East Austin mural, pool dance among Preservation Austin award winners

Plagued by congested traffic? High cost of living? Persistent inequity? Those pesky scooters?

Whenever the New Austin Blues get you down, turn to Preservation Austin and especially its annual Merit Awards. The Old Austin triumphs of stewardship, invention and rehabilitation are sometimes small, but every year, they add up.

This year’s winners include three major 19th-century structures, several homes large and small, some updated commercial buildings, an East Austin mural, a dance about community, two singular park structures and a distinguished architectural historian.

These fine people, places, culture and history will be honored at the Preservation Merit Awards Celebration at the Driskill Hotel on Friday, Oct. 19 from 11:30am to 1:30pm. It’s a treat.

2018 PRESERVATION MERIT AWARD RECIPIENTS

220 South Congress Avenue. Contributed by Gensler.

220 SOUTH CONGRESS – Bouldin

Recipient: Cielo Property Group

Preservation Award for Rehabilitation

Architect: Gensler

308 W. 35th St. Contributed by Preservation Austin

308 E. 35th – North University

Recipient: Steven Baker and Jeff Simecek

Preservation Award for Addition

409 Colorado St. Contributed by Clayton Holmes, Forge Craft Architect + Design

409 COLORADO – Downtown

Recipient: David Zedeck

Preservation Award for Rehabilitation

Architect: Forge Craft Architecture + Design

Austin State Hospital. Contributed by Nathan Barry, Braun & Butler Construction

AUSTIN STATE HOSPITAL

Recipient: Health & Human Services Commission

Preservation Award for Restoration

Contractor: Braun & Butler Construction

Collier House. Contributed by Andrew Calo

COLLIER HOUSE – Bouldin

Recipient: Georgia Keith

Preservation Award for Addition

Architect: Elizabeth Baird Architecture & Design

For La Raza. Contributed by Philip Rogers

“FOR LA RAZA” – Holly

Recipient: Arte Texas, Art in Public Places, Parks and Recreation Department & Austin Energy

Preservation Award for Preservation of a Cultural Landscape

Robert Herrera and Oscar Cortez

O. Henry Hall. Contributed by O’Connell Architecture

O.HENRY HALL – Downtown

Recipient: Texas State University System

Preservation Award for Rehabilitation

Architect: Lawrence Group, O’Connell Architecture

Oakwood Chapel. Contributed by Preservation Austin

OAKWOOD CEMETERY CHAPEL

Recipient: City of Austin Parks & Recreation Department

Preservation Award for Restoration

Architect: Hatch + Ulland Owen Architects

RELATED: Austin dedicates sublime Oakwood Chapel.

Solarium. Contributed by Casey Woods Photography

SOLARIUM – Old West Austin

Recipient: Don Kerth

Preservation Award for Addition

Architect: Jobe Corral Architects

Sparks House. Contributed by Preservation Austin

SPARKS HOUSE – Judges Hill

Recipient: Suzanne and Terry Burgess

Preservation Award for Restoration

St. Edward’s University Main Building. Contributed by ArchiTexas

EDWARDS UNIVERSITY MAIN BUILDING + HOLY CROSS HALL

Recipient: St. Edwards University

Preservation Award for Rehabilitation and Restoration

Architect: Baldridge Architects, Architexas

RELATED: Sister Donna Jurick leaves St. Ed’s a better place.

Tucker-Winfield Apartments. Contributed by Preservation Austin

TUCKER-WINFIELD APARTMENTS – Downtown

Recipient: Elayne Winfield Lansford

Preservation Award for Rehabilitation

Architect: O’Connell Architecture

RELATED: New life for a 1939 gem.

Twin Houses. Contributed by Casey Woods Photography

TWIN HOUSES – Delwood 2

Recipient: Ada Corral and Camille Jobe

Preservation Award for Addition

Architect: Jobe Corral Architects

E.P. Wilmot House. Contributed by Preservation Austin

P. WILMOT HOUSE – Downtown

Recipient: John C. Horton III

Preservation Award for Rehabilitation

Architect: Clayton & Little

Zilker Caretaker Cottage. Contributed City of Austin Parks & Recreation

ZILKER CARETAKER COTTAGE

Recipient: Austin Parks & Recreation Department

Preservation Award for Rehabilitation

RELATED: Life in the middle of Zilker Park.

Beta Xi House. Contributed by Preservation Austin

BETA XI HOUSE ASSOCIATION – University of Texas

for Stewardship of the Beta Xi Kappa Kappa Gamma House

“My Park, My Pool, My City.” Contributed by Rae Fredericks, Forklift Dancworks

FORKLIFT DANCEWORKS

Special Recognition for “My Park, My Pool, My City”

Contributed

PHOEBE ALLEN

Lifetime Achievement

RELATED: Where did the Chisholm Trail cross the Colorado?

