The Austin Chronicle


October 15, 1999, Columns

Dumb Growth?


I am a Smart Growth proponent, but I do not support the construction of Gotham condominiums at Town Lake and Congress Avenue. Gotham provides a small number of residential units for the wealthy, with potentially disastrous consequences for the surrounding public park space. Setting a precedent for the construction of tall buildings close to the shores of the lake would, over time, lead to an obstruction of the view of the lake and from the lake. Sunshine would eventually be blocked, and citizens trying to enjoy their public space would have to walk or run in the shadows of the tall buildings surrounding them -- creating a "concrete canyon" effect. The public would have increasingly fewer points of access to the shores of the lake, and the enjoyment of sunshine and views of the lake would become the province of the privileged living in their looming towers.

Furthermore, as a cookie-cutter replica of a Houston condominium building, Gotham makes no contribution to Austin's uniqueness. As our city grows, we should encourage architectural designs that are appropriate to their immediate surroundings and that contribute to making Austin a beautiful and desirable place to live -- for everyone. That's smart growth.

Karen Hoffman

Mr. Davis and Dr. Speck


At the public hearing recently, Randall Davis, the developer of the Gotham Condominium project at 200 South Congress, responded to criticism of the design of the building by having the Dean of the University of Texas School of Architecture, Lawrence Speck, review the project. However, what Mr. Davis failed to mention, I believe, was that Dr. Speck is a new partner in the firm of Page Southerland Page, the architects of the Gotham Condominium. One cannot help but wonder if Dr. Speck would have approved this project if the Gotham had been designed by another architecture firm with whom he had no direct business relationship.

Kaye Trybus

Zilker Neighborhood Association

Houston Gotham's an Eyesore


Prospective buyers of The Gotham Condominiums on Town Lake beware! I stopped and looked at Randall Davis' Gotham project in Houston last weekend and was shocked at the materials used on the exterior. The exterior was clad in bright red brick, painted cinder block, fiberglass resin made to look like stone, and huge modern black glass windows with black aluminum frames. There was no stone, painted wood, or even finished concrete anywhere on the exterior of the building.

The cover photo on The Austin Chronicle [Oct. 1] of the proposed building for Austin is deceptive if similar materials are used. Everything that is gray and looks like stone or stucco on the drawing, including the columns and the cornice, are fiberglass resin in the Houston building. This thin material can be easily gouged, chipped and scratched. It becomes more brittle with age I am told. The Houston Gotham already had holes in this material.

The overall impression I had of this building in Houston was that of a garish, cheap-looking Hollywood movie facade, not a classic permanent building. I suggest real stone and concrete are better-looking and more durable materials than the fiberglass resin used in Houston. Muted colors for glass and brick would also create a more timeless, classic, and durable appearance.

I am very much in support of this building being built; however, I was very disappointed with the material used in the Houston building. I believe that the materials I have mentioned will create a true landmark for Austin. I advise all prospective buyers and the city staff to go to Houston and see for themselves.


Jeffery S. Fischer

Living in Generica

Dear Louis,

While Randall Davis' developments are welcome in Houston, it is for that reason alone that we as a city should fight against the Gotham development. This is not Houston and God forbid that it ever comes close. The Hwy. 183 strip malls and generic restaurant stretch is bad enough. Downtown living has been strongly promoted for the past few years. City leaders and residents may support downtown living, which fueled Mr. Davis to get involved after attending last year's Smart Growth seminar, [but] I doubt anyone was thinking this project would end up on the banks of Town Lake. And this is supposed to be what he considers a "quality product" in downtown housing.

The city of Austin has fought hard to maintain a park environment within the downtown area, and Town Lake is for Austin and all of its peoples to enjoy. Monstrosities that obstruct the very beauty of the lake and its trails have never been welcomed. It's people like Mr. Davis, who have not grown up in Austin and do not recognize the importance of maintaining certain landmarks from development, that are slowly killing the very essence of what makes Austin so unique. I can't help but be curious about the 56 "Austinites" who bought into the condo development; they can't possibly have lived here for very long at all, for no true Austinite would sit back and enjoy it. If the city approves the Gotham development on Town Lake, it will only open a Pandora's box for other horrendous developments to follow, and I will further question who is really making the key decisions that affect this city -- City Council or developers with dollar signs in their eyes. We are closer to living in Generica than I thought possible. It is more than a shame.


