The Tree on Sixth Street, 1953-2011


On Sixth Street in Austin, things have changed. They have really changed!

When I came to Austin in 1953 to join the staff of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, East Sixth Street was the pits. It was a place where you didn't go. A good portion of the buildings were vacant, and the rest occupied by businesses catering to the residents of East Austin. And, I also remember that there were some "beer joints," and a liquor store.

Of course, there was the Driskill Hotel, although it was not experiencing the best of times. Across Sixth was the Levines "Dry Goods Store," and diagonally across was Gellmans. Both were considered as "working men's" stores. That was about all there was to the "upscale" part of East Sixth Street.

No one liked to see this happening to an historic part of Austin, but it had happened. Congress Avenue was the place to be in the 50's and 60's. Our only Department Store, Scarborough's, was at Sixth and Congress. The fine ladie's stores were there, as were the men's stores. And there were several "Five and Dime" stores such as Woolsworth. They were called "Five and Dime" stores because much of the merchandise they had sold for a nickel or a dime. The main movie houses were on Congress also.

Sixth Street had lost out.

In the late sixties or early seventies a local architect, Mr. Graeber, asked to make a presentation to our Chamber Board of Directors. He was welcomed, but the information he gave us surprised everyone. Mr. Graeber informed us that he had bought a building right in the heart of East Sixth Street, and was going to fix it up and put an apartment (loft) on the second floor, and live there. He felt, as did most of Austin, that Sixth needed revitalization, and he was going to try to give it a start.

Mr. Graeber told us that he had talked to some to the property owners on the street, and that they planned to try to beautify the area by planting some trees.

I don't recall that he asked the Chamber for anything specific, but the Board decided that in order to show support we would buy one tree. The cost was $150.00. A reporter from the American Statesman was there, and we urged him to include this action (showing our support) in his story about our meeting.

He did.

I sent a check to the Pecan Street Improvement Association in a few days.

No, this did not trigger an immediate renewal of Sixth Street, but it was a start. Now, when I drive down East Sixth, I wonder if that tree is still there.

Vic Mathias -- January 18, 2011

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