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Welcome to the Austin That Was.

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An inescapable aspect of living in Austin: No matter how long ago you got here, you weren't here soon enough to have experienced some part of the city that once defined it, that captured the capital city in all its iconoclastic, irreverent glory, that was quintessential Austin. You arrived on the scene just after it was bulldozed into oblivion, went out of business, died. And the ones who were here before you came on the scene are all too happy to tell you about what you missed, to rhapsodize about the Austin that was. It may have been El Mat or the Stallion, the Armadillo World Headquarters or the Vulcan Gas Company, the Creek Theatre or Capitol City Playhouse, Stevie Ray Vaughan or John Henry Faulk. If you'd only been here when the Night Hawk on the Drag was still around, or Raul's or Speranza's or Disch Field or Chances or the East Avenue Parkway, then you would have known what Austin was truly like, what made this city so special.

We all suffer through these remembrances of the Violet Crown past and maybe we find them annoying much of the time -- it can sound so groovier-than-thou, a kind of armadillo one-upmanship, with the speaker insinuating, consciously or unconsciously, that things were just fine until you got here. That's when the whole town went to pot (or perhaps stopped going to it, if you're speaking in pharmacological terms). But the fact is, Austin's history is rich with places and people and events that exemplified the spirit of the city -- its fierce sense of independence, its broadmindedness, its cordiality, its passion for the outdoors, its love of a good party -- and once you've been touched by that spirit, in whatever form, it's hard not to celebrate it, to keep the flame alive, even for those parts of the city that have passed and passed long ago.

This "Lost Austin Issue" of the Chronicle is in some ways just one more of those damn-fool lectures on the good ol' days of the city, before the tech boom, before the traffic woes, before it cost you your first-born to be able to afford a house. It's a look back at a smaller city, in some ways a more laid-back city, maybe a friendlier city. And, yes, it celebrates long-gone places and people and events that exemplified the spirit of the city, Austin at its best.

But there's more to "Lost Austin" than old-timer's nostalgia. As this place we all live in has evolved, from Native American campground to dusty village of Waterloo to capital of the state to "Live Music Capital of the World," much of its history has faded from the general view. The issues, civic leaders, organizations, and locales that were at one time central to the daily life of Austin have vanished to all but a minority of its citizens. Our aim in turning a lens back on the Austin of the past was to seek out a few things about our city that have been largely forgotten and restore them to our collective memory. Not all of it is golden sighing for simpler, happier times. "Lost Austin" includes racism and serial murders and prostitution, too. It's the uglier side of the city, a side that violates that spirit of Austin at its best, but it needs to be remembered, too, to show us how much our Austin of today is like the Austin of earlier days. There have always been booms in growth and rising prices and more traffic than anyone thought there should be.

Putting this issue together has been a genuine labor of love, and I extend my thanks to all the editors and writers and production staff for their willingness to root around in the dust of days gone by and find the diamonds of Austin Past. Special thanks to Kim Mellen, who gamely agreed to create a timeline of Austin history to run throughout the issue and created a monumental work -- and one as entertaining as it is informative. I only wish we had more room to tell more stories, as there are so many amazing tales of the city that still deserve to be resuscitated and shared. Perhaps we'll have a chance to do this again. But until such a day, be our guest, and step forward into the past. end story

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Lost Austin, Kim Mellen, Austin history

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