Many hundreds of trees were lost during the wind-storm that swept through the Austin area on Memorial Day Weekend. With winds reaching 70 miles per hour, some trees snapped like twigs, and others were uprooted. Many of these fallen trees were very old heritage trees — pecans and oaks — some of which were as old as our neighborhood.
No matter how you look at it, the loss of these trees is a tragedy. A few weeks ago, our community was expressing outrage over the loss of one large pecan tree on 55th Street that a developer chopped down to make construction more convenient. All of us were angry and saddened over the loss of such a majestic tree.
Nature gave us a little perspective a few weeks later, however, when the massive Memorial Day Weekend wind storm felled many, many more trees equally majestic. Sadly, in our haste to restore order and clean up the mess made by the storms, many of these grand trees are currently being chopped up and turned into mulch.
One of our neighbors wants to encourage us not to be so hasty.
For some time, our neighbor Daniel Baugh has been frustrated that, when large heritage trees in the city are removed, they almost always end up as mulch or land-fill. Some of these trees are over 100 years old, and they can have trunks that are 90 inches around. It is a shame to lose them at all, but if they must be lost, he thought that the lumber from these slow-growth trees could be salvaged and used in wood-working projects.
So he purchased a portable wood-mill. The mill is essentially a giant band-saw on rails mounted on a trailer. The whole rig can be hauled around to different locations, so when a large tree in Austin is lost, Daniel can be there to cut the tree trunk into boards.
Needless to say, Daniel has been quite busy lately in our neighborhood. Within a few blocks, huge oak and pecan trees with massive trunks were uprooted. Rather than carving them into little pieces and mulching them into land-fill, Daniel has been working with his neighbors to save the beautiful wood from these trees.
So if you have lost large trees — or if you lose large trees in the future — you might want to consider turning that tree into some beautiful hard-wood lumber. The loss of the trees is a tragedy, and it will take a lifetime to replace them. However, the high-quality wood from the lost trees could become heirloom furniture that will also last a lifetime. It’s a small silver lining that may provide a small consolation.
Every Memorial Day, we think about the horrible flood of 1981 that claimed 13 lives and caused over 35 million dollars of damage. The weather was not very predictable at the time, and the warning systems were not up to the task of alerting people to the sudden downpour that would cause so much chaos and tragedy.
Hopefully we will never have another tragedy like the 1981 floods, but the 2015 Memorial Day Weekend has been pretty awful.
On Saturday we were hit with straight-line winds that gusted up to 75 miles per hour. The winds were so strong, people thought it must have been a tornado. Trees were uprooted, branches flew through the air, shingles were ripped off of roofs. Almost everybody experienced some damage to their trees, homes, and cars.
That was Saturday. By Memorial Day Monday, just as people were starting to clean up from the wind damage, it started to rain,
Our wonderful neighbor Jan Seward found this awesome aerial photograph of our neighborhood taken in 1966. You can see the Chief Drive-In Theater in the upper left corner, the field where Highland Mall was soon to be built in the upper right corner, and the old Safeway Grocery in the lower right corner.
Click on the picture to see a very high-resolution version of the photo.
Martha Koock Ward interviewed Mr. Terrell Timmermann about 10 years ago for an article for the neighborhood newsletter. This first-hand account (slightly modified for this blog) is the first-person recollection of life on North Loop in the 1950s and 1960s.
I moved to Austin in July 1945 to attend the University of Texas College of Pharmacy. Austin population at the time was 97,000. U.T. had an enrollment of 8,000 predominantly female (most men were in the service during World War II).
I purchased North Loop pharmacy at 100 East North Loop (recently Hog Wild, and now Vulcan Video) in November 1953 from Morris Austin who had founded it in September 1953. At the time North Loop was a gravel road which connected Airport Boulevard to the Dallas Highway (Lamar Boulevard) and Burnet Road. The other businesses on the north side of North Loop were a hardware store (now Workhorse), a garage by Archie Steaples (now Cash Checking), Bill Wilkinson’s Barber Shop and Clyde Montgomery’s Shoe Repair (now the print shop). Mrs. Schnitzer’s variety store and Betty’s Jewelry (now Forbidden Fruit) and a service station completed the north side of the street.
On the south side of the street across from the pharmacy was Mrs Johnson’s Bakery with a large retail and wholesale business (now old locksmith shop that is for sale). Going east from the bakery was a coin operated laundry (supposedly the first in Texas) and an Ol’ Bossy Dairy Store (milk in returnable gallon jugs) – Later this became Highland Plaza Shoe and Boot Repair and these days is part of Ararat. Next was Tim Gardner’s Arkie’s Hamburgers with benches on the surrounding gravel (presently Ararat). Next was Fred Wong’s grocery (now Room Service). Next was another barber shop and Molly’s Beauty Shop followed by another grocery store (presently the Music Store). Across Avenue F was Glenn’s Service Station (presently the car wash). South of the corner grocery on Avenue F were a wholesale plumbing supply, Jackie’s Beauty Shop and Inez Givens T.V. repair.
