The not-so-well-known historical namesakes of Austin's streets and buildings(and some suggestions for the future)
Almost every city has them: parks, buildings and/or streets named after locally well-known and respected citizens from the past. How many recent transplants, or longtime Austinites for that matter, know the biographical stories behind the following locations? Read on and learn a little about our city's history:
Waller Creek — Named for Judge Edwin Waller (1800-1881), first Mayor of Austin and injured hero in a skirmish during the Texas Revolution. He was chosen by Texas President Mirabeau Lamar to oversee and administer the mapping of downtown Austin streets as a grid for the future capital of Texas (originally named "Waterloo" and renamed Austin, for Stephen F. Austin). During the planning stage, one of the chief surveyors named the waterbed Waller Creek, in honor of Edwin Waller. Waller was elected the first Mayor of Austin in 1840. He died in Austin in 1881, and his remains are buried at the Texas State Cemetery in East Austin.
Seaholm Power Plant — Named for Walter E. Seaholm (1890-1956), who worked for the City of Austin for 35 years as City Manager and Superintendent of the Water & Light department. The plant was posthumously named for Seaholm in 1960. The Seaholm project began to take shape in 2005 and there is a small side street, Seaholm Drive, positioned between the power plant and Lamar Boulevard. The Seaholm project has been on the back burner due to budget constraints, but is once again on the Austin radar. Upon completion, the Seaholm project is predicted to be the focal spot in downtown Austin, home to the new Central Library, Seaholm boutique hotel, AMLI apartments, movie theaters and restaurants, connecting to a commuter rail station.
Zachary Scott Theater — In 1972 the Austin Civic Theater was renamed the Zachary Scott Theater, thanks to a generous donation from Zach’s sister, along with the stipulation the theater be named for her departed brother, Zachary Scott (1914-1965). Scott went to the University of Texas, originally intending to study medicine and follow in his prominent surgeon father’s footsteps. Instead he was bitten by the acting bug and headed for the stage. Scott’s most prominent role was as a handsome cad in “Mildred Pierce,” a popular film in 1945. Although he was always considered a B-list actor, Scott earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and will always be a favorite star for many Austinites who remember him fondly.
Dean Keeton Street (26th Street) — 26th street, in the middle of the University of Texas campus, was renamed for Dean W. Page Keeton. Keeton worked as a professor and dean of the law school, ultimately working at UT from 1949 until he retired in 1974. His daughter, Carol Keeton McClellan Strayhorn, served as the first female mayor of Austin from 1977-1983, and her son, Scott McClellan, served as Press Secretary for President George W. Bush from 2001-2006.
Dean Keeton is remembered as one of the most influential and revered deans within the university system, helping the law school gain an international reputation.
Emma Long Metropolitan Park — City Park (as it was originally named) was built in 1933 as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps federal project providing temporary employment for unemployed and unmarried men. In 1984, Mayor Carol Keeton Rylander officially changed park’s name to the Emma Long Metropolitan Park. Emma Long (1913-2011) served as the first female council member in Austin and was a tremendous advocate for local parks. She served on the council with Ben White (they were both friends with Ed Bluestein, too).
Robert Mueller neighborhood (formerly Austin’s Airport) — The first airport in Austin was officially opened for business in 1930. The airport was named the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport for city council member Robert Mueller who, a few months into his term, became ill during a city council meeting; according to documents provided by the Austin History Center, Mueller died of blood poisoning brought on by hay fever (he died in 1926, however his birth year is not available).
In 1999, Austin’s airport expanded and moved to its present Austin-Bergstrom International location, but Mueller’s name and legacy lives on in the form of a thriving 700-acre site of mixed use development including affordable homes, retail stores, the Children’s Hospital, miles of parks and hike & bike trails and much more. Numerous streets lining the Mueller homes are named after local leaders including Threadgill Street (named for musician Kenneth Threadgill), Barbara Jordan Boulevard, Antone Street (named for Clifford Antone) and Eberly Street (named for Angelina Eberly, responsible for saving Austin as the capital of Texas).
Melissa Alvarado, spokesperson with the City of Austin’s Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Offices, says there is a distinction to be made between the naming of government buildings and private buildings. For city government buildings, a name must be submitted by the city council or mayor, and approved by a vote, then the potential name must meet a set of criteria mandated by the city (Title 14-1, Article 4) before the official name change is complete.
Even if you were to look into a crystal ball to predict future names of venues in Austin it would still be difficult; but just for fun, a list of potential names might include:
Walter Cronkite School of Journalism
James A.Michener Central Library
Cactus Pryor Comedy Club
Austin Culture Map Civic Center
Forrest Preece, Jr. is a fifth-generation Austinite and writes the column Westside Stories in “West Austin News,” devoted to local personalities in Austin. He came up with the following predictions:
Jim Franklin — Breakthrough Art Center (Franklin is the artist who came up with the Armadillo concept and was the first of Austin’s concert poster illustrators in the mid-60s. His presence here enticed many other artists to move to the Capital City. He still practices his craft here in town.)
GSD&M Creativity Center (GSD&M is a full-service advertising business in Austin, launched in 1971 by Roy Spence and a group of UT graduates. They are a highly successful business and have landed many national accounts.)
Richard Garriott — Entrepreneurial Center (Richard Garriott is a wildly successful astronaut, video game developer, keynote speaker and entrepreneur. In 1983, Richard and his brother Robert started Origin Systems, an entertainment software business, in Austin.)
Dr. Ernest A. Sharpe — Advertising School at UT (Dr. Sharpe was a beloved member of the advertising school at UT and taught in the school beginning in 1946. He died in 2003.)
Martha Smiley — Women’s Business and Leadership Center (Martha Smiley is a native Texan and a former attorney; she is now involved in the telecommunications industry, in addition to being an active member in local philanthropy in Austin.)
Cookie Ruiz — Arts Leadership Center (Cookie Ruiz is the executive director of Ballet Austin and has over 25 years of experience in strategic planning and non-profit management.)
Liz Lambert—Seminar series on out-of-the-box leisure industry strategic thinking (Liz Lambert is a local hotelier who returned to her hometown of Austin and operated a handful of hotels and restaurants, reflective of Austin’s funky culture.)
What are your predictions for names of future venues in the Austin area?