The quaintly chic hamlet of Travis Heights in Austin has never been more desirable, and it boasts a rich history too. The new book Austin’s Travis Heights Neighborhood by our vintage Texas expert Lori Duran reveals the stories behind the landmarks. Next time you are in Travis Heights, look a little closer at the rich history that envelops the picturesque area.
The original NightHawk Restaurant faced South Congress Avenue at the intersection with Riverside Drive. Opened in 1932, it has been one of Austin’s most famous and enduring restaurants. Harry Akin opened this restaurant at 336 South Congress, where once there had been an abandoned fruit stand. The NightHawk expanded and opened other locations in Austin, but today most of them have closed except for the Frisco Grill and a supermarket line of frozen foods. The original South Congress restaurant closed in 1985. (Austin History Center PICA 26611)
The Walter Tips house was built in 1876. Originally located downtown by the Capitol, it was relocated to the corner of South Congress Avenue and Oltorf Street. Neal Spelce, the longtime Austin news anchor and businessman, along with former Austin City Council Woman Emma Lou Linn, shared some memories of the site in their 2107 Austin History Center oral history contributions. Spelce recalls the humorous story about when the Tips house was moved southward on Congress Avenue during the night that a man stumbled out of a Sixth Street bar and as he saw the large house on a trailer going by he mistakenly exclaimed My God, they’re moving the Driskill (Hotel)! Moving the house was a tremendous undertaking as the house weighed 166,000 pounds. Linn recalled also the efforts to save the beautiful but condemned house and that the move took place despite concerns over the stability of the Congress Avenue Bridge supporting the weight of the house. (Photo Courtesy University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, and the Texas Historical Commission.)
This house was built at 1308 Alta Vista Avenue in 1936 for Alden and Mabel Davis. Mabel was well-known in Austin for her civic leadership and her passion for nature and gardening. She headed Red Cross volunteers during World War II and she was president of The Violet Crown Garden Club, The Humane Society and The Austin Women’s Club. She pushed Austin’s Mayor Tom Miller to build a tuberculosis hospital when there was an outbreak. The Zilker Rose Garden was named after her. In addition to that, in the late 1970s the city of Austin named Southeast District Park Mabel Davis District Park. With the help of a federal grant this park has an Olympic-size swimming pool located less than three miles away from where the Davises lived. (Author’s collection.)
The Fulmore Middle School bell has a rich history. The bell was given to the school by developer Charles Newning, and was used to notify the neighborhood of the start and end of the school days. On the night before Thanksgiving 1911, pranksters from the University of Texas’s B-Hall men’s dormitory stole the Fulmore school bell. The students were soon found out partly due to the bell having a distinctive ring. After much pressure by Superintendent A.N. McCallum, the B-Hall boys returned the bell where it has stayed since. Sometimes youngsters will still toll the bell on Halloween and New Year’s Eve much to the annoyance of neighbors. (Author’s collection.)
The foundation base for the Stephen F. Austin sculpture used to stand in South Austin Island Park. The statue was created by Ira A. Correll and placed in this park in 1955. But in 1991, it was smashed by vandals and now just the sculpture base remains. The engraving on it says: “Stephen F. Austin, Father of Texas 1793-1836.” The sculpture was a gift to the city of Austin with the provision that it be displayed where visitors passing through the city could easily view it. (Author’s collection.)
The wavy parking cover from Austin’s Pig Stand restaurant at 2201 College Ave. The Pig Stand was there from the late 1950s until the late 1970s. The Pig Stand is gone but the eye-catching parking cover still stands and gets used today for people parking at the Vinaigrette restaurant that now sits in the same location. The poles for the Pig Stand elevated sign also still stand. The massive Live Oak tree in the patio could be one of the oldest in South Austin.
The Pig Stand restaurant first opened in South Austin in the early 1930s along South Congress closer to the Colorado river. After closing in the mid-1930s, it opened again in the 1950s at the College Avenue site. The Pig Stand franchise started in the Dallas area and eventually spread throughout the United States. All the locations have now closed except for one in San Antonio. The Pig Stand is credited for having popularized fast food staples such as deep-fried onion rings, chicken fried sandwiches and Texas Toast. (Author’s collection.)
The Continental Club has been located on 1315 South Congress Avenue since 1955. It started out as a swanky supper club. Then it reportedly became Austin’s first burlesque club and in the late 1970s it became a live music venue. The Continental Club is now a historic landmark and is still in business as a well known club for roots rock, traditional country and blues, rockabilly and garage rock. (Author’s collection.)
The name embedded at the entrance is the only remainder of the Mode O’ Day store that was once located at the Twin Oaks Shopping Center. The former store stands empty today. Three immigrant brothers started this women’s clothing store chain in California during the Great Depression and it led to dizzying success as store sites were added all over the country. Their strategy was the make and sell their designs instead of selling them wholesale to retailers. At its peak success in the mid 1960s there were over 800 stores in 30 states. The Mode O’ Day company changed names in the 1980s and no longer exists today. (Author’s collection.)
This was Sammy Allred’s TV Capitol Radio & Television Shop at 2000 South Congress Avenue. Sammy Allred was well known in Austin. As part of the Sammy and Bob Show, Allred won CMA Awards as a radio personality in 1999 and 2006. He was also part of the country music group The Geezinslaws. The building now houses the management company that owns the string of buildings on the west side of this block and the Magnolia restaurants in Austin. (Author’s collection.)