Bethany Meister

Classical Argument

Dear Editor:

Re: The proposed condominium building for 200 S. Congress, "The Gotham":

I will let others fight the height-restriction, zoning-violation, Town Lake Corridor, spirit-of-the-law battles. But someone should address the irresponsibility of the developer, Randall Davis, and his design team in putting forth a building design that is just plain wrong, all politics aside.

Mr. Davis' designers attempted to use the architecture of ancient Greece as a referent, a design language, if you will. Given this, I must point out the rule -- nay, law -- they broke that is tantamount to high treason: There is never, ever a center column under a pediment.

All classical ordering systems, whether in words, sounds or shapes, are identifiable by the framework of the tripartite -- a fundamental A-B-A rhythm, evolved as an analog of harmony and a primordial understanding of shelter. The pediment on a set of columns with a central portal is one of the purest diagrams of shelter, ringing true across all cultures. Mr. Davis' designers betrayed this fundamental, universal understanding we all have by structuring their facade with a column set dead in the middle.

Apparently, the meaning of the pediment was more important than its application, as was the meaning assigned to the columns, and to the (now removed) statuary. While pasting together the individual elements, they ignored the relationship of each to the other, and the meaning of the overall, a Greek concept of the tenemos, a balanced world within the world. In our modern culture of signs and images, the nature of the thing itself is often lost, a condition sometimes referred to as citationism. When the meaning is only symbolic, then the medium for the message becomes inconsequential, and the object itself (the building) will drift and lose integrity.

At the heart of the classical canon is the idea that harmony and proportion are embedded in one another, and grow outward from the singular element to the tenemos of the society. If you are going to speak a language, and make that language an intrinsic part of your message, then care must be taken to get the most fundamental aspects of the language right. And providing shelter, Mr. Davis, is as fundamental as you can get.

I credit my classical references, and refer Mr. Davis, his design team, and any others who have the interest, to: Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre, Classical Architecture: The Poetics of Order (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986)

Samantha Randall


Austin Transit Priority

Dear Editor,

Capital Metro is holding a public hearing on Monday, October 18, to gather public input on public transportation options. The hearing's at 6pm, at 2910 E. Fifth.

Four options will be considered: light rail, bus rapid transit, commuter rail, and adding high-occupancy vehicle lanes to highways.

"Bus rapid transit" is a new addition to the menu. Its inclusion is due to a study that reported that the Congress Avenue Bridge is too weak to carry light rail. According to the Austin American-Statesman, this rules out rail projects that cross the river. Hence we'll be offered "bus rapid transit" in South Austin.

According to Karen Rae at the last big public meeting, adding high-occupancy vehicle lanes to highways will cost about $20 million per mile. The estimated cost of a railway bridge across the river is $90 million, or about the cost of five miles of high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

There are two ways to equip highways with HOV lanes. One is to convert an existing lane to a high-occupancy vehicle lane. The other way (the one that costs $20 million per mile) is to add extra car lanes to the highway. This second way is the only way that Capital Metro is considering. I asked Rae why only the expensive option is being considered. She said it is always a mistake to close or restrict access to car lanes. Of late, much evidence to the contrary has been published in transportation journals, and Rae must be aware of this.

Pedestrian and bicycle projects do not appear on the menu as featured in newspaper ads. At the last meeting, there was a lot of support for these projects.

Please attend the meeting if you can. We all need to see for ourselves what our transit agency is up to.

Yours truly,

Amy Babich

Conflict of Interest

Dear Mr. Black:

I'm writing to express my concern that you are allowing reviews of productions by theatre companies to be written by someone who is, himself, the artistic director of a theatre company. I'm referring to Robi Polgar, the artistic director of the Public Domain Theatre. Human nature being what it is, and all yours and his protests to the contrary, I don't see how Mr. Polgar can help but have a vested interest in the survival of his own theatre company. And, again, human nature being what it is, it's unlikely that Mr. Polgar doesn't in some way view other theatre companies as his -- you guessed it -- competition. If you were expecting us to think that this would not influence his opinions of other theatres' productions, then maybe you have some swampland in Florida you'd like to try selling us.

I think your readers would be better served by a reviewer who does not have his own theatre company. At the very least, I think that we're entitled to a tagline at the end of his reviews that would inform us of his unique position. Thank you.


John Allen

Bad Move


My wife and I moved to Austin about six months ago from Tulsa, Oklahoma. I have two comments.

First, to get the record straight: If I had known that Austin had become the overcongested, overpriced, yuppified, poorly planned metroplex that it is, I would never have taken the transfer here. But I know. I've made my bed. Now I have to lie in it (for a year or two at least).