Need inspiration? Try UT-student cyclists going the distance for cancer research

If you can resist the exaltation of the annual Texas 4000 Tribute Dinner, you are made of sterner stuff than I.

Texas 4000 for Cancer was founded in 2004 by Chris Condit, a Hodgin’s lymphoma survivor who appeared at the charity dinner at the Hyatt Regency Austin on Friday looking as if he just graduated from the University of Texas.

Hannah Knaup and Graham Bryan at Texas 4000 Tribute Gala. Knaup rode this year and encountered a bear with cubs on the trail in Alaska. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Each year, more than 60 UT students make the 70-day, 4,687 mile trek via one of three routes — Sierras, Rockies and Ozarks. Crucial to each trip, the young men and women focus on the people for whom they ride. They work as teams — virtually everyone makes it — and they stay as guests, often of UT alums along the way.

I came in around the time of the first Tribute Dinner and could not resist the electric vibe shared by riders past, present and future, as well as their volunteers, backers, staff, directors and fans — some of whom were honored during the dinner with the Chairman’s Pin Awards, handed out by Wes Carberry.

So far the group has netted $8.4 million for cancer research, with an aim to reach $10 million by 2020. They also make incredible videos that would be envy of any nonprofit in the country. The variety of backgrounds and experiences among the students — some haven’t ridden road bikes before — is astounding.

Just one more thing that makes UT singular.

Austin dedicates sublime Oakwood Cemetery Chapel

The crowd nodded solemnly as speakers praised the tiny, exquisite Oakwood Cemetery Chapel, recently restored to its early 20th-century glory.

The city of Austin cannot consecrate, but it can dedicate.

And it did so with grace and feeling during this celebration on Friday. Designed by Charles Page of the distinguished architecture family and built in 1914, the chapel combines some of the best of European and Texan traditions in limestone and wood, almost on a child’s imaginary scale.

Kim McKnight, Kevin Johnson and Ora Houston at dedication of Oakwood Cemetery Chapel restoration. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

It was built, however, on the city cemetery’s “Colored Grounds” and remains of 38 bodies were exhumed from under the chapel during the recent construction process. They have not been identified and will be reburied elsewhere with dignity.

Nearby: A new Confederate monument rises at Oakwood.

Council Member Ora Houston, in whose district the cemetery lies, spoke forcefully about how the land brought together the city’s “blended family,” since Latinos and Anglos were buried among African-Americans in the “Colored Grounds.”

The Parks and Recreation Department is responsible for uplifting this chapel with its crenelated tower, Gothic arches and modern air-conditioning (thank you!), as it is for an award-winning master plan for five of the city’s historic graveyards. Save Austin Cemeteries spent years advocating for this game-changing project (we hear new gates and fences are next).

Parks and Rec’s Kim McKnight contributed her mighty historical sensibility and Kevin Johnson his project management for the work designed, we surmise from this drawing, by Hatch + Ulland Owen.

At one point near the end of the ceremony, I snuck through the crowd to use the facilities. The gleaming white, tiled restroom was large and attractive enough to house a small party.

Turns out it was where the mortician did his job.

Firefighters revisit historic Austin building that burned

“They didn’t just save our building,” says Austin attorney Laura Fowler about the firefighters who responded to the conflagration at the old Millett Opera House on June 16. “They saved our treasures.”

Firefighters Shaun McAuley and Ron Coleman at Burning Down the House for Millett Opra House Foundation. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

A sprinkler system also did its job, but Fowler, who advises the foundation board that leases the building to the plush Austin Club, wanted to thank all the firefighters and police officers who made sure the fire, set by a persistent arsonist, did not produce casualties or more loss of property, including old paintings and decor.

RELATED: Historic downtown building damaged by arsonist.

The occasion for the public recognition last week was “Burning Down the House,” a cheekily named fundraiser at the Austin Club for the foundation that recently purchased the historic structure on East Ninth Street from the Austin school district.

Restoration workers tend to the historic Millett Opera House, home of the Austin Club in downtown Austin, after it sustained a significant amount of water damage from a sprinkler during a fire early Monday. Austin police arrested a man they say broke into the building and tried to burn it down. The fire caused more than $100,000 in damage to the building, officials said. LYNDA M. GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

By way of marvelous coincidence, the builder of the 1878 structure was Charles Millet, the city’s first volunteer fire captain, who as alderman argued strenuously for fire safety standards. It served many functions, including offices of the Austin Statesman.

