Fancy Pants Curbs of Pemberton Heights

This Statesman article describes Pemberton Heights and makes reference to the Cash and Deaderick history, Austin’s Pemberton Heights. I own and recommend that small volume to anyone interested in the history of the neighborhood’s development. It is not heavy on text, and includes a lot of old photos of bridges, streets, houses, and a small number (too few) of curbs. In this post, I hope to provide what was lacking in that otherwise detailed work.

When Pemberton Heights was first developed, the curbs were designed with a sleek, modern shape. I do not (yet) know the thinking behind this new shape, but it seems to have been abandoned before long, because the design is rarely seen in Austin, and was not used in many streets in the north end of Pemberton, and not at all in the adjacent development of Bryker Woods. The curbs in Old Enfield and Clarksville, to the south of Pemberton, were either of limestone blocks, or rock walls, or the more industrial-looking, mostly vertical, formed concrete curbs. When curbs are poured on these same streets today, concrete workers carefully brush away the sharp edges, creating the smooth and rounded corners we see lining most streets.

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But the fancy-pants curbs of Pemberton Heights go TWO steps further: first, the sleek, modern design to which I referred is a flattened edge, so that the curb is less of a wall, and more of a speed hump. The photo below at left shows the curb changing from the more traditional to the fancy-pants style, in the edge of the shadow, bottom third of the photo. (This is Windsor, heading west, coming up to the turn onto Harris Boulevard, which runs the length of Pemberton Heights from south to north.) The photo below at right shows another point of transition. The fancy curb begins in the top third of the photo.

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But the fanciness doesn’t stop there. The early designers of those mid-century marvels also included tile signs spelling out the names of the streets RIGHT ON THOSE CURBS!

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And that’s that.

 

Washington, D.C.

Continuing our trip to visit colleges, Joel and I ended up in Washington, D.C. We had a good time visiting family there, and looking at some fine Universities. I also toured around a bit and took photos. Some people might think it odd that I would visit the U.S. capital and not take photos of the White House or Lincoln Memorial and other sights that you see on post cards. But I find myself noticing things and finding them interesting and worthy of attention, and usually they are pretty mundane and easy to ignore. I hope by reading this that you might be able to find more beauty in whatever is around you.

Here is a little of what I saw.

On my way to the National Mall, I passed a refuse-bearing structure attached to a building. A few blocks further, I stopped at the Union Station to appreciate the tile patterns on the ceiling, as well as the giant columns.

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As I approached the Capitol, I passed a tree full of graffiti, some albino squirrels (this one is trying to hide), and old-timey lamp posts.

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Soon, I arrived at the National Gallery. This huge art museum is free to visit, but closes at 5:00. I arrived at 4:30, and saw some very nice pieces in the time I had. To begin with, the building itself is impressive, outside and in (I only went in the east wing.)

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The space was open and sparse. A 76-foot mobile (Alexander Calder) was hanging high in the cavernous hall. Some massive sculptures were installed here and there. I took a few photos.

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I found a wall dedicated to people who had given money to make the building and buy art.

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The place had some very fancy phone booths. The telephones had been removed, and wires were sticking out. I think they should at least install some artificial phones, just so the look isn’t spoiled.

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On the way home, I visited Shake Shack in Union Station and ate a messy hot dog on the way back to my cousin’s place.

Now that we are back home in Austin, I hope to return to the topic of local concrete. Next post? Maybe it’s about time to tackle the Maufrais phenomenon.

 

 

Manhattan

I was in Manhattan several times this week visiting colleges with Joel. While there, we saw many fascinating sights. Here I will share a few.

Some curbs are actually made of iron wrapped around concrete. Others are of granite. These babies are built to last.

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We visited the Museum of Modern Art, and walked up and down many streets lined with tall buildings.

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At night, the city can look like the FUTURE. (In the future, advertisements get very LARGE.)

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Rows of lightbulbs adorn the ceiling outside Grand Central Terminal. New York: the concrete never sleeps.