Secondly, I know I'm not the only one. Every week I read in the Chronicle an article or a letter about Austin getting too big for its britches and the half-baked policies that follow. Of the people I ask, and they say they really love Austin, most have the money and/or they moved here from bigger cities. But I take side with the locals/long-time residents I've talked to who feel they had a pretty nice little city up until a few years ago.

I guess what I'd like to say is this: If you want to control Austin's growth, tell people to quit coming here!!!

There are plenty of decent smaller cities in the region which could use even a third of the growth Austin has had. Wichita, Bartlesville, Norman, Lubbock, San Marcos, Corpus Christi, Waco, Shreveport, Little Rock, Ft. Smith, Joplin, just to name a few.

Lance New

Left-Wing Fiction

Dear Editor:

I just finished reading the Phil Ochs article ["Letters at 3AM," Aug. 15, 1997, html] and have to say, without doubt, that this was the biggest left-wing bias hatchet job that I have read in a long, long time. Indeed, it would difficult to categorize this piece as journalism, much less creative, responsible journalism. I will call it what it is -- stereotypical, knee-jerk, hippie-wannabe (counterculture) proselytism -- pure Austin!

Come on! We are not talking style or creativity here, we are talking the same-old leftist propaganda. To wit, the sloppy Anglo-phobic racial slander, which is purposefully predominant in this "writing," has little or nothing to do with the life and works of Phil Ochs. I know, I was there. How did your publication justify inclusion of irresponsible, absurd and fictitious assertions like "blacks were lynched by whites at a rate of one every three days" (his emphasis) in the article? Has the Chronicle no editorial pen? No testicular fortitude? Salience? (Note: I challenge Michael Ventura or The Austin Chronicle to provide any credible evidence to the validity or need of this statement).

Whereas the piece could (and should) have provided interesting and useful information about Phil Ochs, the anti-war poet/musician/activist (and arguably a very sick man), it merely coalesced into the tired editorial comment of an obviously demented Sixties generation relic. Put away the hash pipe folks!!!

Far out, man, far out,

Russell G. Osborn, PhD

Troy, Texas

Taxation for Education


I would like to call the attention of Chronicle readers to the upcoming Nov. 2 election, in which voters will decide whether to raise the maximum tax authorization for Austin Community College by five cents per $100. I believe that the reasons for doing this are well-aligned with the Chronicle's (and the community's) values, but of course that is for you and the voters to decide.

If provided, the additional resources will permit the college to (1) greatly increase its scholarships to disadvantaged students, (2) expand programs preparing local residents for good, useful jobs (especially in health care and computer-related fields), and (3) continue the college's progress toward providing fair pay for its employees (ACC was the first local government agency to meet Austin's "living wage" goals).

Even when the tax increase is fully used (it would be phased in over the next five years at 0/2/1/1/1 cents per $100), it would leave the ACC tax rate well below the average for other Texas community college districts.

The primary beneficiaries of ACC's activities are local residents who are getting the education they need to attain full control of their lives. Every success in this effort both decreases the city's support costs and means that one less new resident is needed to fill a local job.

We have posted information about this topic (and the 17 proposed state constitutional amendments) on our campaign Web site ( Check it out for the details.

One parting note: ACC board policies explicitly provide that "College facilities-development activities shall be conducted so as to respect other community priorities, including environmental protection and respect for the City of Austin's desired development zone." We won an award for this from the Save Barton Creek Association last year. But it has also led Gary Bradley to organize Circle C to punish ACC in this election for refusing to build a campus there -- so we are hoping for help from the rest of the community.

Hunter Ellinger

Danger on Lake Travis


As Lake Travis continues to grow, so does the watercraft on the lake. Despite increased enforcement efforts, the Lower Colorado River Authority is getting a number of complaints, primarily concerning noise and speed often associated with personal watercraft and high-performance boats. It seems a majority of people follow the rules and a significant number do not, according to LCRA Rangers who patrol the lake. The LCRA prepared the Lake Travis Recreation Management Plan in 1994 and 1996 following surveys and public meetings. From 1987 through 1992, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) ranked Lake Travis number one in the state for boating accidents with 51 reported. During that same time TPWD reported 24 water-related fatalities on Lake Travis. According to the LCRA there were eight reported accidents last year. This year there has been 26 reported accidents. This is not a boating issue, this is a public safety issue.


Jimmy Castro

Former Water Safety Instructor Trainer

American Red Cross

Nuclear Reaction


This week President Clinton called off voting on the nuclear test-ban treaty, citing this reason: The GOP had the votes to kill it.

