Thursday, May 31, 2007

Red, White and Bleu Dinner.

Here is a photo that Linda shot this February of one of the tables in our big entertaining room set for a benefit dinner called "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner." (I love how our little dog is in the background.) Dinners are held in about twenty private homes around Austin and then everyone meets at a big central location to have dessert. The diners pay to attend and all the money goes to Project Transitions, a local group which helps people in the late stages of AIDS.

We also had two talented local signers, Christine Albert and Chris Gage, come serenade the diners with Edith Piaf tunes. The next day they sang at Governor Ann Richards' funeral which was held in Erwin Center -- a huge venue here in town -- and some of our guests called to say they saw them on television.
The entree, by the way, was Beef Tenderloin Bordelaise with Thyme-Parsley Pesto, Creme Fraiche and Herbed Brie Butter.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Building a Better Ballet Austin

The final touches are happening on Ballet Austin's Butler Dance Education Center in downtown Austin. Here you see the Armstrong-Connelly Studio which is where the apprentice company will rehearse. The hardwood floor was just installed before I shot this photograph. The rollers you see in the background have a vinyl floor on them which can be put down for certain types of rehearsals and then retracted.

The Ballet Austin staff is moving in and summer Academy classes will start next week.

This 34,000 square foot building will be the first entry in the making of the downtown arts district for Austin. It's the culmination of years of work by a lot of people, the two of us included. Are we happy?? YES!!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sunny Exposure

I took this shot in Hyde Park on a recent morning before 9:00. My guess is that the folks who are planning on using this outdoor living room were still catching a few last bits of slumber before freshening up and embarking on their busy days.

Note the nice balance of bright blue on two of the chairs with the ecru covering on the middle one. (While some might question the absence of a back on the middle chair, please note that its occupant can lean on the tree behind it. That, of course, lends a touch of communing with nature, a trait highly prized in Austin, Texas.) The overturned charcoal gray milk crates add a certain post-industrial flair while not detracting from the organic nature of the overall ensemble's look.

And it's not all play and no work for the residents! No, as you can see, they have an ironing board discreetly tucked into the tree to the left. Of course, it could also serve as a buffet style dining table.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Neighborhood Mural

Maybe it's because so many artists come to study at The University of Texas and then don't want to leave Austin-- whatever. But we seem to have a lot of wonderful outdoor murals that brighten up our town. One of Austin's mottos is "Live Music Capital of the World." Sometimes I think you could add "and Murals" after "Music" in that line.

Here is the one on the west side of the Fresh Plus grocery store near 42nd and Duval in Hyde Park, one of the few remaining smaller, but full-service shops in town. Bright murals like this are a nice human touch to the visual landscape of our neighborhoods.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Around here...A hundred years is OLD

The ornate building nestled among the bland downtown buildings of more recent vintage is the Driskill Hotel, built in the 1880's and finished and hosting an inaugural ball before our historic Texas Capitol Building was built. I shot this from the private deck at the Norwood Tower the other night.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Avenue B Grocery

In 1906, four years before my father was born, the Avenue B Grocery opened. Located in Hyde Park, about a five minute drive from our house, it's a testimony to a bygone day. Ross Mason owns it now-- and lives in an attached apartment out back. He is the fifth person to run it in its history.
You walk through the swinging screen door and it's like a Faulkner novel that’s come to life. Well, maybe that's too strong, but you do feel like you've landed in a part of the old Austin. It's a memory trip that spans back to those summer days when getting a cream soda and thinking about which library book you were going to read next were the only things on your mind. You can come in here and Ross and a helper will be putting sandwiches together from scratch, right in front of your very eyes. There’s a lot of soul in these old fashioned sandwiches like the King Combo and the Queen B--even if you get them on white bread. It does my blood pressure a world of good to visit “The B” and I often drive over here when my life is too "interesting." Somehow, this is an island of sanity in the midst of a high tech jungle.
As a note of interest, the Avenue B has been used for a location in several movies. Finding a store like this in a middle of the high tech mecca like Austin has to be a godsend for moviemakers doing a period piece. (By the way -- the sandwiches really are wonderful.)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Keep it Weird, Vehicle Edition, #2