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Some gutters have iron covers foundried in faraway lands, such as India. The Museum of Natural History had a replica of a giant squid. You have to imagine it being next to something like a truck, which would help it to look giant.

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I love Manhattan. I want to go back soon.

Old Masonry

I have little time this week for research into cement contractors of yore. Instead, I have chosen to showcase old masonry. These photos are of ordinary but beautiful structures I’ve seen around central Austin. I estimate that most of them date from 1910-1925.

These (below) are on Baylor Street near Ninth.

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I like how the sidewalk (below, center) doesn’t quite make it to the curb.

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Below, left: This kind of scored design was popular a century ago. A large X often marks the sidewalk at the path to the front door.

Below, right: The break in the curb shows the structure. It looks as though a different material is used for the outside finish.

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What’s this little channel used for? Deliveries? Refuse disposal? Secret entrance?

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Below, left: note how the driveway slopes up at the edges. Right: scored driveway, Baylor south of 6th.

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Below, left: I like the way old concrete crumbles. Right: steps to nowhere.

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Below, left: each step is a single piece of milled limestone. Right: front walk with scoring.

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Below, left: steps at 27th and Speedway. Right: cut wall shows internal structure.

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Below, left: Old wall with wrought-iron fence on Theresa Avenue. Oak tree is pushing through it. Right: steps at 27th and Speedway.

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(That’s all.)

 

Knox T. Johnson

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(Above left: 14th east of Nueces; right: Nueces north of 11th)

The 1872 Austin city directory lists John O. Johnson as a grocery clerk living at Pecan (6th Street) and Guadalupe. In that same year, his wife, Betty, gave birth to the first of their three children: Knox Thomson Johnson. John went on to distinguish himself as Austin’s Postmaster, then City Clerk. The family moved to the corner of Rio Grande and Mesquite (later 11th Street), across the street from the city’s first high school, now Pease Elementary. (You can find both rendered in 3-D on this cool old map.) John Orville Johnson, Jr. was born six years after Knox. The 1912 directory has Knox living at 1008 Rio Grande. His younger brother, at 1012 Rio Grande, is identified as Knox’s foreman. The brothers would have been about 40 and 34 years of age and living on the same lot as their parents (and probably of their sister, Lenore, as well.) The different addresses suggest that the family compound had several buildings, presumably occupied by different family members.

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(Above left: Nueces north of 11th; right: 14th east of Guadalupe, July 1910)

In this blog post are displayed photos of all nine instances of the Knox T. Johnson stamp I have observed. The only date on any of them is “7–1910”, so this is some of the oldest concrete remaining on Austin streets.

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(Above left: Nueces south of 14th; right: It appears that Knox made this nifty garden border for his neighbor at 9th and Rio Grande.)

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(Above left: near 11th and Rio Grande; center and right: Washington Square)

In 1911, the city council passed a resolution to pay Knox T. Johnson for sidewalk and curbing by appropriating $760.14 from prominent businessmen, including E. M. Scarbrough (the man behind the Scarbrough Building), Monroe Miller (stable owner and undertaker, on 7th east of Congress Avenue), and Joseph Nalle. (May we presume that the sidewalks and curbs abutted those businesses?)

By 1922, Knox had married Sallie R. Johnson and moved to 407 E. 8th Street.

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(Above left: Washington Square; right: steps on Lavaca at 15th)

The 1940 census has them at 701 Sparks Avenue near the North University neighborhood. Travis County Appraisal District records indicate that the house there now was built in 1937, so it’s reasonable to assume they lived in it.

