Federal historic recognition is pending for two properties located roughly a mile apart in East Austin after the approval of nominations by the Texas Historical Commission’s State Board of Review earlier this month. The respective sites, both notable landmarks in the history of the region’s Mexican American community, are Parque Zaragoza at 2608 Gonzales Street in the Govalle neighborhood, and the currently-vacant building at 1200 East Sixth Street known by various names throughout its 130-year life including Clement’s Market, the Sport Bar, and finally Uptown Sports Club. With the state’s approval of draft nominations for both sites secured, each property should soon be added to the National Register of Historic Places, a status that confers certain tax benefits for restoration projects and other recognition.
Although the designation doesn’t prevent demolition by a property owner, it appears both of these particular sites are safe despite rapid changes throughout East Austin — Parque Zaragoza is a city park that’s not going anywhere, and the Uptown Sports Club building will soon undergo a “very sensitive” restoration project to reopen as a bar and restaurant concept announced back in 2020 by a team of locals including barbecue legend Aaron Franklin. According to the draft nomination for the bar property, the new owners plan to use state and federal historic tax credits to finance the structure’s renovation, reportedly overseen by Michael Hsu Office of Architecture.
For over eighty years, Parque Zaragoza has served as a gathering place for Mexican American Austinites to celebrate their cultural heritage, honor their civic accomplishments, and educate younger generations on the importance of cultural identity and community involvement. Established in 1931 after extensive grassroots activism by community leaders, the park is a physical reminder of the resilience and fortitude of those who fought for a uniquely Mexican American space during an era rife with segregation, institutional disenfranchisement, and systemic racism. The park’s intact layout and contributing sites, building, and structures tell how community advocacy shaped East Austin’s landscape and Austin’s cultural identity throughout the twentieth century.
Named in honor of Mexican general and political figure Ignatio Seguin Zaragoza, legendary for leading a small force to victory over the French army at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 — now celebrated as Cinco de Mayo — Parque Zaragoza remains a landmark on Boggy Creek in the Govalle neighborhood.
Established on city land in the segregated East Austin of 1931 at the urging of the region’s growing Mexican American population, the park is noted in its National Register nomination for its cultural history as a venue for community events — including massive yearly fiestas celebrating Cinco de Mayo and Diez y Seis de Septiembre alongside smaller gatherings for weddings, quinceañeras, sporting events, and political organizing — but also for the architectural character found in its period structures, including a 1933 swimming pool and 1941 bathhouse constructed in a recognizable New Deal-era style by members of the National Youth Administration.
As is so often the case with public facilities in East Austin, Parque Zaragoza suffered years of decline and deferred maintenance between the late 1970s and 1990s, with further community organizing for the park’s renovation and upkeep resulting in the construction of a new recreation center in 1996. The site also includes a playground, a bandstand dating back to the early 1970s, and sports facilities including basketball and volleyball courts along with a baseball field and bleachers.
Parque Zaragoza, an epicenter of recreation, togetherness, and grassroots activism in the twentieth century, presents a physical reminder of Mexican American Austinites’ resilience. For decades, it was the most-used outdoor space for Mexican Americans in segregated Austin; today it serves the entire city as a testament to the strength of their voices in the face of systemic oppression. From its wooded landscape to its historic sites, building, and structures, Parque Zaragoza embodies the ideals of its founders, advocates, and volunteers: those who ensured that Mexican Americans in Austin would have a place to celebrate their heritage and preserve their cultural identity through the segregation era and beyond.
Clement’s Market / The Sport Bar / Uptown Sports Club
Built at the northeast corner of East Sixth and Waller Streets in 1892, the building at 1200 East Sixth Street was originally divided into two commercial spaces, with a saloon in half the building and a bakery in the other. The saloon in the building didn’t last long, but the bakery persisted under various owners for approximately 40 years until 1933. The Clement’s Market name included on the site’s National Register nomination comes from the presence of this business, a butcher shop and later a grocer, in one half of the building from 1906 to 1941.
After a period of vacancy, between 1943 and 1953 the two commercial spaces in the building were home to many businesses including a furniture shop and tortilla factory — but the site’s best-known history began in 1949, when the property’s longtime owner, Lebanese immigrant Joe Joseph, allowed his son Arthur to open a bar here after his return from World War II. Known then as the Sport Bar, the spot became a hangout for veterans, including nearby resident Arnold Hernandez, who in 1969 purchased the bar from Joseph and ran it with his wife, Connie.
“I used to come up here all the time. I had a little old job at a grocery store, made about $42 a week. And I said to myself, ‘Someday I’m gonna own this place.’ It was the greatest ambition I had in my life, I guess.” When he acquired the bar in 1969, Hernandez hung hundreds of photos of Austin veterans, “predominantly pictures of the East Side boys who went to war,” on the walls and the business continued to serve as a gathering spot for veterans and sports enthusiasts alike. While the clientele consisted of “workers and war vets,” politicians, including Travis County Sheriff Raymond Frank, State Representative Gonzalo Barrientos, and Mike Renfro, who started his campaign for Travis County Judge at the bar, all visited the establishment. The jukebox played mostly Spanish music, a reflection of the clientele and neighborhood, and as an avid sports fan, Hernandez displayed trophies of the local softball and basketball teams the bar sponsored. The bar also had pool tables, shuffleboard, and patrons often played dominoes.
Hernandez renamed the bar Uptown Sports Club in the 1980s, with his son Ron helping him run the business in the 1990s until its closure in 1999. Hernandez died one year later, and a series of family ownership disputes over the property have kept the space vacant in increasingly poor condition ever since — but with a new agreement between the Hernandez family and the team planning to revive the aging bar, which should be helped along by the tax benefits of the site’s new historic recognition, the legacy of this structure will live on for a new generation of Austinites.
Whether functioning as a bakery, meat market, grocery, tortilla factory, or bar, Clement’s Market/The Sport Bar was operated by and for the East Austin community. Of the diverse array of businesses run by nearly 20 different proprietors at 1200 East 6th Street during the period of significance, nearly all were operated by immigrants or first generation Americans. This diverse history is not unique to this building, but rather it reflects the general commercial trends and demographics of East Austin. The history of 1200 East 6th Street helps tell the history of East Austin as it transitioned first from a freedmen community to one of European immigrants, then to a racially segregated neighborhood, and finally to today’s rapidly developing and gentrifying neighborhood.