Will Congress Avenue Survive?

On my way to try out the new Conjunctured co-working space (which is a whole other story) today on my bike, I stopped to get a few breakfast tacos at the doomed Las Manitas Cafe.  Across the street, the abomination known as The Austonian (please don’t start calling Austin residents “Austonians” – we are Austinites!) is going up. In addition to losing Las Manitas as a business, a letter posted on the counter at Las Manitas made it sound like Congress Avenue could lose that block of buildings, completely, to the new Marriott property.  The letter on the counter indicated there will be a hearing of the Historical Commission this coming Monday, yet I could not find out any information on the City’s Web site today.

That little section of Congress, which is supposedly a National Historic District, is really a huge part of what I think of as Austin.  My grandparents ran a store on Congress when I was a kid, and I remember when Las Manitas was Avenue Cafe, Woolworth’s supplied all our pharmaceutical needs as well as tasty shakes and burgers, the elegant Scarbrough’s department store gave us a taste of big-city living a la Macy’s or Bergdorf’s, and the Picadilly Cafeteria was upscale dining.  How much of that essence, the feeling, of that past remain? I’m worried.  Maybe I’m overly sentimental, but we have historic districts for good reason in this country, and I hope there is some teeth in this one. 

3 Comments so far

  1. downtowner on July 25th, 2008 @ 12:25 pm

    I actually went to the trouble of going through the whole log in process just to tell you how sick I am of reading uninformed, whiny comments about the state of downtown Austin and what it’s becoming. I’ve lived here since the 80’s and I too lament some of the now gone landmarks (Liberty Lunch!!!), but do you have any idea what revitalizing downtown means to our local economy and why density is a GOOD thing? Is the Austonian an abomination because it doesn’t reflect the Austin of years gone by or what you wish it was? It’s 2008 – urban planning is critical to responsible growth. Please do your homework.

  2. lauratex on July 25th, 2008 @ 1:47 pm

    You make the assumption that I think of the Austonian as an abomination because it is a dense high-rise. It’s not so much that it’s dense, just that it’s so completely out of character, it seems to me, and that Austin’s downtown is losing its uniqueness and its charm.

    I actually lived in a condo downtown and am very much in favor of density and more transit-oriented development.

    What homework do you suggest I do? Should I go get my master’s in planning? Are only planning gurus allowed to have an opinion about these things?

  3. lauratex on July 25th, 2008 @ 1:58 pm

    If anyone’s wondering, the downtown historic district apparently does *not* have any teeth. According to a neighbor of mine who is involved in historic preservation: "The design guidelines for those districts are merely recommendations but not mandatory. The city’s Historic Landmark Commission can review plans for remodeling or demolition but the builder does not have to abide by them."

    Is it going to prevent downtown revitalization by *requiring* that certain elements, such as building facades of historically interesting buildings, be preserved? Would those builders really build there fancy condos out in Oak Hill if we did that?

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