Landmarks of the Nineties

Clayton Williams
Clayton Williams

1. Barton Springs. The Springs have always been, and always will be, an Austin landmark ("eternal," you might say), but now that they they've been the focus of elections, legislation, angry rallies, tortured performance art, and the breeding of rare invertebrates, we sometimes long for the days, so very long ago, when they were just a swimming hole. The personal made political, indeed.

2. Austin Convention Center. We built it. They came. We're making it bigger, and in the process finally doing something about adjacent Waller Creek. But the story is really what did not happen; the Convention Center was sold to Austin, after 20 years of conflict that made careers and swung elections, as an absolute necessity for downtown revitalization. Which happened, but not because of, or near, the Convention Center. The best-laid plans, et cetera.

3. Circle C Ranch. That paradise on earth, that sceptred isle. More time has been wasted on this one subdivision -- it pains us to call it a "neighborhood" -- than one can sensibly imagine. What is so different and special about Circle C that makes it too good to be part of Austin? And if such virtues exist, why don't they just incorporate and save us all the grief? Perhaps the next decade will offer us the answer.

4. Royal/Memorial Stadium. No place better embodies the transformation of our biggest institution during the 1990s from a center of learning into an entertainment conglomerate in the time-honored Disney model. Who needs pro sports? For that matter, who needs an adequate library collection and professors who have time to spend with undergraduates? Who needs a museum building that's fit to house a collection that's better than the regents deserve? We're Texas!

5. Liberty Lunch. At least Barton Springs is truly a unique natural landmark. Austin leaders thought Liberty Lunch was just another club, and only after finally giving it the boot from the city land on which it veritably squatted for decades -- to make room for the CSC/City Hall complex that's an absolute necessity for downtown revitalization (see No. 2) -- did they realize that the Lunch was, apparently, an irreplaceable psychic landmark.

6. Dell Computer headquarters. A landmark because they're not in Austin, but in Round Rock. And if you ever want to see what unplanned growth looks like in all its terrible splendor, head out Louis Henna, past the Dell site, and then turn right on barely-legal Williamson County Road 170. Whenever the burbs bitch about Austin and its onerous rules and unwillingness to build needed infrastructure, point them this-a-way so they can see where the real problems are.

7. The Triangles. There's the one we all know by that name -- between Lamar, Guadalupe, and 45th -- and then there's the Eastside triangle between 11th, 12th, and I-35. Both are battlegrounds on which the infill wars have been most fiercely waged. The Triangle spawned the largest citizen uprising since SOS; and the East 11th/12th triangle has hosted trouble (between the Austin Revitalization Authority, the Anderson Hill/SCIP II project, the surrounding neighborhoods, and the city, in various combinations) the whole damn decade and presumably beyond.

8. Colorado River Park. Such a typical Austin tale: A great ambitious plan promises to create a showpiece community asset. The bust, political lethargy, and yes, racism conspire to defer the dream year after year. Then the downtown elite tries to annex the project for its own boosterish purposes. The citizens rebel and shoot the plan down. Repeat as needed. Right now, we're back at the ambitious stage, with the Colorado River Park looking like it might really happen. Let's hope history does not repeat itself.

9. I-35 at Town Lake. The most congested point on the entire length of the interstate, from Laredo to Duluth. Our traffic woes -- and, in the bigger view, our growth and its challenges -- are incarnate at this one bridge. The transportation decisions of the next decade -- from light rail to toll roads to air quality regulations -- are being born right here.

10. Plaza Saltillo and the Millennium Complex. The flip side of the typical Austin tale above: Projects that were advanced throughout the decade by communities of color, with not a small amount of acerbity, as showpiece assets and essential to their renewal. Now that they're here, were they worth the wait?

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