A Little Piece of Neighborhood History Queitly Disappeared

by Sebastian Wren

I guess I’ve been a little out of touch lately.  I didn’t even notice that Home Lumber Co. on Burnet Road was going out of business.  Truth be told, I never actually bought anything there, but I did stop in from time to time to talk to Frank Bowmar, the owner.

Well, I say “talk.”  Really I just listened.  I love Austin history, and Frank had a lot to say on the subject.  So I loved to listen to him.  When he was very young, Frank’s father HomeLumber1moved their lumber yard “way out in the country.”  The way Frank told it, everybody said his father was crazy putting his lumber yard out in the sticks.  He would point at Koenig Lane and say, “That was just a dirt road.  There was no pavement out here.”

That was 1938, and indeed, there was little to nothing going on in Austin north of 45th Street.  North Loop was the city limit back then, and there were very few houses or businesses that far north.  In fact in this aerial photograph taken in the late 1930s, Koenig Lane didn’t even exist.  But that didn’t last long.  After the War, a building boom put houses and shopping centers all around Home Lumber Co.

One time I mentioned that my house was not far away, and was built in 1946.  Frank said that after the War, his father supplied the lumber for all of the houses in the area.  In an attempt to be complimentary, I said that my house was clearly built out of very good lumber to have lasted so long, and Frank scoffed and looked at me like I was an idiot.  “No, it wasn’t — You must not know what good lumber is.  We couldn’t get good lumber after the War.  We were throwing up houses with whatever junk we could get our hands on.  Some of these houses are made of part oak, part pine, and whatever else we could find.”

I guess Frank must have finally retired.  I drove by there today, and the lot has been cleared — they’ve torn everything down to make room for something new.  And I suppose it makes sense.  An old lumber-yard in the middle of town isn’t going to be viable these days.  Home Lumber can’t compete in a Home Depot world.  But I’m going to miss visiting the store and thinking about the view that Frank has had out his front window every day.

From his store-front window, he watched them pave the streets out there. He watched them build the Allendale Village shopping center across the street.  He and his family played a part in building all of the houses in Northfield and Brentwood and Crestview and Allendale and on and on and on.  There was something about Frank at the Home Lumber Co. that made me think of all that has changed in one man’s life-time.  That little time-capsule on Burnet Road is gone for ever now.  I know it had to happen sooner or later, but it still makes me a little sad.

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3 thoughts on “A Little Piece of Neighborhood History Queitly Disappeared

  1. Mr. Bomar wanted to bid a house I was building and pulled out a pencil and spiral notebook which was at once both a comforting bit of nostalgia and a concern. The business is so complicated and such a grind now that I just couldn’t pull the trigger with Mr. Bomar not seeing his yard full of labor and tractor trailers ready to make multiple short notice deliveries and returns daily. I hated that decision.

    However, like you I hold conversations with Frank in very high regard. At the time I was building a house in Allandale and he told me how his daddy supplied the lumber from their Home Lumber yard on Burnet Rd. I had been studying old deed records at the time reading about builders of yesteryear like J.W. Savage and Frank knew of them all. He said Mr. Savage had an edge (which can serve one well in the industry). The best Savage quote Frank shared related to the boom-bust risk of being a builder and how one must cope with the threat of that eventuality “I’ve scratched shit with the chickens before, and I can scratch shit with the chickens again”. Simple. I almost fell out of my chair when Frank told me Mr. Savage was still alive. This must have been 2010. Of course I called Mr. Savage immediately which was essentially a time travel experience for me since I had up to that point only been reading about the “60 years ago” Mr. Savage and presuming he was long gone. Savage picked up the phone on the first ring and was sharp as a tac at 90 years old. For some bizarre reason I was compelled to share with Mr. Savage my difficulties building a home in Allandale having stirred up resistance. Without hesitation Savage says “If you’re allowed to do it, do it, hell they didn’t want me to build homes in Allandale the first time!”. He went on to explain that it had been farmland and people didn’t like seeing that change. This was a pivotal moment in my education as an Austin builder. Then Mr. Savage said “I gotta go collect some rent checks” and that was that. I heard a couple years later that he had passed away. But not before I had a chance to hear him describe the train cars of Arkansas ledge stone he brought in to build the houses, and various other colorful descriptions of the time. Frank was the link in this whole exchange with the past. And I’m leaving out a few Frank stories.

    Home Lumber was a time capsule. The minimalist art deco? exterior had to have remained unchanged all those years. Not to mention the ice house next door is the only ice house I had ever seen. That area of Burnet was a cluster of lumber yards, if you recall the old antiques mall that is now the “Burnet Flats” apartment complex, it was actually the left over lumber yard buildings for Stripling Blake (they moved to steck/mopac and eventually were bought out by BMC now in Cedar Park). I understand Mr. Blake said his only regret was selling that lumber yard to Covert who basically used the lumber sheds as an antique mall for small shops and artisans only to sell for top dollar years later.

    I can only hope Frank’s family has done well on the property.

    My information could be dated now, but I understand Frank and his wife are in elder-care housing now. I swear that is his navy 80s Suburban sitting in front of the old gas station mechanic at the south east corner of North Loop and Lamar. One can only assume that was his mechanic all those years. That place is basically the “Home Lumber” of old Gas Station Mechanics.

    I drove by and saw the cleared Home Lumber site recently. Had to pause for a moment.

  2. The dirt road that you identified as Koenig Lane in the aerial photo is the Austin and Northwestern Railroad tracks. Koenig Lane stopped at Highway 81(Lamar) until it was re routed and expanded much later. Note the airplane hangars of Haile Airport(and the 2 planes) in the middle of the photo.

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