It’s difficult to say anything new about Hyde Park. Perhaps Austin’s most beloved central neighborhood, the area bound by Guadalupe, West 45th, Duval, and West 38th Streets has been extensively preserved, chronicled, celebrated, and fought for with an intensity arguably unlike that of any other part of the city.
Like Windsor Park, the similarly posh-sounding neighborhood that followed in its footsteps roughly half a century later, the history of Hyde Park and its founding is best understood as a narrative of evolving approaches to urban development — specifically the rise of master-planned suburban enclaves built with increasing efficiency through the course of the 20th century.
Although the transformative industrialization of the United States in the post-Civil War era heavily favored the north over the territories of the former Confederacy, Texas secured its own prosperity through the trade enabled by a growing system of railroads, with the first rail line into Austin opening in 1871. The economic benefits of this connection became almost instantly apparent — for one thing, the city’s population doubled in the following decade alone.
In an 1881 state referendum, voters chose Austin as the city most suitable for a new public university, and the University of Texas began operations on September 15, 1883. The institution’s chosen location a few blocks north from the State Capitol grounds is likely the single most influential factor in the present shape of Austin, and without the catalyzing effect of the campus on surrounding residential and commercial growth, Hyde Park as we know it would almost certainly not exist. Still, the university wasn’t the only factor driving suburban development outside the downtown area — if you’re trying to get people to live nearly three miles out from the center of the city, they’ll need some way to get around.
Colonel Monroe Martin Shipe was a native Ohioan, but arrived in Austin in 1889 by way of Abilene, Kansas, where he was a prominent businessman and civic figure. In Abilene, Shipe oversaw the development of the city’s electric streetcar system, and saw the potential for such a modern transportation network upon his arrival in Austin, where comparatively primitive mule-powered streetcars still ran on Congress Avenue.
Shipe wasted no time, and in 1890 accomplished what must have been a truly impressive feat of backroom politics, securing from city council an exclusive contract to operate an electric streetcar system in the city. The new cars were running down Congress Avenue by early 1891, but that was only the beginning — a year earlier, Shipe had purchased a 206-acre tract of land north of the University of Texas campus, and now that he possessed complete control over the city’s wildly successful new streetcar line, there was nothing stopping him from building a track all the way to its doorstep.
Shipe’s land, once connected to the streetcar system, was about as perfect of a place to build a neighborhood as you could get. To its south was the University of Texas campus, and to its west, just across Asylum Avenue (now known as Guadalupe Street) sat the expansive grounds of the Texas State Lunatic Asylum (now more politely known as Austin State Hospital). The park-like setting of the Asylum’s surrounding land was a popular site for recreation, though the Shipe tract itself had an even more storied past:
Even before Monroe M. Shipe developed Hyde Park as one of Austin’s first suburbs, the area was well known as a center for recreation. The flat, smooth terrain made it an ideal site for racing horses, and the Capital Jockey Club racecourse, located in the southeast corner of the area, was called “the finest in the South.”
The state militia also took advantage of the expanse of flat land to hold drills and sham battles at its annual summer encampment which attracted thousands of spectators. In 1875 the Capital State Fair Association located the state fairgrounds adjacent to the racetrack, constructing a 3,500 seat grandstand, a large exhibition hall, stables, cisterns and wells to accommodate visitors to the fair. Initially successful, the fair began to lose money and relocated to Dallas in 1884.
— Austin History Center
As the developer of Hyde Park — a name seemingly chosen to evoke the royal pedigree of the London park and surrounding area of the same name — Shipe envisioned affluent residents housed in Victorian and Tudor mansions, and the initial advertising for the planned community, via his firm the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Land and Town Co., takes the same track:
Local newspaper advertisements in 1892 touted Hyde Park as “the Pride of Austin” and encouraged people to invest there as “its property will always command a good price because it will be the fashionable part of the wealthiest and most aristocratic city in the land.”
