Welcoming the newcomers to Bouldin
Michael Barnes, Out & About
When we moved to the Bouldin area for good in 1997, our bungalow was new. Although experts have since been fooled by its reverence for early-century gables, porches and windows, it rose in the vanguard of latter-day construction for this neighborhood first laid out in the 1870s. Since then, at least 445 new houses, duplexes or condos including substantial additions have been built in Bouldin between South Congress Avenue and Lamar Boulevard, Barton Springs Boulevard and Oltorf Street. How do I know this? Because Nora the Explorer Lab and I carefully surveyed the newcomers during early-morning walks.
Stark, modernist entries have received outsized attention, yet they make up less than 10 percent of the new residences. The rest would be classified as "traditional," although given its 100-year history, streamlined modernism ought to be considered yet another traditional style. (One early modern sample sits among some lovely prewar homes on lower Bouldin Avenue.)
I'm willing to bet that slowly developed Bouldin is the most eclectic neighborhood, architecturally, in the city. So what was here before the 445 newbies?
Among the first settlers were African Americans, who put up cabins of vertical-plank construction. Their descendants still live among us, despite the 1928 City of Austin urban plan that (passively) attempted to segregate blacks to East Austin by refusing to extend basic services to them.
At least four tall, wooden farmhouses — the most famous now serving as Green Pastures restaurant — and a few stone farmhouses survive from the 19th century. After 1900, poor whites joined the African Americans, as humorist and civil rights advocate John Henry Faulk relates in "The Uncensored John Henry Faulk."
"In those days I came to live to two separate worlds with distinct boundaries," Faulk writes. "Both were encompassed in South Austin, a neighborhood containing the farms of people like my father, a successful lawyer, as well as the shacks and tents of the poor black and white families living ‘down on the creek.'"
Some of those white families, too, still live within few doors of us, although the eldest members are passing away too quickly. They tell of a South Austin as a semi-rural place of dirt roads, frequent floods and hard work. Latinos arrived in numbers after World War II. They lived in the cottages and bungalows that dominate the hills around us.
Later, beatniks and hippies created idiosyncratic houses — A-frames, concrete lilies, towers that offered skyline views and safety from prying police, as well as the bejeweled Never Never Land. Over the past couple of decades, guppies and yuppies — I don't use those terms disparagingly — discovered the hood and put their marks on it.
The vast majority of the new homes and additions respect their neighbors. They present masses and façades that complement nearby homes, saving the extra space for the backs of properties. The passersby must really look to detect the additional mass.
Thus, history is recycled.