Zilker Metropolitan Park turns 100 this year, and quite a few things have changed since 1917 when philanthropist Andrew Jackson Zilker donated the park’s land to the City of Austin. To commemorate the park’s centennial, we’ve picked out some historical photos of Zilker from the last hundred years and tried to match them as closely as possible to the present day.
The main field at Zilker, pictured here sometime in the 1910s, looks remarkably similar to the present day view. We spoke with City of Austin arborist Michael Embesi about the large tree on the right side of the historical image near what’s now known as Peace Grove (aka. Rock Island), and he confirmed that the tree growing there now is indeed the same 100-inch circumference trunk, 70 feet tall, native pecan tree. Looking good, tree!
Barton Springs Pool at Zilker wasn’t unrecognizable in 1926, but the new bathhouse structure built in 1947 classes things up. Speaking of that bathhouse building, it looks due for an update, doesn’t it?
In 1937, the entrance to the Lou Neff Road loop around Zilker’s main green space had a nice little flower bed. Now, it doesn’t. How about that?
Here’s an odd one. In the first half of the 20th century, Zilker was home to a police firing range. Built in 1934 near the Zilker Clubhouse along Rollingwood Drive for the Austin Police Department’s pistol marksmanship courses, the range fell into disrepair and stopped being actively used for firearms training in the mid-1970s.
At least part of the reason why? Nearby neighborhood developments, building closer and closer to the once-remote site as the city grew, began complaining about the noise of gunfire. This historical photo is from 1941, when the range was in active use — apparently by cowboys as well as cops. It’s clear that the site is still being used for some sort of training as of 2017, considering the climbing wall seen in the second image.
Despite the city’s enforcement of Capitol View Corridors, this view of the dome from the Zilker Zephyr tracks near the south bank of the river hasn’t stuck around since the first photo was taken in roughly the 1960s. You can still ride the train, though, and that’s what really matters.
Since 1959, outdoor theatrical productions at the Beverly S. Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theater have kept audiences on the edge of their blankets. This historical photograph is from a 1963 play.
The Zilker Holiday Tree, which is actually one of Austin’s iconic moonlight towers draped in lights, first lit up the park in 1967. These images of the tree from the 1970s and 2016 go to show that the folks in charge of the decorations aren’t going to mess with what works.
There’s been a kite festival every spring at Zilker since 1936 — usually, at least. From the look of things, the only significant change over the years is the lack of space in the sky. The historical image here dates back to 1971.
Although you might think the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker is as Austin as it gets, it’s only been around since 2002 — who knew that the kite festival had it beat by more than 60 years? Still, seeing how much the skyline changed just between 2006 and 2016 is pretty impressive.
(Photos courtesy of Austin History Center, Austin American-Statesman, the City of Austin, ABC Kite Festival, and Google Maps. Austin City Limits photos by Victoria Welch / Flickr and Amy Price / Consequence of Sound. All other photos by James Rambin.)