Your Expert Guide
Zilker: Old Austin charm thrives amidst rapid redevelopment and popularity
There are so many great places to live in Austin that it helps to have an expert on your side. The Neighborhood Guide presented by Kuper Sotheby's International Realty gives you insider access from the agents who live and work there, providing in-the-know info about your possible new community.
It's no wonder that Austin's Zilker neighborhood is so popular — it has vintage appeal, big yards, towering live oak trees, and is a mere mile and a half from downtown, with walking distance to the popular Barton Springs Pool.
Kuper Sotheby's International Realty agent Kay Keesee has been a resident of Zilker for the past four decades. Thirty of those years have been devoted to helping folks purchase their own Zilker homes and settle into the neighborhood.
"We've managed to retain the 'Old Austin' vibe while welcoming new neighbors at a record pace," Keesee says. "Can you believe that at one time Zilker — and the whole of South Austin — weren't anywhere near the top of the 'most popular neighborhoods' list? Not so now!"
But despite its rapid rise in popularity, Zilker still holds onto its small-town feel. Keesee says an evening walk can easily stretch three miles without ever encountering a traffic light or four-lane street. The Zilker Neighborhood Association is active and inclusive, and Zilker Elementary School is beloved for its excellent standards, diversity, and community involvement.
Compared to everywhere else, Keesee says, Zilker just seems a little slower, sweeter, and much more convenient.
Block parties occur regularly, but larger events such as Austin City Limits at Zilker Park, the July 4th celebration at Auditorium Shores, and the Trail of Lights at holiday time are also a draw.
Zilker has been a desirable neighborhood for hundreds of years, with traces of the Tonkawa and other native tribes having been discovered in the area. Mary Crownover Rabb and her husband John built a log cabin and settled on Barton Creek in 1860. Today Rabb Road, Zilker's western boundary, commemorates the Rabb family and their 95 years in the Zilker area.
"Some say the spirits, ancient and more recent, still dwell here in peace," Keesee says.
A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Keesee has obviously poured her time and energy into Austin over the years. She's also an alumna of Leadership Austin and Leadership Texas, a former chair of the Austin Commission for Women, and is an active supporter and volunteer for over 30 years of the Settlement Home for Children.
Keesee offered up a few more of her personal favorites about life in Zilker. Here's her guide to the area:
Where to eat & drink
El Rancho is Tex-Mex at its finest, Keesee says, while Juliet is her favorite for great cocktails.
And when it's time for fast food, Austin institution P. Terry's is the place to go.
Where to play
The famous Zilker Park and Barton Springs Pool are here (look for the Philosopher's Rock bronze sculpture at the north entrance), but don't overlook Little Zilker Park, which adjoins Zilker Elementary School.
Pfluger Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge is popular during good weather, and a wonderful way to see Lady Bird Lake. Look east, and you can spot colorful graffiti art on the railroad trestle.
What to see
The Zach Theatre is the oldest continually operating theater company in Texas, and when you go to the main entrance on the west side Keesee advises not to miss the evocative bronze sculpture Lady Hare with Dog by Sophie Ryder, which was installed in 1998.
Zilker Hillside Theater also encourages the arts with summer programs, or you can explore the Austin Nature and Science Center and Taniguchi Japanese Garden in Zilker Park.
Where to live
While some homes were built in the 1920s, Zilker development in earnest began in the 1930s. Many of these homes remain, primarily north of Kerr Street, Keesee points out.
Commonly called bungalows, the more accurate style designation for most vintage homes in Zilker is "minimal traditional." Emerging in mid-20th century America, this style incorporated influences from such earlier styles as American Colonial, Colonial Revival, Spanish Revival, Tudor Revival, and Craftsman. Typical features include hipped or gabled roofs, minimal eaves, wood siding, small porches, and loads of charm.
In the early 1950s, the style was superseded by the one-level ranch style that's prevalent in Zilker south of Dexter, where Nash Philips Copus and others pioneered modern subdivision planning in Austin. Further south, streets were developed less uniformly, with a mix of styles from the late 1940s to the the mid-1960s. Notable among these are the coveted midcentury residences designed and built with strong Frank Lloyd Wright influences by local architect A. D. Stenger.
In the 1980s, major home remodeling and redevelopment of lots began to appear. Still a haven of affordability compared to neighborhoods north of the "river" (aka Lady Bird Lake), Zilker rose in popularity — though not much in price. By 1995, the local prejudice against living "south of the river" began to crumble as prices rose in the north.
Commercial and multi-family developers recognized the potential and seized the opportunity. South Lamar, part of the Zilker neighborhood, was redeveloped piece by piece. Restaurants, gyms, shops, and apartment buildings replaced older commercial buildings. Lamar Plaza, the only shopping center that ever existed in Zilker, was replaced by Lamar Union, a multi-family residential and commercial center.
After 2000, redevelopment of residential lots increased dramatically. The new residences are much larger, mostly two stories, and varied in style. Minimalist modern is the most popular, though modern farmhouse, new traditional, midcentury modern, and "statement sculptural" are also represented.
Condominium development accelerated after 2000, offering an attractive alternative to the few older communities, some of which were remodeled in response to the competition. Luxury units such as those at The Loren, Bartonplace, Villas of Lost Canyon, Bridges on the Park, and Kinney Lofts meet the demand for upscale condos.
Current single-family home prices range from the high $800s to just under $7 million. From 2019 to 2022, Keesee says, the average price for a single family home in Zilker rose 52 percent.
One of Keesee's landmark sales anchors the north end of Kinney Avenue. A striking minimalist design, the home was built to the highest construction standards utilizing commercial grade materials and finishes. The 586-square-foot roof terrace affords a commanding view of the downtown Austin skyline only a mile away.
Kay Keesee lives, works, and plays in Zilker. For more information on buying and selling a home in the area, click here, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 737-308-9512.