A few weeks ago, we asked our readers to weigh in on the name of the region in southeast Austin around East Riverside Drive and Lakeshore Boulevard. This was a fairly difficult question, as it turns out.
151 comments later, we’re still not sure. Various folks believe with authority that the area is called either Riverside, East Riverside, South Shore, Lakeshore, or Gentrification Heights. Okay, so we’re pretty sure the last one’s a joke, but it puts a fine enough point on the current state of this part of Austin — as a corner of the city in an early stage of gentrification, we’re just now getting to the period where various real estate developers are working to brand the district, and not everyone agrees.
The whole “South Shore District” thing is courtesy of Grayco Partners, who operate three mixed-use apartment buildings between Lakeshore Boulevard and East Riverside Drive, with a fourth installment on the way. But frankly I’m loathe to give some Houston-based developer carte blanche to define this district. My money, as you might have gathered from the headline, is on Lakeshore. It’s the name of the road that follows…well, the shore of the lake, with possibly the most beautiful tree canopy cover I’ve seen in the city. We’ll spend more time on those trees later.
Along with rapid multifamily development, Lakeshore Boulevard’s also home to Oracle’s massive new campus, in a late stage of construction even as we speak. The economic growth sparked by this project, in tandem with existing residential development trends seemingly racing to take advantage of some of the last remaining cheap(ish) land in the central city, is why I’m expecting 78741 to increase in density so fast it’ll make your head spin. There’s a reason I’m so hyped about Project Catalyst, whatever it ends up looking like — it’s the logical conclusion for the direction this area’s already headed.
All that being said, I’m not sure TOWERS’ typical format for one of these neighborhood profiles will work — despite being an interesting part of town, Lakeshore doesn’t have enough going on yet to really fill up a weekend. Instead, I’m just going to check the area’s pulse.
Here’s what the Lakeshore/East Riverside/Tinnin Ford triangle looked like in 1968. I’ve added some notes, obviously:
There’s clearly been quite a bit of growth since then. I think the most startling detail of this image is the lack of huge oak trees along both sides of Lakeshore Boulevard — sure, there’s a few trees in one spot, but nothing like the canopy cover you see along the boulevard now. That means the trees were planted or transplanted to both sides of the road less than 50 years ago.
According to City of Austin arborist Michael Embesi, soil in the Lakeshore area is highly rich in nutrients — a result of sediment deposits caused by the river’s frequent flooding before being dammed — and is fully capable of helping the oaks on both sides of Lakeshore Boulevard grow to their current size in such a relatively short period.
As you can kind of see in the historical photo, the area’s previous life was mostly as a site for industrial properties, with a few cheap apartments. The apartments between Town Creek Drive and Tinnin Ford Road were demolished in about 2009, per Google Street View — the site is now the future location of the fourth South Shore District apartment building.
In the background of the above photo, you can see one of the Lakeshore area’s most interesting properties: Town Lake Village. These condos apparently date all the way back to 1968, although they’re not visible in the historic photo up there, so who knows? I do know that this building’s underrated — I’m all about those red doors.
Further up Tinnin Ford Road is a condo project by InTown Homes, following the same red brick aesthetic as Town Lake Village:
I genuinely love the look of both these buildings, and really wish the rest of the multifamily development in the area had this much style. Unfortunately, much of the rapid growth in the Lakeshore region seems to look more like this:
Nothing’s wrong with these buildings, and there’s obviously no accounting for taste, but it’s not a particularly memorable view, is it? I’m hoping that some of the future development in the area tries a little harder to distinguish itself. I keep bringing up Project Catalyst’s potential for a “second downtown” south of the river, but whoever ends up designing that project — if it does happen — has the opportunity to define the look of future development on this side of town. Please make it interesting.
On the other side of Lakeshore Drive from all this business, you’ll find a hostel operated by Hosteling International, a charity with outposts all over the world.
Partnered with the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department, the hostel provides dirt-cheap lodgings close to downtown — we’re talking like, $25 for a shared room, $60 for a private room cheap. Trendier options like Drifter Jack’s and Native Hostel prove the utility of this model, but the HI Austin Hostel has quietly offered this amenity for longer than both.
Directly behind the hostel is a dock housing EpicSUP, a kayak and stand-up paddleboard rental operation. It’s closed for the season, but next March you’ll be able to rent a kayak for $10 an hour Monday through Thursday, increasing to $14 hourly on Fridays and weekends.
As part of the city’s Southeast Shore Master Plan, Austin’s famous Hike-and-Bike Trail now extends into the Lakeshore area all the way to South Pleasant Valley Road, with a boardwalk portion opened in 2014 that’s identical to the boardwalks on the western side of I-35.
Something else you’ll notice along the trail near Lakeshore Boulevard is this sign, advertising a future wheelchair-accessible fishing pier project.
If you recall, back in 2012 this project was supposed to happen on the other side of the highway, near Rainey Street — since then, plans appear to have changed. Oh well.
Further down the trail, you’ll find a peninsula sticking out into the lake across Lakeshore Boulevard from where Oracle’s building its campus. This is allegedly called “Peace Point,” if you believe Google Maps, but I’ve never heard that before. Anyway, the view’s great.
Once the city’s master plan for Holly Shores gets off the ground, we may see a pedestrian bridge connecting this peninsula with the north side of the river. It’s speculative, but I think it’ll become more and more likely as the area increases in density.
Speaking of density, your food options in the Lakeshore area are few and far between at the moment. Some call this a “retail gap,” I call it a side effect of Austin’s housing market — the demand for new apartments is so high, residential development outpaces the other changes we associate with gentrifying areas, which usually include upscale commercial development (artisanal mayonnaise stores) alongside high-end multifamily buildings. Instead, the area directly around Lakeshore Boulevard is dominated by apartments to an almost bizarre degree.
So, when it comes to restaurants beyond a few random strip mall offerings, over by the South Shore District complex you’ve got a Chi’lantro location, a stylish Vietnamese spot, and Mour Cafe, a combination eatery and bodega with probably the most upscale dinner options in the immediate area.
If you’re more of a taco truck person like me, you’re in luck — over near South Pleasant Valley Road is Sabor a Honduras, one of the few spots for authentic Honduran food in the city. That means fried plantains and chicharron pupusas, if you like that sort of thing.
Finally, perhaps the hippest sign of the area’s ongoing development is the Buzz Mill, a 24-hour lumberjack-themed coffee shop and bar with an expansive back patio and a rotating array of nearby food trucks. The spot is apparently in the process of building its own kitchen for late night eats, which is good news for those of us who just can’t seem to align our lives with normal business hours.