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 moved 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.