A view for all

In the wake of renewed talk of building on Robertson Hill, just east of IH-35 between Ninth and Eleventh Streets, there are complaints from Eastsiders that beautiful views of the Tower, the Capitol, and all of downtown will be blocked forever. And they will. And it will be a loss.

If you’ve ever lived where you can enjoy those views, you can see the Tower lit up in orange, you can tell something about the weather by how foggy things look around the dome of the Capitol, and at night you can enjoy the sight of all downtown illuminated in a rainbow spectrum of colors.

Even though many in-town streets were not paved until well after World War II, some not until well into the 1950s and even 1960s, this 1936 map delineating the city limits before East Avenue was built over, when South Congress was the San Antonio Highway, and when there was just one bridge across the river also makes it clear that no Austinite went without a view of the Tower, the Capitol, or downtown; many enjoyed a view of all three. All 53,120 Austin-dwellers enjoyed this priceless amenity available now to an ever-shrinking percentage of Austinites.

10 Comments so far

  1. M1EK (unregistered) on November 29th, 2005 @ 5:00 pm

    That’s hyperbole – in my old neighborhood (Clarksville), there were plenty of spots where you would not have been able to see ANY of the three due to other original buildings blocking your view IN the neighborhood (i.e. a house in a low spot blocked by a house in a high spot).

    AND, the high rises which are ‘stealing’ the views from the single-family houses are going to have more people in them – so the net number of people getting the view goes UP with this kind of development, not down.


  2. Rantor (unregistered) on November 29th, 2005 @ 5:17 pm

    Austin was compact. Everyone was within viewing distance. A short walk at the time contemporary with the map would have taken anyone to a vantage point, usually within a block or so. A new high-rise may give greater numbers of people access from their habitations to a given view, but the percentage of Austinites in 1936 with an easy view of this great skyscape was most likely greater. To the better-off will go the views from Robertson Hill.


  3. M1EK (unregistered) on November 29th, 2005 @ 5:19 pm

    Well, I disagree; knowing the Clarksville area, it would have taken quite a walk from the low spots; and the same would have been true from my current neighborhood (NUNA) to be able to see anything but the Tower.

    Anyways, thanks for the tip; I’ve been looking for additional old road maps to satisfy some questions about old connections across the UPRR (pre-Mopac) and I see they’ve got a couple of new scans up.


  4. Rantor (unregistered) on November 29th, 2005 @ 5:29 pm

    This map looks very much like the ones in the book of county maps that the Highway Department used to sell from the front desk on Eleventh Street. As to Clarksville, it doesn’t seem like that much of a walk to a view from the escarpment over the valley of Lamar from any of the east-west streets. It’s true that unless the alignment is right, not all three sights are visible on the horizon in the best of cases. And trees have grown considerably since 1936, that’s for sure. People are amazed when they see photographs of young live-oak trees from the ‘twenties and ‘thirties that now appear to have been in place for centuries. We lost first the view of the tower, then a partial view of the Capitol, then almost all of the tempietto atop the dome. The downtown skyline remains visible and constantly changing. The view from the Eastside is a very beautiful one. I haven’t looked at the Capitol view-corridor legislation for quite a while, but I’d guess that, in light of all the parking-garage blockages that exist east of Congress and the Capitol grounds, there’s not much. Not that the view corridors have been very useful.


  5. M1EK (unregistered) on November 29th, 2005 @ 5:36 pm

    Remember, Clarksville is only west of West Lynn. It would have been at least a few blocks even from West Lynn before houses in Old West Austin wouldn’t block the view. (I could see part of the capitol from my condominium’s 3rd-floor loft; but it wasn’t tall buildings blocking the view in between; it was local neighborhood buildings which weren’t any taller in the 1990s than they were in the 1930s).


  6. Rantor (unregistered) on November 29th, 2005 @ 5:41 pm

    It just doesn’t seem like that much of a walk to me, who used to walk from the Capitol over the Sweetish Hill a lot, for example. As to maps, I’d love to find an on-line map of the trolley routes. Some of today’s bus routes are successors.


  7. M1EK (unregistered) on November 30th, 2005 @ 7:54 am

    The 1919 map from that site looks like it might include several of the trolley routes, indicated by a line down the center of the street on Congress and 6th (they also indicate a “Duval Car Line” but nothing on Speedway, which is odd).


  8. Bob Dobbs (unregistered) on November 30th, 2005 @ 10:04 am

    The map is part of an atlas published in 1936 by the then-Texas Highway Department (now known as TxDOT). The 1936 maps are notoriously inaccurate – so much so that TxDOT’s own Historical Studies Branch advises against using them as primary sources for historical surveys (I know, I used to work for them). So take the highway alignments and the building locations shown on the map with a grain of salt.

    If I recall correctly the Hyde Park trolley line went up Guadalupe, east along 51st, south down Duval, west along 38th and then back down Guadalupe. It was a trolley car on this line that killed “Pig” Belmont, UT’s first mascot. An extension down Duval may have been constructed later. One of the City of Austin Master Plans (from the 1950s or early 1960s, I can’t remember which year) has a map showing trolley routes and bus routes. It also shows trolley tracks slated for removal. The Austin History Center and the UT Architecture Library have copies of the plan, for those who are interested.


  9. Rantor (unregistered) on November 30th, 2005 @ 10:58 am

    Map 0926 (1925) does show streetcar lines, at least some, although they’re sometimes hard to make out. For example, south of the river, there are lines shown on Barton, Evergreen, South Congress, Riverside, Travis Heights, and parts of Live Oak and Post Road. The map first mentioned seems to be reasonably accurate in the streets shown, at least south of the river. Although not named, the streets are easily made out. Maps! Gotta love’em.


  10. M Sinclair Stevens (unregistered) on November 30th, 2005 @ 10:04 pm

    When I first moved to Austin in 1974, I remember the distress of my fellow Hilltoppers because the black bank tower at 9th and Congress obliterated the view of the capitol from the steps of the main building at St. Ed’s.

    When I moved into my current home, I felt a twinge of pride when I’d look up from gardening to see the dome of the capitol. That disappeared a few years ago when the Venture Capitalist building on 6th and Lavaca went up.

    Now I look at the skyline with no real affection. I could be anywhere.



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