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Historical park has slight identity crisis

Michael Barnes
mbarnes@statesman.com

Few Austin parks have played as many civic roles as Brush Square.

Less than an acre in size, it was designated as a public square by Mayor Edwin Waller in 1839. Since then, the square and its surrounding blocks have served as an open market, railroad depot, cotton yard, residential oasis, wholesale warehouse complex, fire station, parking lot, convention spot and resting place for relocated historic structures.

Its first functions were closely associated with the exchange of goods, according to a 2008 study by Michael Holleran and Dana Serovy.

The city's first railroad stopped just short of the park. Today a MetroRail station occupies its southern boundary. Two hotels, a convention center and a residential mid-rise line the square these days.

In 1888, this onetime site for the Alliance Cotton Yard was named for cotton merchant Seba Bogert Brush. Many efforts have been made to improve Brush Square since the 1920s. In 1934, the honeymoon cottage once occupied by writer William Sydney Porter, known as O. Henry, was moved here. It now serves as a small historical museum. In 1937, the City of Austin built its central fire station on the northwest corner (you can still detect some of the Art Deco features). In 1956, a Southern Pacific steam locomotive was parked behind the fire station (it's gone). In 2003, the Susanna Dickinson Hannig House, once hidden inside a barbecue joint, was moved to safety in Brush Square.

Clearly, the park is loved, but that love is conflicted.