Blink, and you might miss this curious plot of Texas history, located just a whisker north of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. This small cemetery, host to dears departed circa mid-19th century, finds itself at the crossroads of progress. The Texas Highway Department respected the peace of her inhabitants when it carved out the current traffic configuration during last century. Three roadways converge at this final resting place, but for the past 50 years or so, the preserved landmark has been holding true in the swale.
It took 30 years, feasibility studies, task forces, two bond elections, no lack of consternation, and a lot of determination, but the Mexican American Cultural Center is now a reality. While two more phases remain to bring the center to completion, there is no lack of activity at the great white origami building on the banks of Lady Bird Lake, the blankness of its snow-white walls calling for great things to happen. And those things will happen, now that a staff is in place and there are plenty of folks around bubbling with ideas. Inaugural program manager Amparo Garcia-Crow now has the weight of not only Austin’s Latino community on her narrow shoulders but of the entire city wondering, "What’s next?" Fortunately, she carries the weight of expectation with lightness.
Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River, 512/974-3772, www.maccaustin.org
Where runways once ran, now run children, thanks to the Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas. And while the original control tower at Mueller Airport may be gone, there is a new one topped with what looks like a nurse's cap of old. The $200 million facility, assisted by a $25 million matching grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, triples the floor space of the Children's Medical Center of Austin and offers a variety of services for the area's children. The medical center will be the first hospital in the world to have Platinum Status under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Some of our favorite places in Austin used to be gas stations: Threadgill's on Lamar and Nuevo Leon on 15th and San Jacinto, to name a couple. So it's only appropriate that our local chapter of the American Institute of Architects has found a new home in a stylishly renovated gas station on 12th Street near Austin Community College. The building, called the Austin Center for Architecture, houses the Austin chapter of AIA, Austin Foundation for Architecture, and the Austin chapter of Architecture for Humanity. Stylish and available for rent, the space has already been used for several lectures open to the public. You should go. We hear it's a gas!
Love them or hate them, ultramodern cubist homes have been bursting forth all over town, especially in South Austin and along Woodrow Avenue. Austin, frequently highlighted in Dwell and other architecture magazines, is a leader in producing these modern masterpieces. However, not all of us are fans of these angular abodes, and haters have pleaded, "Pick on a neighborhood your own size!" Well, now they have. Agave, east of Highway 183 out on Martin Luther King Boulevard, solely features various colorful angular wonders designed by Austin's best and brightest architects. The blocky wonders cling to a hillside that offers Downtown views and neighbors who won't complain that your house doesn't fit in the hood.
For Michael Antenora, a building isn't just a collection of rooms and walls or a controversial and confrontational statement by the architect. It's an expression of community and society. His innovative blending of stone, steel, and glass has given Austin some of its most quietly iconic structures, from the bold overhang of the University Federal Credit Union on Brodie to the modernist frontier-influenced SoCo House on Eva Street. Yet for all his bold new designs, his sensitive restorations have saved grand projects like Penn Field and repurposed crumbling edifices like 3423 Guadalupe, home of the award-winning Zen Japanese restaurant. For 10 years, his commitment to buildings that are publicly and artistically accessible has defined Austin.
Michael Antenora, Antenora Architects, 200 E. Live Oak, www.antenoraarchitects.com
Larry Warshaw, 38, was policy director under Mayor Kirk Watson; he believes his projects should reflect community values and support sustainable growth. As a partner in Constructive Ventures, Warshaw's résumé includes Saltillo Lofts, Pedernales Lofts, and Spring Condominiums. From profits on Barton Place, he and his partners raised the bar by offering the city $1 million for affordable housing. Warshaw is a next-generation progressive developer to watch, and if he keeps it up, Austin may have to relinquish its old 1980s Gary Bradley evil-developer stereotype.
Larry Warshaw, 786-6356
“Abandon all hope all ye who enter here.” OK, so maybe the entrance to West Fifth's Prague is not as ominous as the gates of hell, but it's still pretty damn cool in a fire and brimstone kind of way. With the frame – a wrought-iron crosshatch resembling some Dantean lynch gate – leading to an underground stairwell, two medieval gargoyles playing sentry overhead, and some decrepit bronze Roman columns, crossing this threshold might make you think twice. But take it from us: It's a fine place to shake off your Sunday blues. Just don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way … in.
Prague, 422 Congress, Ste. B, 512/477-2483
Damian and Trina Mandola's Italian Market restaurant, on the west (Lamar) side of the Triangle, was an instant hit from its opening moments. The delectable pastries (cannolis to die for, napoleons to kill for), zingily fresh paninis, and fresh deli food of all kinds draw a daily crowd. A less obvious attraction is the Wall of Fame in the inner dining room – a homemade, thoughtful collection of framed photos of Italian grocers and their groceries from the East Coast to Texas, heavy on Louisiana and Houston – home of the first Mandola's as well as the famous Carrabba's family restaurants. Come in, order lunch, and sit beneath the Wall of Fame: Everything tastes better under the light of all this loving, personal history.
This huge, nutty structural masterpiece was built in the 1890s and was originally a boarding house located at the northwest corner of Guadalupe and 32nd before being moved west several blocks sometime in the late Sixties or early Seventies. A kitchen and central air were added, and the wraparound porch was removed. This created the infamous second-floor "door to nowhere" – which is now locked so that there will be no repeat Falling Out the Door to Nowhere Two Stories Down to the Lawn performances as there were at one time. Supposedly Janis Joplin lived in the house during some part of her time in Austin, the ashes of the original governess are spread in the yard at the current location, and there's been at least one claim of seeing a baby ghost in the third-floor tower room. Various additions and changes to the house have filled with unique touches, including secret closets and passages. It would be the perfect setting for a modern-day Hardy Boys' adventure.
