The Rainey Street neighborhood, currently downtown Austin’s fastest-growing corner, was once a predominantly Mexican-American district of single-family homes. Effectively annexed into the downtown area and cut off from adjacent neighborhoods by the construction of I-35 in the early 1960s, Rainey Street’s proximity to downtown and Lady Bird Lake made the district extremely attractive for dense development — which many homeowners feared would destroy their slower way of life.
A view of the Rainey Street District in the present day.
In 1981, filmmakers Andrea Merrim and Paula Manley produced a documentary for local public access station Austin Community Television (ACTV) covering efforts by Rainey Street residents to resist displacement from encroaching development as the value of their land rose with the city’s growth. This 20-minute film, obtained with permission from original producer Paula Manley and made available in full online for the first time by TOWERS.net, tells the story of a Rainey Street very different from the district we know today, with many of its location shots nearly unrecognizable in 2020.
The documentary takes a close look at the building at 715 East First Street — now East Cesar Chavez Street — known as the Juarez-Lincoln Building after the Chicano educational facility Juarez-Lincoln University, which operated out of the structure until 1979 and afterward served as a space for a neighborhood flea market and other Mexican-American community events.
Though residents fought to preserve the building and its celebrated mural by artist Raúl Valdez as a community center, it was demolished in 1983 and eventually replaced with an IHOP. Along with the loss of the Juarez-Lincoln Building, the construction of condo communities the Villas on Town Lake and the Towers of Town Lake were the most notable changes to the neighborhood until its 2004 rezoning, which enabled the nightlife and construction boom now taking place in the district.
We’ve included some annotations for a few more of the notable views of the neighborhood and its surrounding area included in the film:
The house seen at 0:51 in the video was located at 70 Rainey Street, which is now home to the condo tower of the same name.
The yellow-shuttered house seen at 1:02 is at 73 Rainey Street, now occupied by Indian restaurant G’Raj Mahal.
The above shot at 4:28 of the downtown Austin skyline circa 1981 shows the former golden exterior of what’s now known as Chase Tower, plus the black monolith now called the Bank of America Center. At 21 and 26 floors respectively, these two towers were the tallest in the city at the time, and would stay that way until the completion of the 32-floor One American Center (now 600 Congress) in 1984.
The panning shot from about 4:33 to 4:40 shows the blocks that would later be occupied by the Austin Convention Center.
This shot around 4:45 has a lot going on. First, on the left is the red F. Weigl Iron Works building, which by 1981 was instead home to Iron Works BBQ — the eatery occupies the building to this day. The large facility in the center at the corner of East Cesar Chavez (known then as East First) and Red River Streets is the processing plant for Superior Dairies, which later moved to a new location in East Austin — that entire corner is now occupied by the Fairmont Austin hotel. The red-roofed building on the far right of the image is the Palm School, a building with a whole lot of history. The shot zooms in on the school building at 4:50.
The future site of a development shown at 9:20 is the tract at 80 Red River Street, which from 1982 to 2019 were home to the Villas on Town Lake condos. The site was cleared last year for the construction of a mixed-use tower complex known as the Travis, which hasn’t broken ground just yet. Until the Villas were built, the site was home to the Massengale Meat and Poultry Company processing plant, which we’ll see again in a moment.
At 10:00, we see the drum-shaped Holiday Inn on the shores of Lady Bird Lake designed by celebrated midcentury architect Leonard J. Lundgren.
Around 10:05 we get the first decent view we’ve ever seen of the Massengale Meat and Poultry Company facilities — better known as a “chicken plucking plant” — at 80 Red River Street, which were replaced in 1982 by the Villas on Town Lake condos. As discussed above, mixed-use tower complex the Travis is now planned here.
At 10:30 we see a nice shot of the Austin American-Statesman headquarters on the south shores of the lake, seemingly in an advanced stage of construction since the newspaper began working out of the building later that same year. This 19-acre waterfront tract is bound for redevelopment by Endeavor Real Estate Group into a mixed-use complex with multiple residential and office towers.
Special thanks to Paula Manley and the remediation team at Specs Bros. for helping us bring this vital piece of local history back to life.
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