RELATED: The Statesman had more than a dozen homes.

Catch the best parties of the new Austin social season

Welcome back to the Austin social season. Some of you never went away.

But all of us can agree that catching up with old friends and making new ones — just as the summer fades a bit — is part of the Austin way of life.

These are eight late August parties I hope to attend.

Aug. 22: Burning Down the House for Millett Opera House Foundation. Austin Club. millettoperahouse.com.

Aug. 24: Chapel Restoration Celebration. Oakwood Cemetery, 1601 Navasota St. austintexas.gov/oakwoodchapel

Aug. 24: Texas 4000 for Cancer Tribute Gala. Hyatt Regency Hotel. bit.ly/tributegala.

Aug. 24:  Study Social for Literacy First. 800 Congress Ave. literacyfirst.org.

Aug. 25: Ice Ball for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Fairmont Hotel. austiniceball.org.

Aug. 25: Studio 54klift for Forklift Danceworks. forkliftdanceworks.org.

Aug. 29: The Man. The Legend. The Chick Magnet. Happy 90th Shelly Kantor, longtime regular customer and champion dancer. Donn’s Depot. donnsdebot.com

Aug. 31-Sept. 3: Splash Days for Octopus Club, Kind Clinic and OutYouth. Various locations. splashdays.com.

A big deal gets bigger: Austin’s Art of the Gala adds producer and expands networking reach

The Art of the Gala, already one of Austin’s most effective charitable convocations, just doubled its scope and stature.

Monica Maldonado Williams at a previous Art of the Gala event. Contributed

Founded by Monica Maldonado Williams, publisher of nonprofit tracker Giving City, this annual training day for fundraisers combines speeches, panels and breakout sessions devoted to how to best throw a charity event. It has been a must-go for development officers and volunteer gala captains. (The American-Statesman publishes a weekly column about the area’s nonprofit community through a partnership with Giving City Austin.)

RELATED: Monica Maldonado Williams cracks the charity code

Jennifer Horn Stevens at a previous Art of the Gala session. Contributed

This year for the first time, Williams will partner with Jennifer Horn Stevens, CEO of the  JHL Company, producer of the giant Mack, Jack and McConaughey party and other signature events. Stevens has added activities for top donors and nonprofit executives, turning it into a premium networking event for best practices in the field.

RELATED: Jennifer Stevens: The Making of an Un-Lobbyist

The all-day Art of the Gala lands at the JW Marriott on Oct. 23.

Attendees will be able to choose from these topics:

• Sponsorships

• Day-of Fundraising

• Event Planning & Execution

• Working With Vendors

• Making The Event Magical

• Expanding the Audience

• Donor Retention

• Non-Event Revenue

“The Art of the Gala is a terrific resource for nonprofits,” says Phyllis Snodgrass, CEO of Austin Habitat for Humanity. “Adding JHL to the mix takes this event to the next level. JHL brings creativity, practical donor recruitment and retention strategies and a focus on integrating major events into overall strategic plans and marketing goals of an organization.”

Tickets are available here

Texas history museum names new director you might know

You might already know the newly appointed director of the Bullock Texas State History Museum. That’s because hyper-competent Margaret Koch has already twice served as the museum’s interim director as well as its director of exhibits and deputy director.

The Bullock Texas State History Museum names Margaret Koch as director. Contributed

Koch previously served as director of exhibitions and research as well as exhibition designer at the Missouri History Museum. In Austin since 2013, she has supervised award-winning shows and has widened the museum’s focus to include previously underreported histories.

She has also overseen improvements and renovations, including conversion of the museum’s IMAX theater projection to an advanced laser format, and a multi-million-dollar rethinking of the first floor gallery, to reopen in November as “Becoming Texas.”

RELATED: Museum urges visitors to rodeo across Texas.

The Bullock will become even more relevant as the corridor north of the Capitol is reshaped and a new cultural space — with a still-undetermined focus — opens in a state office tower across the street from the Bullock and the Blanton Museum of Art.

RELATED: Life and death on the Texas-Mexico border 100 years ago.

“Margaret is an experienced and trusted leader,” said Rod Welsh, executive director of the State Preservation Board, the agency that oversees the museum as well as the State Capitol building and grounds, including its statuary, and the Capitol Visitors Center. She “will keep the Bullock at the forefront of best contemporary museum practices as the institution continues to produce new and exciting programs.”

Fashion icon Tim Gunn to mentor Austin for a day

If you’ve ever wanted Tim Gunn from “Project Runway” to act as your mentor — even for just a short time and as part of a very large group — your chance is here.