The GOP responded by saying they would stop the vote if President Clinton promised to never bring it up for consideration for the rest of his presidential term, hoping George W. Bush's $100 million war chest will win the White House in 2000 and the subject will be buried.

Are we going to vote for the party (GOP) that obviously wants to arm the world with nuclear weapons?

Richard Harvey

School's Out for Rebels


Re: "Rebel Yell" ["Postmarks," Oct. 8]:

An individual has the right to fly the Confederate flag. An individual has the right to fly the Nazi flag.

Would we tolerate a public institution, such as a high school, flying a Nazi flag? Of course not. The Nazi flag is offensive to millions of Americans. The Confederate flag is offensive to millions of Americans. What's the difference? That's reason enough for me.

Gerald Thomason

Bergstrom Bus Woes


On trips to the new airport, I have been frustrated by the location for the CapMetro bus stop. Hidden a level away from ground transportation, exposed to weather, Route 100 (downtown/campus express service) is virtually unknown. The 20- to 25-minute ride (for 50 cents) would benefit groups such as conventioneers, tourists, downtown workers, and students alike. But most don't know it's there. Numerous requests to CapMetro to make the stop easier to find have been ignored. I don't understand why. Because the new airport is farther from town than the old, good bus service is a necessity.

Without a clue as to how to attract riders, CapMetro is moving on to other issues, such as building light rail. Given that we are now a major city (Money magazine), and that airport buses are a basic city service, the bus stop needs to be easy for travelers to spot.

Gerald Balaka

Walter's Bench


Kind thanks, Austin Chronicle, for remembering the gentle, sweet songman Walter Hyatt by awarding Walter's Bench on Town Lake a place in your "Best of --" edition.

Greed/ValuJet/SaberTech killed Walter, and his body was never recovered. There is no grave where Walter's family, friends, and fans can take flowers and pay tribute to him. So Walter's friends raised the money for a memorial bench on the banks of the Colorado River; we set a stone inscribed with a verse from one of his songs and planted a little garden of wandering presbyterian and crepe myrtle. This bench under a green tree in a place where Walter was known to walk and sneak a catnap now and again is the perfect place to sit and reflect. "It's so long we've been apart, but when I remember your life I remember mine."

The response to Walter's bench project was so overwhelming that we raised more money than we needed for our Town Lake bench. So we took the extra money and sent it to South Carolina where a second bench is being placed in the Children's Reading Garden of the new Spartanburg Library. This is a special gift from the people of Austin to the people of Spartanburg and to Walter's Family who still live in this town where he was born. We still need about $500 to complete this project.

And there is a third bench being placed across from Charleston Harbor and Fort Sumter in Mount Pleasant, S.C., by Mr. Billy Howe and the people of Charleston. Three benches in the three cities that Walter loved.

Walter's 50th birthday would have been Oct. 25. Grace us with your presence in the early afternoon of Sunday the 24th. Come to Walter's Bench and help us celebrate his short, good life. Thanks again, Chronicle readers, for all your support and thoughtfulness.

Walter's Bench Legation:

Terry Tammadge

Steve Clark

Lynda Courtney

Marcia Ball

Paisley Robertson

If you'd like to make a donation, make checks to:

Walter's Bench

and send to:

Paisley Robertson

2411 Kinney Road

South Austin, TX 78704

Road Rage

Dear Chronicle Readers:

Do you know a woman who drives a Nineties black Volkswagen (perhaps a Jetta) with California plates?

When I passed her on MoPac (1pm, Sunday, northbound), she was driving well below the speed limit (and weaving) in the center lane, reading a sheet of paper held over the steering wheel and at the same time -- unbelievably! -- talking on her cellular phone. I was in the well-stickered Saab that zoomed past to be out of her swath of highway. I have a feeling that I was one of many drivers she never saw, since from all appearances driving was not heavily on her mind.

The incredible arrogance of drivers like her make driving in Austin an almost theological exercise: Does someone so inconsiderate of the safety of others disprove the existence of God? Does her continued existence prove the existence of Angels? Has Hell arrived on Earth, and does it resemble a German automobile? If she collides with a carful of unbelievers, who will get to meet Satan first?

Remember, when driving on crowded, exit-heavy roads like MoPac (and especially in city traffic), an upraised cell phone is utterly equivalent to an upraised middle finger -- an obscene gesture for the brave new world we live in.

Best regards,

Timothy Lord

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