There is a sort of tradition of art cars in Austin, I think. We encountered this one the other day while on our Hyde Park walking tour.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

It Snows Every Year in Austin

I'm a board member with Ballet Austin, which has become one of the best regional professional ballet companies in the country. One of my jobs with the ballet is to recruit VIPs to be Mother Ginger-- the figure on top of a huge skirt that is rolled out onstage during the second act. We've used people like Lance Armstrong, Michael Dell, US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Governor Ann Richards, Congressman Lloyd Doggett, singers like Ray Benson, Kinky Friedman, Pat Green, and Shawn Colvin, a General and the Sgt. Major from Fort Hood and many more. Since I'm already backstage to host them, I often snap photos. You can't use a flash, so the images come out blurred--which sometimes works to your advantage.

I took this one during the Snow Queen sequence a few years ago and it's still one of my favorites. Both the lighting and the composition clicked. I especially like how the dancers in the foreground go from dark to medium to lightest.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Meet Miss Chalow

Yes, well, the inevitable. Our lovely daughter gets a post. It's appropriate that Linda shot this one of Chalow nestled in bluebonnets in our neighborhood. This shot is a few years old, but Chalow looks the same today.

Chalow is now sixteen years old and her eyesight and hearing are starting to go downhill, I'm afraid. The other day Linda took her for a walk and she (the dog that is) was really tuckered out when they got back. But when she wants her food in the morning, why then she is Miss Ebullience.

We've had her since 1992-- some other people got her from the pound and then decided they didn't want her. A mutual friend suggested us to be her new owners and it took.

It turns out that she was born in April 1991, about a week after my precious Oscar the sheepdog died. We say that his soul passed into her. One theory is that since I used to tease Oscar about being "too big," being the dutiful dog he was, he came back as a furry little girl and then found his way back to his master.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Downtown Dedication

In Austin two of our most public figures are Luci Johnson and Mayor Will Wynn. If Luci appears to be lecturing our mayor or giving him an honorary award, she is actually talking about the restored 1920's office building (The Norwood Tower) where she works and lives. She and the Mayor will shortly unveil a Texas Historic Place plaque on the building. You can see one shot of the building here on The Visible Woman.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Commodore At Our Club

I took some photos Saturday morning at Westwood Country Club. That's where Linda and I go every day to work out, play tennis (well, Linda does that), eat, swim, sun, and socialize. As you can see, it's located on Lake Austin and it's the in the center of town, which makes it convenient.

Through the trees you can see our club's boat docks and just beyond them is the grand old Riverboat Commodore which has been an Austin institution since I was a kid. One of our members owns it, docks it at the club and makes it available for party cruises.

It always tickles us when people from out of state come to Texas and are amazed at all the water and vegetation we have in our environs. No-- it's not all a desert here!

Historical note-- my dad actually built these boat docks back in the fifties. They've held up pretty well!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Not That Old House

We bought one of today's activities in a charity auction. Although we have gotten more circumspect about bidding in those ubiquitous adjuncts to fundraisers since our downsizing began in earnest, buying an activity that leaves no physical trace is fun. Purchased in a fundraiser for an Austin history video project, this event was a tour of Austin's Hyde Park conducted by a resident of the neighborhood who is an architectural historian.

Hyde Park seems to be a name that American cities co-opted to evoke the patrician and royalist feeling Americans are supposed to have been escaping for over 200 years. (If you believe we succeeded, witness Queen Elizabeth's visit to Jamestown and the White House for white tie.)

This is the Oliphant-Walker house, built in 1894 and ancient by Austin standards.