The irregularly shaped parcels on both sides of East North Loop in the 100 block were owned by A. F. Smith (father in law of the baker, Howard Johnson) who sub-divided the land into the oddly shaped parcels as they are today (the Smith-Abrahamson Sub-division). A partnership of two house wreckers (Earl Bennett and L. O. (Shorty) Goodwin) built several of the buildings utilizing use materials which were salvaged from the demolition business. Earl and Shorty designed the buildings to fit the irregularly shaped lots, leased the completed buildings and sold them to investors. Mrs. Earl Bennett (Delight) had a lot of input in the building operation stressing affordability for the tenants. Delight designed a small efficiency cottage (she called a honeymoon cottage) to rent for $25.00 a month. Earl and Shorty constructed these with used materials when they were not working on the commercial structures. About 6 of these survive today with long term tenants.
In the late 50s and 60s many changes occurred. I purchased the Fred Wong Grocery building and relocated the pharmacy in 1958. In 1959 I had Shorty build an addition to the building (presently the tattoo shop) for the soda fountain. The soda fountain was a gathering place for the area – a place to drink coffee or soda while you were waiting for a prescription, a car repair by Archie, or a birthday cake decoration from Mrs. Johnson’s bakery. In the afternoon kids stopped in on their way home from school for drinks and a chance to check out the latest comic books. Meanwhile the Ol’ Bossy Dairy Store relocated to the grocery building (Music Store), Tim Gardner enlarged the hamburger stand, the hardware store location became Chestnut Cleaners, Circle K replaced a service station, Johnson’s bakery outgrew their building and relocated on Koenig Lane, Checker Front built a new grocery at Highland Plaza, Dr. Farnsworth opened a medical practice at North Loop and Leralynn, and I decided to retire from pharmacy to concentrate on real estate I had acquired through the years. And finally, but most important to me, my employee, my friend, and my sweetheart, Geraldine, became my wife for life.
Terrell Timmermann was born in 1929 in Freiheit, Texas (now essentially a part of New Braunfels). After earning a degree in Pharmacy at U.T., Mr. Timmermann served in the Army during the Korean War. He subsequently purchased the pharmacy on North Loop, and became a real estate investor, buying and maintaining scores of properties around the North Loop area. He passed away in September of 2014.
Greg Casar is working hard to stay connected to the people in City Council District 4. Despite a Council Member schedule that burns the candle at both ends and then some, Greg is making every effort to get out into his district as often as possible to stay in close contact with the people who live in North Central Austin.
He is working with his staff to try to hold “office hours” in various locations throughout his district on most Fridays. His busy schedule does not always allow for these community-meeting style office hours, but when he can, he likes to get out and make himself accessible to the people who live in District 4.
In describing the public meetings, Casar says: “I see my in-district office hours as a critical piece of fulfilling the promise of 10-1 government— giving Austinites the power to identify and meet their own needs through their local elected officials. So far, my office hours have been a great tool for giving constituents an opportunity to talk about the issues most important to them at locations all across District 4.”
At a recent forum held at Little Walnut Creek Branch Library, many people remarked that they had never seen a Council Member or any city leader come out to meet with residents in that area of Austin — to listen to their concerns and ideas for ways to improve Austin. While people at the meeting occasionally seemed frustrated with trends in Austin or the slow-wheels of bureaucracy, virtually every citizen in attendance gave Casar high praise for coming out and meeting with them to listen to their concerns.
In the future, Casar’s office hours will each be targeted around one policy area, so that constituents interested in that policy area can work together to develop solutions and advocate for change at City Hall. Casar thinks this targeted approach will help his constituency move from identifying problems to implementing solutions. Office hours will be held on a published list of Fridays and Saturdays. Council Member Casar plans to rotate locations to give more residents a chance to visit in an area that is near them.
Casar plans to send out emails, post on social media, and post flyers on bulletins about future times and locations. Casar reports that his next sets of District 4 Office Hours are scheduled to be on March 13th from 1pm to 4pm at a location to be determined. If you’d like to be added to Casar’s email list, you can drop him a line at Greg.Casar@austintexas.gov. You can also follow his Facebook feed: Facebook.com/GregorioCasar.
Council Member Casar, currently a resident of Northfield, also frequently has representation at the Northfield Neighborhood Association meetings (the first Monday of every month at Dayspring Chapel). If he is not able to attend personally, he frequently sends one of his staff members to attend, take notes, and listen to concerns.
Greg Casar isn’t just the youngest Austin Council Member ever elected, he is also arguably one of the most energetic and accessible Council Members Austin has ever known.
I have some good news for fans of good hamburgers. And some bad news for fans of taxidermy. The taxidermy / rug / flag “shoppe” at the corner of Lamar and Old Koenig Road that, for years, has moved the needle quite a bit on Austin’s official Weird Scale has finally closed. Done and dusted — it was torn down just as soon as it was vacated. So if you wanted to buy that vaguely moth-eaten stuffed lion he had on display, you’ll have to go to his new shop on Burnet.
