In 1839, when Edwin Waller laid out the city, he never envisioned anything like the New Downtown. Here’s a roundup of our favorite places to eat, drink, shop and play.
The story of downtown Austin begins in 1839, when President Mirabeau B. Lamar (president of the Republic of Texas, that is) tapped Judge Edwin Waller to create the city plan for what was to become the capital city of the new republic. The city’s perimeters, in the village of Waterloo on a bluff just north of the Colorado River, was to stretch 640 acres, meager in size compared to Texas’s previous choice for a capital city, Houston. Many opposed the change—Sam Houston himself argued the area’s remoteness would make it vulnerable to attack—but its beauty, abundant natural resources and central location promised a prime spot for not only a capital, but a downtown marketplace ripe with opportunity.
Waller immediately planned downtown Austin with a 14-block grid in mind, establishing a precedent for the main street, Congress Avenue, early on. One year later the population had grown to 839 people. Over time politicians, artists, entrepreneurs and families began to find their way to this thriving town. Several government buildings, businesses, hotels and saloons began to pop up on the grid. In 1929 the Norwood Tower, called the first skyscraper west of the Mississippi, appeared on the horizon. While that tower still stands, today it is dwarfed in comparison to the 2010 Austonian building, downtown Austin’s current record holder at 53 stories—and the tallest all-residential building west of the Mississippi to boot.
In the past few decades, the number of musicians who call this city home—and the corresponding number of downtown music venues—earned Austin it’s nickname, the Live Music Capital of the World. These creative minds are celebrated by this city’s rapidly growing population, which has swollen to more than 800,000 people according to the most recent census, and it comes as no surprise that ATX is currently ranked as the fastest growing city in America for the third year in a row. In fact, we’ve grown so much that the 512 area code is no longer enough for us: This month 737 joins it in the phone book.
While growth is inevitable, the capital city remains the beautiful heart of Texas. Waller would barely recognize the downtown Austin he planned 174 years ago, and while the landscape of this fine city might have evolved, our attitude toward downtown Austin remains the same: proud of its natural beauty, fiercely defensive of its national reputation, and always, always, always welcoming of change. Continue reading