According to his grave stone, Knox Thomson Johnson was born August 31, 1872, and died in Austin, Texas on June 19, 1951. RIP

Wallace R. Miller

Eliza A. Miller is shown in the 1889 City of Austin Directory as the widow of John T. Miller. Although he’d have been about 24 years old, her son Wallace was not in that directory. Some time before the 1897 directory was published, Wallace R. Miller became somebody. The 1897 listing shows his occupation as “traveling salesman” and his residence as 118 E. 17th Street (now an impressive parking garage), a block from Scholz’ Beer Garden and the Saengerrunde Halle. In those days, the neighborhood would have been awash with German song and drink. In 1910, the Austin City Council recorded in its minutes that he and Ray McDonald were to be awarded a contract “for filling the Dyke in South Austin, south of the Colorado bridge.” By 1912, he had moved to 2403 Rio Grande (now a leasing office, across the street from Wag-A-Bag in West Campus). He was still unlisted among cement contractors, whose names at that time included William Benney, all three Brueggemann’s (Julius, Max J. and Hugo), Robert Van Dixon, Knox T. Johnson, William Maufrais, and Pelham L. Woodward, among others. But by 1914, the shield of Wallace R. Miller, Contractor, began showing up around town.

(Below, from left: West Campus, 10th near Rio Grande, West Avenue near 11th)

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Among sidewalk contractor marks, Wallace R. Miller’s is unique. His shield trademark is immediately recognizable and unlike any other.

(Below left: location?; right: Oakwood Cemetery)

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(Below left: Rio Grande at 15th; right: West Avenue near 34th)

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(Below left: Ninth east of Blanco; right: San Antonio north of 13th)

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(Below left: West Avenue north of 10th; right: Nickerson at Milton)

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The 1918 directory indicates he had married Mina, and that they still resided at 2403 Rio Grande. Wallace R. and Miles P. Miller were at that time proprietors of Miller Bros Garage and Service Station at 112 E 7th. They sold the business by 1922. A cemetery search yielded much more information: that they never moved from their Rio Grande home; that Wallace died at age 70 in 1935; that Mina died at 78 in 1962. Further, Wallace had a daughter, Nellie, by his first wife, Maude, who had died in 1903. Nellie married Robert Thomas (Tom) Miller, who became one of the most influential mayors in Austin’s history. Mayor Tom Miller helped secure the benefit of many federal projects, including the dam of Lake Austin which now bears his name.

So if you see one of these Wallace R. Miller shields, remember that he was father-in-law to THE Tom Miller.

Below left is at the corner of Park and Newning. (Travis Heights is not nearly so blurry on most days.) Below at right is the porch in front of Saint Mary’s Cathedral. Is this Miller the same? If so, why is his signature suddenly not so flashy?

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Around 1923, Wallace R. Miller got an idea for a catchy new slogan:

(Below left: 32nd Street near Kings; right: Oakwood Cemetery)

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Heh, heh. We PAVE the way. I get it.

(Below left: San Antonio north of 12th; right: Travis Heights Boulevard)

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Sometimes streets are paved over and over, until much of the original curb is submerged.

(Below left: 32nd Street; right: West Avenue near 11th)

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If we survive long enough in one place, this is probably as good as any of us may expect.

 

Pelham L. Woodward

Morrison & Fourmy’s General Directory of the City of Austin for 1897-1898 has no mention of Pelham L. Woodward. I tried to determine whether he might be related to Clarence Woodward, a prominent saloon owner who later became city Fire Department Chief, but found no connection. The directory for 1912-1913 lists him as a cement contractor residing in the second ward at 1601 E. 17th, land which became part of the Oakwood Cemetery when the annex was added in 1914. By 1918, the listing showed his wife as Mattie B. Woodward, and they had the same address in 1922. I am unsure exactly when and how he arrived to and departed from Austin, Texas. While he was here, P. L. Woodward poured some concrete.

The photo below at left is from the corner of west 32nd Street at King (March 1916). A little farther east on 32nd is the scene at right below.

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Shown below is some early, dated work of P. L. Woodward. At left is a sidewalk he made in February 1915 for H. Brown on Blanco near 8th. (I have so far been unable to find a directory listing for H. Brown to correspond with the location of this sidewalk.) At right is an October 1915 sidewalk. For some reason, the 9 turned out more like an 8.

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More examples of the work of Pelham L. Woodward (Avenue G north of 40th; 33rd near King):

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Below left: South Austin, Travis Heights Boulevard; Below right: West Avenue near 32nd.

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Below, clockwise from upper left: West Avenue near 12th; San Antonio near 15th; West near 31st (submerged);  West near 11th.

