with such expertly trimmed hedges and neatly raked paths. Drinks are a bit expensive, but remember the high price is for the atmosphere not just the beverage. Bar open to non-guests from 5-10:30pm.
It's a bunker. No, it's a fortress. No, it's a cleverly stacked pile of bricks. What is it? No one seems to know but it's been in-progress (or not) for well over a decade now. The prominent no trespassing signs indicate we might never know what architectural curiousity lurks on the premises. But it sure is fun to speculate.
Her golden aura glows against a dark industrial factory scape. This vibrant painting by local artist Aiyana McGowan is the first thing you see when you enter: Our Lady, dark-skinned and dark-eyed in doo rag and overalls -- mop in one hand and bucket in the other -- oversees all coffee imbibification and food consumption as she hovers over a tool-wielding cherub in a red cup. She's a cross between Rosie the Riveter and the Virgin of Guadalupe, indeed, an auspicious apparition, a dreamy tattoo heroine on the great bicep of this Eastside locale, heralding the best weekend breakfast Cherrywood has to offer.
We could wax on about so many facets of the design of this grand new addition to the UT campus. But for our purposes here, we'd like to focus on one element that keeps our necks craned and our gaze heavenward. The building's soffit -- the underpinning of awning that can be seen from underneath -- is a gorgeous tile-patterned explosion of red, turquoise, and orange that can be seen from blocks away. If you can, try to catch a glimpse as the sun sets toward the Drag end of Dean Keeton; the sight is positively electric.
Sarah M. & Charles E. Seay Building
Speedway & Dean Keeton
Nestled on a wooded hillside off South First Street, Mercury Hall hosts weddings, parties, bar mitzvahs ... you name it. The 1,700-square-foot, turn-of-the-century hall was moved to its present location from its original home in Mercury, Texas, some 120 miles away. The stained glass and rugged interior recall Texas' past, while its ample kitchen and wheelchair accessibility keep it up to date. Going to the Mercury is kinda like going to Grandma's house ... only she doesn't care if the band gets too loud.
Steadfastly eyeing the traffic from high above 250 intersections across Austin, little cameras send signals to television monitors located at a new, multi-million-dollar traffic center. Operators stand by to adjust the timing of the signals or to send repair service, depending upon the information received. The center opened last October, and traffic flow has improved in some areas. It is now possible to catch as many as four green lights in downtown on Congress Avenue -- one area with a heavy concentration of cameras.
Seems you can't drive past an auto-repair shop without your eyes being assaulted by the usual silly sculpture sprung from the impulse: "Hey, let's stick a few extra pipes on a muffler and stand it up so it looks kinda human! Hyuk!" But the impulse of AAA Muffler's Wayne Barbee led to the full-blown, full-color statue of a superhero-costumed angel (called "Austin, Texas") holding a muffler over its concrete head. Designed by Barbee, built by his friend Larry Kemp, this mechanic's icon greets all who enter or leave the city by U.S. 290.
7234 E. U.S. 290
Though their attempt to splice strip-club atmosphere with a barber shop is ultimately disappointing on both counts, the neon, leg-shaped shears adorning Sexy Scissors' storefronts, specifically the one in North Austin, most definitely add spicy lasciviousness to the otherwise missionary commingling of North Lamar, Anderson, and Research. Commuting castration fetishists are best advised to keep both hands on the wheel when driving by.
Oh, she is one handsome beast. She greets us every day on our drive to work. And every day, before work, we swoon. She is the lovely worker woman carrying the roll of pink insulation on the city of Austin billboards that proclaim Austin's status as the city with the "Best Energy Efficiency Program." And now we proclaim them the city with the "Best 'Best Energy Efficiency Program' Billboard."