Tim Gunn from “Project Runway” will speak in Austin in September. Contributed

The sweet, dapper man who always “makes it work” is the featured speaker at the Jewel Ball Fashion Luncheon on Sept 21 at the Hyatt Regency Austin, courtesy of the Women’s Symphony League.

Tickets to be had here.

You can bet that your reporter will not miss it.

Another smart move: Instead of a long runway show, models will present different looks during the extended luncheon, which starts, yes, at 10:30 a.m., and usually attracts a big crowd, 98 percent stylishly attired women. Perhaps more men will come out for Gunn.

A reminder that the Jewel Ball, this year honoring longtime symphony leader Jane Sibley, will follow on Sept. 22 at 6 p.m. at Palmer Auditorium. This is Austin’s biggest — and among the last — traditional debutante ball, so if you go, expect many grand presentations of offspring from Old Austin families.

RELATED: The one, the only Jane Sibley.

The League, by the way, is the most generous single financial backer of the Austin Symphony. Single tickets to performances from the upcoming season, which begins Sept. 14, are now on sale.

Texas White House at LBJ Ranch closed for now

The National Park Service announced Friday that it will close the “Texas White House,” once the ranch home of President Lyndon Baines Johnson and his family in Stonewall, as well as the adjacent Pool House, until further notice because of health and safety concerns arising from water leakage in various places in the main house.

The Texas White House and pool at the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall, taken in 2012. Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman

For decades, these were the most private zones of the ranch, parts of the LBJ National Historical Park that, until 2012, were reserved for the Johnson family and not generally open to the public.

 RELATED: Exploring the inside of the Texas White House

The Park Service said they will remain closed until the service can confirm that the two buildings do not pose safety concerns.

“We don’t actually know what the problem is,” said Susanne McDonald, the national park superintendent. “We are going into an investigative stage to figure out what is happening. We are focusing on weaknesses in the structure that might be causing water intrusion. We have a few areas that have caused us problems, but we haven’t been able to figure out the exact location where the water is coming in. It could be absolutely nothing, but I don’t want to take a risk with our employees or our visitors.”

The modest buildings, preserved in 1960s styles, look less like the headquarters of the world’s most powerful person and more like a relaxing retreat where your beloved country relatives live. That is, until one notices the three attached televisions ready to broadcast the three big networks of the time.

Interiors of Texas White House were first seen by the public in 2012, preserved in their 1960s styles. Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman

“They just weren’t showy people,” former Superintendent Russ Whitlock said when the buildings were opened to the public in 2012. “The ranch and the ranch house take the Johnsons off the pedestal of president and first lady and make them into people we can relate to.”

In his recent book, “LBJ’s 1968: Power, Politics and the Presidency in America’s Year of Upheaval,” Ken Longley, the newly named director of the LBJ Presidential Library, describes how the ranch served as a safety valve for the  sometimes volcanic LBJ, especially during his traumatic final year in office. Repeatedly during 1968, the president retreated to the ranch, took a swim, then a ate a snack on TV trays, or a tooled around the Hill Country with family or friends to relax.

All other park facilities remain open to the public. These include the Johnson settlement, President Johnson’s boyhood home, and the park visitor center in Johnson City. The LBJ Ranch driving tour is not affected, and the LBJ Ranch hangar visitor center is open as normal.

UPDATE: The quote from Superintendent McDonald was added after this was first posted.

Best Texas Books: ‘Where Texas Meets the Sea’ by Alan Lessoff

How many observers would have predicted that the finest urban history to date about a Texas city would take as its subject Corpus Christi? Permanently perched on the state’s periphery, Corpus, a city of 316,000 — 442,000 in the metro area — seems always consigned to secondary status.

NOTE: This story first ran in the Statesman June 9, 2015. We’re reviving it for our Best Texas Books series.

In “Where Texas Meets the Sea” (University of Texas Press), Alan Lessoff explains how a place with such sterling advantages — gorgeous beaches, a striking bayfront under a natural bluff, a man-made deepwater port, proximity to Mexico and to the ranching, oil and gas empires of South Texas — has been stuck in virtual neutral for the past 50 years. Despite the current fracking boom, young people still leave in droves, as they did when the glamour spotlight followed other cities in the state: Houston during the space race, Dallas during the run of “Dallas,” and Austin pretty much ever since.

Lessoff is unswervingly fair. He doesn’t point fingers or assign guilt. Yet he makes it clear that Corpus has squandered opportunity after opportunity, especially in those years since an elite group of mostly Anglo businessmen ran the city from the 1920s to the 1960s. A necessary and salutary diffusion of power followed, but consensus has been fleeting.