Our tour was very pleasant on a day that held a little bit of cool even in the afternoon. Rare for this time of year. We took our host a present of a small antique that we'd bought in another charity auction long ago. We were joined by some of our younger friends. Two couples recently bought homes not far away and were very interested in all the neighborhood things and the remodeling projects. Another young friend is an advertising and PR exec interested in everything Austin. A local public radio personality who has a gardening show rounded out the group by taking a special interest in the flora. We ended up with lemonade and cucumber sandwiches and a tour inside our host's house, built in 1896. Without changing any view from the street, the owners have created a beautiful master suite in the large attic. Our host showed us paintings by and of his family and interesting architectural touches inside.

Definitely one of our best charity auction purchases ever. And when I gave our host the little gift I told him that he might wish to donate it to one of our charities for an auction if he didn't have a desire to display it. Have to keep those charity dollars in circulation.

For those of you who watch This Old House: the title was for you. But we did, in fact, walk by the Austin house featured on the show. For those of you local to the Austin, Texas area that house will be on the Hyde Park Home Tour on Father's Day weekend.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Whitman's View--The Day I Almost Died

I shot this photograph on April 1st, 2007 from the west side of The University of Texas Tower's observation deck. This was the first time I had visited the deck since prior to August 1st, 1966, the day sniper Charles Whitman rained down a withering fire of bullets from this vantage point. Thanks to some connections I have made, I was allowed to go up to the deck on April 1st this year along with some former Austin police officers who were on the tower in 1966. They all participated in the elimination of Whitman.

What you see here is the middle of the 2300 block of Guadalupe Street which is known as "The Drag" to Austinites. It is the main retail/restaurant district for The University of Texas at Austin, defining the western border of the campus.

The white air conditioning unit on the roof in the middle of this photograph probably saved my life on August 1st, 1966. At around 11:55 a.m., along with two of my Longhorn Band friends, I was standing on the sidewalk just under the now-existing black sign with white letters that reads "Wish." I have drawn a crude oval showing our approximate 1966 location. As a note of historical accuracy, in 1966, the entire ground level area under the signs Wish, Austin's Pizza and Sprint was one large store/soda fountain-cafe called Renfro's Rexall Drug Store. That is where I met my pals every school day that semester for lunch at 11:25. The cashier had told us "somebody's shooting a gun out there," but we couldn't comprehend what she meant and we toddled right on out to the sidewalk in front of the store. (This was 1966, after all.)

Whitman may have considered us for targets, since he could have probably seen our heads over the ac unit. But he probably could not have seen our bodies and at that point in the rampage, he was aiming for midsections. Instead, he chose to shoot a 38 year-old military veteran named Harry Walchuk, who was standing in the door of a narrow newsstand that was located just to the south of us. (In this photograph, it is where you see a yellowish building's north edge and a black and white striped awning above it.) The newsstand closed many years ago and the building was expanded to the north to encompass its real estate.

I have revisited this sequence of events in my mind just about every day since then.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Keep it Weird, Vehicle Edition

It won't all be buildings and cranes and construction here. Nope. We will wander to neighborhoods of single family homes and we will snap pictures of things that help you understand the slogan "Keep Austin Weird." This picture was actually taken in 2000. However, I believe the vehicle (which is wildly decorated in two different motifs on the driver's and passenger's side) can still be found in the West Austin area of Clarksville, near Jeffrey's Restaurant and Nau's Drug Store.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ballet Austin

Ballet Austin's new home, The Butler Dance Education Center, is very close to completion in downtown Austin. That's a new 18-story AMLI apartment building going up next door.

Forrest is on the board of Ballet Austin and he has been engineering a week-by-week blog of the construction since August of last year.

The move-in date is near. Now all the elements of Ballet Austin-- artistic, administration, and the academy-- will be under one roof. (Ballet Austin has the fourth largest academy in the country, by the way, with over 1000 students. With this magnificent new facility, they will be able to expand the program.)