— Texas Historical Commission
As you might imagine considering the era, the exclusive image of these early master-planned suburbs came with some baggage. While Windsor Park, developed in the 1950s, masked its intentions with marketing terminology like “highly restrictive,” its predecessor Hyde Park was a bit more open about its racial demographics:
Shipe and his partners improved the tract with gravel roads, sidewalks, streetlights, and a large park on the southwest corner of the land, now located at the corner of Guadalupe and 38th Streets. Two lakes were built inside the park, and quickly became popular with residents and tourists alike — but the lakes were later drained to make room for another addition to the neighborhood, and nothing remains of the park space in the present day.
As Hyde Park developed, the quality of the homes on the southern end of the neighborhood, particularly in its southeast corner, became notable — Shipe built his own home in this corner, and the area is now distinguished from the rest of the area as the Shadow Lawn Historic District, dense with historic Tudor Revival architecture.
But after a series of economic depressions in the mid-to-late 1890s through the turn of the century, the property value of Hyde Park’s lots dropped, and development stagnated long before the neighborhood’s available space was built out. By the late 1890s, the marketing for the neighborhood saw a change in tone, now including language targeting working-class families with promises of upward mobility enabled by the ownership of an affordable home — “cheap,” even:
As the status of the neighborhood changed, so did the style of its new homes. When Shipe first marketed the community as a place of affluence and status, its first constructions were larger and more ornate, and generally built in close proximity to 40th Street for easier access to the streetcar line running down it — but as the area shifted to a working-class reputation, more austere bungalow-style homes filled out the remaining sections of the neighborhood.
After the turn of the century, the popularity of mass-produced plans and even prefabricated elements available by mail-order influenced the look of the district’s newer constructions:
Obviously such trends led to increased homogeneity in domestic architectural forms and designs. At the local level, however, builders often freely interpreted these forms by utilizing the skills of individual craftsmen, thereby producing an almost endless variety of similarly styled houses. This practice is evident in Hyde Park, where many houses display detailing that distinguishes them from dwellings of similar form, and sometimes identifies them as a product of a particular contractor, builder or craftsman.
— Texas Historical Commission
The “Hyde Park Annex” mentioned in the 1898 advertisement above refers to a second phase of growth north of 45th Street, and is now better known as North Hyde Park. This section’s character is predominantly single-family, with few amenities compared to the southern neighborhood, and practically no historic properties.
Through the first decades of the 20th century, residential growth in Hyde Park remained relatively steady, but the largest development boom took place in the 1920s and 30s, decades which saw the neighborhood built out roughly to its current boundaries.
During the period between 1921 and 1935, Hyde Park saw the development of more commercial buildings, including the properties along Guadalupe Street and at the corner of East 43rd and Duval Streets, along with the fire station at East 43rd Street and Speedway. During this period, five tourist camps or “motor inns” were also built along Guadalupe Street — one of which, Blue Bonnet Court, remains to this day.
But when the era of the streetcar came to a close, Hyde Park suffered. As car ownership increased, paved roads in Austin became a transit priority, and the electric streetcar system was decommissioned in 1941 — the 50th anniversary of the neighborhood’s founding. The greater range of travel afforded to drivers by this period devalued Hyde Park’s close proximity to both the University of Texas and downtown, with more distant suburbs like Crestview developing in the postwar era of the 1940s.
By 1960, many residents had left for suburbs further removed from the urban core, and the neighborhood fell into a state of decline. Rental properties and apartments were constructed during this period to accommodate the growing student population at UT, who appreciated the community’s campus-adjacent location more than its previous residents in the post-streetcar period.
But the decline didn’t last long, with the region’s historic character finding significant attention by the 1970s. New residents rehabilitated deteriorating properties, and a neighborhood association was formed in 1974, to organize restoration and preservation efforts along with tours of historic homes promoting the area’s “rediscovery.”
Though the more explicit racial restrictions of the past are no longer officially upheld, Hyde Park’s founding exclusivity is now demonstrated by its homeowners in the form of an aggressive, almost instinctive protectionism. Since the 1970s, the neighborhood’s resistance to a changing way of life in Austin’s many downtown-adjacent enclaves has appeared in fights against expanding churches, demolitions, and cell phone towers, to name a few:
Hyde Park is a mix of historic structures, modest well-kept homes, apartments and appealing retail. And the neighborhood association is as active as ever.
