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My new neighborhood

Saturday, 9 July, 2011

Although I was once accustomed to a town obsessed with its own past divided into neighborhoods with centuries of distinct histories, Austin is different. In the eyes of most folk, Austin rose over the horizon fully formed the day they arrived. Nothing which allegedly happened before could possibly be of any consequence. Another odd quality of Austin is that it is a town everyone who can, leaves as soon as they are old enough. It is also a place where people arrive to make a decent living from their expertise, especially, logistics and “high-tech” people. Most towns this size are either one or the other.

I’ve been living in this neighborhood two months and I’m trying to find out something about the history. This is not easy. As late as 1940 this was all farms and cedar forest. “During the war” a military airport was built nearby. Precisely why an airport was required just north of Austin, Texas during WWII is not at all clear. This airport was on the current site of Highland Mall. Presumably it was tied to Bergstrom AFB which opened in 1942. Hyde Park (west of Airport Blvd. and south of 45th St.) was well established at that time. North Loop was primarily farms with a precious few homes. Strictly speaking Mueller Airport was open for civil aviation, but was an outhouse with fuel and a gravel runway until 1961. Mueller Airport was on the site of Dell Children’s Hospital, the shopping center with the Home Depot and the studio where the Spy Kids movies and Frank Miller’s Sin City were shot. Operations moved to the old Bergstrom AFB in 2002.

Around 1957 the city attempted to sell North Loop as an industrial area and even renamed parts of 53rd St., North Loop Blvd. The name persists but the industrial development was never established. Many of the just-post-war-look housing in the area was built in the 50s and 60s. An archaic commercial strip persists at North Loop Blvd. at Avenue F.

Within the triangle defined by Airport Blvd., I-35 (US 81 until 1962) and U.S.290, mislabeled “E. Koenig Lane” in the link, the first homes may have been built during the war. A few homes persist, as this area is not yet fashionable, which were military officer housing of a 1930s type. Most of the homes around appear to have been built in the 20s or 30s, but were in fact constructed between 1947 and 1960. The oldest existing business east of Airport Blvd. is Tomlinson’s Pet Supplies which opened in 1949 as a feed and seed. They have kept with the times and now operate six stores in the MSA, focusing upon high-quality and premium-priced food for many animals commonly kept as pets, not merely dogs and cats.

Several businesses persist along the very busy Airport Blvd., which retains the name despite its proximity to the civil airport, the neighborhood behind is quite dull. Neither as spendy as Hyde Park or as annoyingly aspirational as North Loop. This area need not be counted with the North Loop types. For those from my hometown, North Loop would petition to prevent a White Castle from opening, while my neighborhood would petition to acquire a White Castle or just about anything else, really.

You will note, I have not named my neighborhood. I have a very good reason for this. It does not have a name. Before Google asked the city to provide a neighborhood map so they may enter it in their database, it had not occured to anyone outside Hyde Park to bother naming areas of town. Everything was “near” a certain intersection. “Near” meaning within fifty miles.

Since 2007 Austin has imposed neighborhood names on several parts of the city. Most people don’t know which neighborhood they live in because no one uses the impromptu monikers. Nonetheless, even absent history, which is surely out there, this triangle deserves its own designation.

If anyone knows what to do about this, let me know.




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