We can't say what this thing's going to look like when it's completed in 2003, and we can't say whether we'll even be around to see it, but we can ask: Is anybody else creeped out by the resemblance of this building's pointy glass top piece to that eerie throbbing crystal in that classic Seventies sci-fi flick Logan's Run? You know, the fiery "Carrousel" for Body Retirement and Life Renewal? The one that all citizens were supposed to report to when the life clock in their palm blinked, indicating that their time was up? Is it just us or ... is it some sort of twisted metaphor for the direction our downtown is taking? Renew! Renew! Renew!
Congress at Fourth
The University of Texas Tower Observation Deck has one of the best vantage points for viewing the entire city. The summer sunset tours can even rival Austin romance landmark Mt. Bonnell. But that's not all that lures people to the tower. People are curious about the tower's notoriety as the site of our town's most heinous day – August 1, 1966 – when many people lost their lives, including the gunman responsible, Charles Whitman. When a slight breeze on the Tower brings goose bumps to your arms, you can't help but wonder if it was just the wind or something else entirely. Rest assured that the friendly Tower Tour staff is there to answer your questions and alleviate your fears.
The loss felt by all of South Congress upon the closing of Donna and Harry Defoy's beloved Twin Oaks Hardware store has almost been matched by the speculation of the future of the vacated spot. As any First Thursday turnout can attest, South Congress is a happening place with lots of foot traffic and lots of funk. And the neighbors have definite opinions too; the next occupant better not be too snooty. It'll be impossible to match the Defoys in hospitality, but a grocer or newstand or ice creamery have been floated. It's a hot spot with hot prospects.
Twin Oaks Hardware
1902 S. Congress
Situated perfectly about 500 feet from the bulk of Tom Miller Dam, this first bridge on Town Lake can at first appear to be as bland as all the rest. But when the sparse rains roll through Central Texas, the flood gates open and the docile fisherman’s pond below the dam returns to its raging Colorado river roots. The view is even better at night due to orange and purple flood lights (no pun intended) along the eastern bank, creating a surreal scene of shadows, spray, and surf amid raging flood waters.
Emmett Shelton Bridge
Red Bud Isle Park: Red Bud Trail & Town Lake
Just stepping onto the property of this South Austin B&B is an invitation to ease life's tensions. Take a hint from the sprawling live oaks that greet visitors onto the lazy lawn: You don't need to be anywhere but here right now, so why not relax? Gracious hosts Renee and Kevin Buck purchased the majestic mansion back in 1995, renovated it with an exquisite eye for honoring, yet not obsessing over, the past, and have been running it as one of Austin's finest B&Bs ever since. The elegant rooms are furnished to a T? expressing aesthetics classic and modern, simple and lavish, with one common thread: comfort and oooh! aaaahhh! relaxation for all.
Q: What do you get when you cement together stones, marbles, sea glass, champagne bottles, a sculpture of the Virgin Mary, colorful ceramic figurines, a cognac bottle, plastic toys, a snow globe, shells, and chunks of coral? A: The most beautiful wall in Austin. Surrounding a garden we just wish we could call our own, the wall behind 4200 Avenue F is breathtaking. It tells a hundred stories, and most of them seem to involve champagne. Cheers!
If you don't know what goes into Dillo Dirt, you're better off not finding out until after visiting Austin's 700-acre bird-watching Mecca. The smell is likely to give it away anyhow ? but Hornsby Bend, the site of the dirt in question, offers a great year-round opportunity for viewing a remarkable variety of our fine-feathered friends. Monthly surveys regularly turn up at least 50 species, including shorebirds, waterfowl, raptors, woodpeckers and more. Don't forget your binoculars.
One of our favorite parts of crossing state lines is stopping at the tourist center to load up on free travel literature. Austinites can approximate this thrill with a visit to the Texas Travel Information Center on the Capitol grounds. Located in the old General Land Office building, the center is staffed with friendly travel counselors who can tell you about points of interest, special events, and road conditions throughout the state. Best of all, you can pick up a free map and a copy of the best-looking, most comprehensive state travel guide in the whole darn country.
Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin. Support the Chronicle