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Below left: near 40th and Avenue G. Below right: I guess he was trying on a different style when he marked this curb near 31st and Duval.

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I have so far found no biographical information on Pelham L. or Mattie B. Woodward after 1922. I found no mention of his name in any city council meeting minutes, which suggests that P. L. Woodward was not awarded city contracts. How is this possible, when his name appears on street curbs in a wide range of locations about central Austin, from Hyde Park to Travis Heights? Was he some kind of ranging independent cement worker who left his mark and died childless? Did he seek his fortune somewhere else? Perhaps he killed someone and fled, changing his name. Maybe he and Mattie succumbed in an epidemic.

This mystery will persist a while longer.

 

 

 

Old School Curb Construction

A hallmark of our civilization is the management of water runoff, especially from our sidewalks and streets. Storm drains, sewer pipes and street curbs are the first structures in any new housing development. Congress Avenue had curbs decades before it had cobblestones or pavement, even before street cars, when horse-drawn wagons carried in goods from the farms east of town to train depots and warehouses between 6th Street and the river. Curbs delineate the sidewalks and streets, and provide a surface along which rainwater may run away, leaving roads passably dry and solid.

In recent decades, curbs have been framed and poured in long sections from large cement mixing trucks, ensuring uniformity and proper consistency of the concrete. In the early days of Austin, cement was manufactured and mixed in relatively small batches. Around the turn of the 20th century, many Austin companies competed to produce the cement demanded by the growth of the city. One of the larger firms, William Walsh & Co. was a lime manufacturer located “3 miles w of city” in what is now Reed Park, where they quarried and cooked limestone in a huge kiln (still there at 2600 Pecos) to produce the quicklime needed for cement.

Early construction took many forms. The Old Enfield and Pemberton neighborhoods, for instance, are distinguished by limestone curbing at many of the older properties. Some are of shaped rock, mortared into place; some are more like low walls. Examples follow:

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On Rio Grande, around 9th Street, one curb is made of these manufactured concrete blocks with mortared notches in the ends:

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Here are more examples of curbs made of manufactured concrete blocks.

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The degradation of the retainer below makes its double-walled construction more obvious. A capstone (like that on the photo at lower right) would normally hide the space inside, which might be filled with dirt, sand, or limestone rubble.

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An occasional stretch of street is lines by brick or uniformly-sized rock:

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Sometimes we make do with whatever materials are available, or none at all.

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On this corner at 9th and Rio Grande, four modes of construction exist side-by-side.

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See if you don’t start to notice some of these variations.

 

 

 

Julius F. Johnson

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UPDATE: I have discovered that John F. Johnson (identified as J. F. Johnson) was a general contractor working in the same time period as Julius F. Johnson, and competing against him in bidding for some city contracts. I now believe that John F. Johnson built the 24th Street bridge on Shoal Creek, and the 2nd Street bridge on Waller Creek.

Around central Austin, the name of Julius F. Johnson is easy to find on curbs and sidewalks. Morrison & Fourmy’s General Directory of the City of Austin for 1897-1898 lists Julius F. Johnson as an employee of Amelius L. Hoist. Hoist was a collector of junk, bottles, rags and bones, which was actually a profession at the time. In those days, Julius was a resident in the home of Charles A. Johnson, his father. Charles is listed as a “rock contractor” living in 1889 at “n bank Colorado river w of city limits.” The 1897 directory shows his residence as the south side of West 5th Street, 2 blocks west of the International & Great Northern Railroad. (This is the railroad which now shares its right-of-way with Mo-Pac Expressway, Loop 1.) Both of these entries refer to the limestone mansion that Charles Johnson built of limestone blocks that he dug from the Colorado river bed, held together with the cement that he cooked out of the same limestone.  This building has housed the Travis Post of the American Legion since 1925.