Pink Palace, 702 W. 32nd
Ask anyone what they love about Austin, and they're sure to rattle off odes to our parks and wide-open spaces. For that, we thank this landscape-design team. The brains behind the beauty of the new Town Lake Park, Dell Children's Medical Center, both the Capitol and Laguna Gloria's historic restorations, and Hyatt Regency Lost Pines (two words: lazy river), these folks take the responsibility of stewardship seriously, volunteering time to city cleanup and conservation. Keeping Austin Weird is our job; keeping Austin's landscape gorgeous, green, lush, and at the forefront of intelligent design? That's proudly theirs.
The change in direction of the swinging brass ball hanging from a steel cable is almost indiscernible. Called a Foucault (pronounced “foo-KOH”) pendulum after its designer, French physicist Léon Foucault, the device was conceived in 1851 to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth. This pendulum, about the size of a child’s balloon, hanging in the center of a circular staircase in a University of Texas office building since 1983, is the first Foucault pendulum successfully installed in Texas. The swinging ball progresses clockwise 180 degrees every 24 hours. As the pendulum moves back and forth, it actually swings on the same plane while the Earth rotates underneath it.
UT Development Office Building, 2901 N. I-35, 512/475-9677
Until recently, the only historical figures commemorated in bronze at the University of Texas were white dudes – and mostly Confederate white dudes, at that. But these days, with Martin Luther King Jr. ensconced in the East Mall, a statue of Barbara Jordan slated for unveiling in 2009, and the brand-new statue of workers' rights hero Cesar E. Chavez standing proudly in the West Mall, UT's campus is starting to catch up with its own diverse history and to reflect a heritage more akin to that of its population – and more akin to the kind of distinguished legacy to which students may aspire.
Fai Jow, the owner of Ming's Cafe, lovingly and carefully crafted this beautiful patio garden by hand. Through visits to five nurseries and following the advice of botanists and the principles of feng shui, he created a space that transports visitors far beyond this campus-area Guadalupe address. Being here makes patrons feel joyful and relaxed. Even if you don't know that you are surrounded by rare trees and plants such as the weeping blue spruce, the Ming asparagus, and the Japanese red maple tree – and have no clue that the planters contain 30-year-old bonsai trees – you know the atmosphere is special inside these Japanese inlaid wood gates. Be sure to tap the giant wind chime that has been tuned so as not to offend the ears of the Austin music community, who all show up here some time or other.
For the burgeoning anti-cell-phone crowd, nothing warms the cockles more than a functional pay phone – the best way to rage against the cellular machine. And if that rare, working pay phone is in a really cool phone booth (that hasn't yet been converted into an automated teller machine), all the better. That said, the most elegant exists in golden glory on the grounds of Texas State University (go, Bobcats!). Texas State, with its majestic Old Main (the original administration building) and circular stunner, the Texas State Theatre Center (surrounded by a moat), already earns props for their commitment to delightful public space. These post-mod pay phones are but icing on the cake: Bright-yellow eggs with maroon accents encase two working phones. The design is straight out of a futurist's dream (albeit, a futurist from the Disney Seventies). And the San Marcos phone company that originally installed them, CenturyTel is committed to maintaining them "for student and public safety," according to general manager John Navarette.
Before Austin's obsessive infill era, before infill meant fill in every last damn nook and cranny to turn a buck, one of her proudest moments was to finally move the city's airport from the old Mueller site with not only the intention of redeveloping that into something sweet and residential but to move the air facility onto a site that itself would be recycled and reused. Many new-to-townies don't know that Bergstrom was our old Air Force base. And many probably don't know that the closest hotel, the handsomely circular Hilton, was not built new along with the terminal but originally part of the U.S. Air Force's Strategic Air Command. Personally, we like to hit the bar in the center of the doughnut; order up a coupla double margs, rocks, no salt; and forget about all that. We prefer to focus on our guest flying in to visit – and have those drinks along with a room key awaiting her arrival.
Twelve seconds after 7:30am on Feb. 25, car alarms, prompted by the nearby quake, sang in unison and signaled the end of the Intel shell. Twelve seconds was all it took – well, that and about 700 pounds of dynamite – to tear apart this naked structure, this long-neglected but never-forgotten relic of Austin’s tech boom. Once the car alarms stopped, the dust settled, and the birds of Republic Square Park timidly returned to their nests. All that remained were the ruins of those concrete caves. There were no galloping hooves and no hurried footsteps: The king’s horses and men, who typically assemble to address such destruction, were happy to sit this one out.
Intel Rubble, Fifth and San Antonio
For decades now, architect Sinclair Black has been our critic, gadfly, and conscience, demanding better urban design from the city of Austin and developers. In his younger years, Black was seen as irritatingly abrasive, if visionary. Now that he's acquired the patina of age, Black, 67, is credited with wisdom and even greatness. As well he should be. Austin owes Black a deep bow of thanks for its Great Streets program, his advocacy for good civic design, and his current work on environmental issues like Greenprinting. As a UT professor and design firm principal, Black also has inspired a younger generation.
The University of Texas cock-blocked horny crickets this summer when, for two weekends in July and August, it shut off the lights of the UT tower. Apparently, because of its brightness, it’s like a phallic beacon for bugs wanting to get nasty. Why now, you ask? Well, this summer’s wet weather drew them here, and once they were all together, they couldn’t keep their creepy, crawly, crickety hands off one another. Thus, the insects were compelled to migrate their sex parties elsewhere, perhaps to the moonlight towers, various street lamps, or Midtown Spa.