BEST TEXAS BOOKS: “The Cedar Choppers.”

Preserve historic buildings in context, as Galveston and San Antonio did, or bulldoze them and start over? Run a major thoroughfare along the bayfront, or make it more amenable to tourists and pedestrians? Cluster civic buildings on the bay? Or maybe on the bluff? Or somewhere in between, as urban designers have urged?

Corpus Christians can’t even agree on whether explorer Alonso Álvarez de Pineda named the bay because he arrived there on the Feast of Corpus Christi. (Lessoff finds no evidence to confirm the popular notion.)

Civic dithering might sound awfully familiar to Austinites, but here a lingering sense of optimism, a sense that problems eventually can be solved, tends to bolster old-timers and attract newcomers — including young people — in multitudes.

Corpus lost the headquarters of H-E-B and Whataburger to San Antonio. It missed out on Sea World. In the book’s most squalid passages, Lessoff describes how the city allowed Spanish-built seagoing replicas of the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria — sent on a somewhat tone-deaf diplomatic tour during the 500-year anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage, and intended as tourism supermagnets — to rot. The Pinta and the Santa Maria replicas were quietly destroyed in August 2014.

“They had become a monument not to interethnic pride,” Lessoff writes, “but to the perils of community building through generalized symbolism.”

The city was founded in 1839 — same year as Austin — as an Anglo trading outpost on the disputed border between Texas and Mexico, the Nueces River, by Henry Lawrence Kinney. It was nurtured as a market town, banking center and supply depot for South Texas ranching families. Its Hispanic residents — who finally began to share power after World War II through groups such as the G.I. Forum, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Westside Business Association — were generally descended from rural families long settled in the region.

The town was vulnerable to tropical storms. A 1919 hurricane swept many buildings off its low-lying bayfront. Corpus built a seawall, lower than the one in Galveston, which, after all, juts directly into the Gulf of Mexico rather than resting behind a shallow bay.

Two big things lifted Corpus from backwater status in the 20th century: The discovery of oil and the completion of the port in 1926. A naval air station cemented its longtime military character. As in San Antonio, many veterans chose to stick around after their service.

A few rail lines were added, and for a while it seemed as if Corpus could duplicate the success of Houston or other booming Gulf cities. Its downtown — crowned by hotels and the streamlined Lichtenstein’s department store — seemed as bustling as anywhere in Texas at the midcentury mark. (My father, grandfather and grandmother worked in that grand store.)

Many of those downtown landmarks are gone or remain unreclaimed.

It isn’t as if Corpus hasn’t made big plans: It built the vaulting Harbor Bridge. Another is on the way. Periodically, fabulous developments are planned for the waterfront or the barrier islands. The expanded port continues to boom.

But too often city leaders can’t get it together. Lessoff includes an entire chapter on the symbolic fights over public art. Elites centered at the Art Museum of South Texas — its Philip Johnson building is among the city’s few distinguished pieces of architecture — feuded bitterly with locals who felt that their tastes and their favorite artists were ignored.

Among the few local artists who were able to find backers in both camps was Swedish-born sculptor Kent Ullber, whose “Wind in the Sails” represents “an evocation of the awesome Gulf,” according to Lessoff, and “came closest to providing a symbol for the city.” A statue of Tejano idol Selena gained public acceptance after an uncertain start.

Preservationists find it hard to win any battles. In a halfway gesture, some older structures were moved to a central spot called Heritage Park, stripped of their contexts. The nonprofits housed in the buildings struggled to make a go of it in the odd village.

Lessoff sees a glimmer of hope on the horizon: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi — anchored on a thrice-reinvented bayside campus — imports and trains a creative class for a city that has relied too heavily on services to inland farms and ranches, on energy-hungry industry and on in-state tourism.

One of the most confounding and persistent blind spots for the city: Its relatively weak ties to Mexico and the rest of Latin America. Instead, that role in has been usurped by San Antonio, Laredo, Houston and the Lower Rio Grande Valley, an urban agglomeration of 1.2 million residents strung along one smooth freeway. That whole, linear region from Mission to Brownsville seems plugged into the border in a way that Corpus does not.

A buddy who spent part of his youth in Corpus Christi and I recently explored the Valley, which, in the past few decades, has evolved from a rural patchwork into one vast, buzzing, low-rise landscape. We departed the region on a workday morning at what should have been rush hour, taking a “NAFTA superhighway” north to Corpus.

No traffic in either direction. That alone speaks volumes about both urban areas.

Reading “Where Texas Meets the Sea,” one can’t help rooting for Corpus. Despite its lack of collective vision, the city has always been perched on the brink of tantalizing possibilities.