In it’s place will soon rise a new P. Terry’s. This is surely welcome news for most of our neighbors (except the ardent collectors of exotic animal skulls and Union Jack flags), but this must be especially good news for the thousands of state office and DPS employees in the area. Not to mention the students and staff at McCallum High School. Good food served quickly is always welcome around here.
This is a prime spot in a very desirable part of Lamar — Just one more example of rapid investment that will likely change the face of our stretch of Lamar beyond recognition in the near future.
Oh, and while I’m on the topic, it looks like the Omlettery signs are up at their new home on Airport Boulevard, and if I’m any judge, they should be open soon.
Ditto the new Sala and Betty restaurant next to House Pizza. I haven’t been over there in a few weeks, but they looked like they were ready to open. Anybody tried it?
The lots on the eastern side of our neighborhood were originally platted before the popularity of the automobile redefined suburban sprawl. This was the ‘20s and ‘30s, and back then, before the invention of the 2-car garage, home lots were very small — typically just 25 feet wide. At that time, people usually walked more than they drove, and pedestrian-friendly row-houses were much more common and popular.
However, in the ‘30s and ‘40s when people actually started buying and building on these lots in our neighborhood, land in our area was remarkably cheap, and the automobile was changing our lifestyle habits. One lot could be purchased for just a few hundred dollars, and so most people who were buying lots in our neighborhood would buy 2 or 3 contiguous lots, and they would build one house with a large yard across those lots.
However, legally, they were — and are still — individual lots 25-feet wide. Today, when people buy a house on the east side of our neighborhood, what they are actually buying is one house that sits on 2 or 3 lots. And legally, they could tear down the one existing house, and rebuild 2 or 3 houses on the original 25-foot lots.
Now granted, a 25-foot wide lot is very hard to build on with current building codes. For example, with 5-foot setback requirements on each side, the house can only be 15-feet wide. However, as the dirt under our houses becomes far more precious than the houses themselves, at least one builder is experimenting with this model of new-home construction. In recent years, David Whitworth has been buying some of these lots, removing the existing house (he prefers to relocate the old house rather than tear it down and toss it in a land-fill), and building 2 or 3 very narrow houses on the original platted lots.
Some of his motivation for this type of development is to recreate the pedestrian-friendly, tight-knit neighborhoods that were developed before the popularity of the automobile. In his opinion, it is a “greener” and more sustainable lifestyle. But Whitworth also believes that this is a more affordable model for families wanting new-construction homes in Central Austin.
These days, a typical new-construction house built on a 50-foot wide lot in our neighborhood can be sold for over $600,000. With a smaller lot, Whitworth is able to sell his houses for considerably less.
So how is this different from a “Stealth Dorm?” Until we convinced the city council to reduce occupancy limits to 4 unrelated adults on single-family lots, our neighborhood was inundated with scores of Stealth Dorms – housing designed from the ground up to be rental units for unrelated people. Some people have expressed concerned that Whitworth’s small houses have all the same problems as Stealth Dorms – many people living on a plot of land that formerly housed few people.
Certainly the problem with Stealth Dorms is that they invite very transient housing — bad neighbors who are not invested in the neighborhood. Stealth Dorms invite loud parties, rampant reckless driving, over-flowing trash cans, and other problems too numerous to list. But the worst part of Stealth Dorms is that they will never be occupied by families. Stealth Dorms are designed with a single purpose – they are built from the ground-up as multi-family rental properties with only the veneer of a single-family home. The design and lay-out of the Stealth Dorm structures are simply unsuitable for single-family use, so they will never be anything but Stealth Dorms.
That is very different from a house designed for family living that happens to be rented out to other people. A house that is designed and built for family dwelling may temporarily be rented to unrelated tenants, but it always has the potential to be a single-family home.
So far, most of Whitworth’s houses have been purchased by owner-occupants, but even if they were rented out temporarily, they seem to have few of the same problems that Stealth Dorms have. So far, these seem to be very family-oriented, and the people living there do not have the same undesirable tendencies as the people who are attracted to the Stealth Dorm lifestyle.
Of course Whitworth seems to be a man of great integrity who cares deeply about sustainable building and has deep roots in our neighborhood. His houses may be reasonable and well-designed, but what if other developers begin building less neighborhood-friendly homes like this?
That may be possible, but it seems unlikely. As long as the city council does not try to increase occupancy limits again, there is little incentive to build Stealth Dorms any more. New construction is trending toward single-family housing in the core of the neighborhood and multi-family housing on the transit corridors. And most builders seem to be disinclined to take a chance on building 15-foot-wide homes. For now at least, Whitworth seems to be the only developer interested in pursuing this model of development, and as long as it is Whitworth doing it, it is probably going to be good for our neighborhood.