I Might Not be Native – But I Got Here in 1960
In the past 10 years of presenting guided tours for Austin Overtures Sightseeing I have many times explained to our guests that I was born in Fort Worth but moved to Austin in 1960. One of the most interesting comparisons between then and now has to be the growth in population. Back then there were about 185,000 Austinites – by today that has exploded to 820,000. If you look at the entire Metro Area (MSA) it includes a whopping 1.7 million folks.
When my Mom brought us to the capital all those years ago it was so she could take some continuing education classes at the University of Texas at Austin during the summer semester. My little brother and I were very jazzed to move to Austin – it was so cool compared to Fort Worth. We moved into a dinky apartment across from Eastwoods Park – both the Park and the dinky apartment still exist. Very quickly the “coolness” of our relocation was jeopardized by my Mother’s 1959 Volkswagen Beetle.
It turned out that the expense of migrating to Central Texas precluded having the VW’s starting system fixed. Now in Fort Worth that didn’t pose too great a hardship on little brother and me primarily because our Arlington Height’s neighborhood was flat -flat as a pancake. The environmental realities of Austin soon were painfully apparent to this skinny 9 year old and his chubby 6 year old bubba – Austin is in the Texas Hill Country – and that means Hills! Unfortunately our apartment on Harris Park Ave, was at the bottom of the Waller Creek drainage, and that meant that three directions from home were uphill. Because my brother and I could not drive (not that we didn’t volunteer) my Mom had to steer and pop the clutch while the boys built up the speed – fortunately a VW bug will fire off at a fairly lazy pace. The good news was we became very accomplished at the “push, push, push, run, run, run and jump in the door routine. We definitely built up some physical stamina that summer and I am sure provided an amusing foray into the applicability of child labor laws for our gawking neighbors.
As I recall Austin in 1960 was a much smaller and simpler place – very much dominated by UT and State bureaucrats, high tech was 15 years in the future and the weirdness that has consumed modern Austin had not yet arrived.
One of the more interesting images in my mind from the summer of 1960 is the the Fire Department Practice Tower ( now the Buford Memorial Tower) on Cesar Chavez St. next to Lady Bird Lake. This 6 story brick tower was built in 1931.
If you look at the tower today you can barley make it out in the clutter of spectacular skyscrapers in this section of downtown Austin. But in 1960 the Buford tower was the tallest structure in this whole part of town, in fact if memory serves me, you had to go all the way up to the Scarborough and Littlefield buildings at Congress and 6th St. to find a structure as tall as the Fire Tower!
Even though the Tower is dwarfed by 40+ story condos it is still a nostalgic remnant of Old Austin. That other nostalgic artifact of my old Austin was that 1959 VW – which ended its life set on top of a pole at a car repair shop in Fort Worth – I am pretty sure this relic was only 2 stories tall not six!