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Julius was born in January of 1872, so in 1897 he would have been about 25 years old, employed by a rag man, and living with his parents. Later records indicate that he and his brother had properties near Deep Eddy pool, adjacent to Dam Boulevard (now Lake Austin Boulevard). The 1918 directory has him living at 513 Deep Eddy Avenue with his wife, Mary E. Johnson. My guess is that all these properties, originally outside the city limit, were contiguous parts of the  Johnson estate. Later annexation led to platting and street names, so that “2 blks w of I. & G. N. R. R.” became Deep Eddy Avenue.

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(Above, left to right: 7th Street, looking east to Guadalupe; near 32nd and Grandview; Windsor north of Enfield.)

The Austin City Council minutes of July, 1927, shows his was among the bids to build a bridge on Dam Boulevard over Johnson Creek (west of downtown). (He was underbid by a C. C. Moore of Georgetown.) In 1928, Austin issued bonds for a series of improvements to Barton Springs pool. Several contractors were involved, including C. A. Maufrais, Richard Schmidt, J. F. Johnson (John), and Julius Johnson, whose contributions were “Miscellaneous Sidewalks and Walls.”

Below, at left, is an unusual instance of Julius using initials only (unless this is John F. Johnson; see note at top)(7th Street west of Baylor). And on the right: a sidewalk adjacent to “The Speedway,” so called because it was intended to provide fast access to E. M. Shipe’s 1890’s development of Hyde Park (southwest corner of 35th and Speedway).

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Another boon to Austin’s early suburban development was the 24th Street bridge over Shoal Creek, which allowed convenient access to Pemberton Heights. In 1928, the Austin Development Company contracted with J. F. Johnson to complete the concrete bridge at a price of $12,000. As soon as it was finished, they gave it to the City of Austin, who duly thanked them. (He was also contractor on the 1938 WPA expansion of the same bridge.) Johnson undoubtedly was involved in many other projects; one is of personal interest: on June 19, 1930, he won the contract to build the Waller Creek bridge on Red River at East 2nd Street. Sixty years later, the same bridge is featured in a scene from Richard Linklater‘s 1991 film Slacker. In 2014, the bridge is immediately east of the Austin Convention Center, which was built over the former 2nd Street right-of-way.

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Above, left: a decaying sidewalk on the street behind Amy’s Ice Cream on Guadalupe; right: Hyde Park curb, Avenue G near 42nd.

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In 1929, the city purchased land from Julius and Mary, including property around Rainey Street, and the land from which Interstate 35 crosses the Colorado River, and upon which is built the Holiday Inn where I spent my first night in Austin in November, 1983.

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Julius F. Johnson was buried in Oakwood Cemetery under a small granite stone engraved with only his name and:  Jan. 1872 – Sept. 1949.

RIP

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Graffiti

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While looking for sidewalk contractor brands, I frequently encounter graffiti. Typically they take the form of names or initials and some sort of date. These can be useful for determining the age of the concrete. Twiggy and Joyner (I took the photo just for the names) were together back in ’69, which establishes the year a sidewalk was poured on Lavaca near 14th Street. Without Jack’s penchant for vandalism, I would not have known that it was 1953 when J.R. Andrews poured that sidewalk next to Casis Elementary School. On January 22, 1945, in the freshly poured curb on Avenue B, someone declared love with scratched initials and a valentine. Whether the love was as permanent as the street, who can say; but seven decades later it is unlikely that either lover persists.

On occasion one encounters something more artful or intriguing, such as an invitation to “RIDE THE WALRUS.” I’m not sure what that means, but it did make me stop and think. Upon reading “I LOVE YOU MOM,” I imagined someone writing in the concrete where the mother would see it on her daily walk. Harder to explain are the plaintive “SOMBODY STOP ME,” or the wistful “NOUS SOMMES DU SOLEIL” (Translation: we are from the sun.)

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More graffiti which I liked enough to photograph: Rimbaud + Verlaine (with a romantic cat, top of this post), Corn Dog, Joy Power, Nixon Sucks (“x” replaced with swastika), astronomical drawings.

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The Cactus Courts motel was razed in 1984 to make room for a professional building (4300 block of Guadalupe). Thankfully someone had the presence of mind to document its passing.

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And can someone please tell me the meaning of this enigmatic symbol (7th Street west of Baylor)?