In the 1980s, the restoration of the neighborhood took another turn – and just in time. Developers sought to raze the old homes and replace them with apartments and condominiums to milk the business of the University of Texas student rental market.
But the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association fought this form of urban renewal. Young families, attracted by the central location and the old shade trees that line the streets, began buying the old homes and restoring them to their past splendor.
“We began attracting the more serious student, those doing graduate work who wanted a quiet place to live near campus,” said Glenda Robbins Babola, who lives at the home she grew up in at 4506 Ave. C and who was taking the tour Sunday with her 2-year-old daughter, Adrienne.
Today, the renaissance is almost complete for the neighborhood, which is bounded by Guadalupe, Duval, 38th and 51st streets. Hyde Park is a mix of historic structures, modest well-kept homes, apartments and appealing retail. And the neighborhood association is as active as ever.
The latest battle is to prevent Cellular One from building a 75-foot cellular telephone antenna in the 500 block of West 42nd Street.
“This battle is not just a Hyde Park battle, it’s a battle that relates to every older neighborhood,” said Alan Marburger, association president. “With older neighborhoods, deed restrictions have expired. Deed restrictions usually are what neighborhoods and subdivisions use to protect them from things like communication towers. Our only protections come through city ordinances.”
Some who live in Hyde Park said Sunday their neighborhood has a sense of pride and reverence that makes battles like the one against the phone tower almost instinctive.
“We are preserving not only our neighborhood,” Babola said. “We are preserving a way of life.”
— Austin American-Statesman, June 21, 1993
Once Hyde Park and its Shadow Lawn area were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, the neighborhood began efforts to codify the area’s protection at the city level. After the adoption of a preservation-minded neighborhood plan in 1999, Austin’s City Council adopted a custom zoning district for Hyde Park known as a Neighborhood Conservation Combining District, or NCCD, in 2002. Finally, the neighborhood was declared one of Austin’s three Local Historic Districts in 2010.
Together, these designations impose some of the city’s strictest design standards for new development, ensuring the largely single-family character of the area remains for the foreseeable future. The neighborhood, however, is not entirely unified when it comes to the limitation of growth — the Friends of Hyde Park organization, founded as an alternative to the older Hyde Park neighborhood association, opposes the restrictions imposed by the NCCD on increased housing stock and the development of additional residences on existing single-family properties.
Even though the neighborhood’s two associations take drastically different approaches to their advocacy, it’s clear they can agree Hyde Park is a special place — even if some of its residents believe that the only way to ensure it remains special is to encase its charm in amber.
Where you’re eating: There isn’t a truly bad restaurant in Hyde Park, which has a ton of food options for a relatively small neighborhood. My pick is Julio’s Cafe, an unassuming cash-only Mexican hideaway that’s known for its rotisserie chicken. Whether in a taco, over a salad, or just chopped in half on a plate, this is old Austin at its best. Sangria is sold by the liter, and only by the liter.
Where you’re drinking: Yeah, a wine bar is a little on the nose for this neighborhood, but never fear — Vino Vino isn’t “one of those” wine bars. The menu has a cheeseburger and a happy hour you’ll enjoy, and they don’t just sell wine, so you’re in almost no danger of being judged.
Best coffee: Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery has been selling coffee with a certain Austin je ne sais quoi for 30 years or so, and the original location on Guadalupe Street before the relocation to 43rd Street was actually the first coffeehouse in town, if you believe their website — I don’t care to fact-check, because the coffee’s good anyway. As implied by the name, there are also baked goods. Get the coffee cake.
Where to stay: There are no motels or hotels in Hyde Park unless you count Blue Bonnet Court, so your best bet is one of the neighborhood’s many Airbnb or Homeaway listings, which will get you set up in a nice bungalow for the cost of a decent hotel room.