Just say NoCo to SoCo

This thoroughfare used to be known as the San Antonio Highway or the old San Antonio Highway, or just Congress or Congress south of the river. There are people of my acquaintance who practically become apoplectic when they see or hear of it referred to as “SoCo.” I’m not one of them, but to me it’ll always be just plain Congress.

People south of the river would talk about “going out to Congress” and there was for a long time a business called “The House of Congress,” both of which expressions have a certain humorous aspect to them.

The only major change for decades was that the Futura Press, which used to print the Texas Observer, moved. You could get your haircut in a choice of establishments. Stewart’s meat market was a better place to have some meat cut to order than the H-E-B at Oltorf was, especially if you didn’t want to go as far as the Kash-Karry where Schlotsky’s now is.

The best wine selection in town, and perhaps in all of Texas at one time, was at Dan’s, where St. Vincent de Paul now is. Dan would help anybody select a mixed case of wine, and the prices were very reasonable. One of the best places in town to view the Aquafest Land Parade, back when it started a good way south of the river, was on the bank in front of the house across the side-street from Dan’s.

That house was a Rent-A-Wreck franchise for a while. When we went without a car for a year or so and really needed one, we’d rent there. The franchisee lived in that house, also.

My favorite place to get down from the bus was the Austin Seed & Feed. That’s where we always bought our packets of Lone Star seeds. Other people bought rabbit and poultry feed there.

Güero’s moved in there from where Curra’s now is. For a while the painting of the livestock heads remained, but then it was obliterated. I still miss it just as much as I miss the giant neon hammer sign of Davis Hardware downtown. The site of the beautiful old Queen-Anne-style house next door became a parking lot.

Terra Toys, now gone north because of rising rents, arrived south of the river in the first place after being ousted from downtown for the same reason. For the longest time, Terra Toys stood alone as a newcomer. Back then, there were still three westernwear stores; now Allen’s Boots remains.

It was quite a while, as I recall, before Lucy, etc., arrived, but it didn’t take long for that block to be the busiest in town starting about the second week in October. Carneval and Mardi Gras festivities have always been busy times, too.

The AusTex Lounge (where Magnolia is) was just as important as the Continental.

People still have breakfast at the Pit. Our insurance agent has been forced out by rising rents. I still miss the giant office and stationery store and funny apartment-finder whose ghosts are under the Embassy Suites, just as the Imperial 400 is a ghost under those fancy apartments. What’s on top of the Opry House, that used to have the best new year’s celebrations in Austin, back when Willie Nelson owned it? It would be hard to tell, since things have changed so much.

If I could bring back the original Night Hawk, I certainly would. It would be wonderful if all of the Twin Oaks shopping center were full again. Slax is gone everywhere. The Twin Oaks hardware store was once really at Twin Oaks and has now disappeared altogether. I loved the neon Twin Oaks sign, also now vanished.

The All-City sewing-machine repair shop is still there, although on the other side of the street. Washburn’s and Ace cleaners are still there.

For a while, we lived in the Austin Motel, back when there was a Chinese cafe for the restaurant.

I’ve never been to any of the First Thursdays. From the very beginning, getting down from the bus was made difficult by the crowds, and now they’re even larger in size.

At any rate, it’s no to SoCo and no to SoLa for me. I love Congress, I love Lamar; and there’ll never be a no or a so connected to either. They, with Burnet, are just some of the streets that say “Austin” to me.

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