Historic Neighborhood Profiles : Travis Heights

By: Ki Gray

Travis Heights is a centrally located neighborhood in one of Austin's most esteemed zip codes, 78704. The neighborhood's proximity to downtown and Lady Bird Lake makes it a desirable place to live, and the new Emma Long Center for the Performing Arts is just a couple of blocks north of the area, right across Barton Springs Road. Auditorium Shores, a lovely outdoor amphitheater which hosts festivals and concerts is adjacent to the Long Center, and is also a short walk from the Travis Heights neighborhood.

Easy access to the Lady Bird Lake hike and bike trails as well as access to the Zilker greenbelt is also advantageous for residents of the area. The neighborhood dates to the turn of the century, with dramatic growth during the 1920s and 1030s, and many historic homes from the period are still standing.

One of the neighborhood's most influential and well-known residents was John Henry Faulk, and his boyhood home was on the spot where Green Pastures, a beautiful, historic restaurant with gorgeous foliage and grounds is currently situated. Another well known previous resident, Charles Whitman, also grew up in the Travis Heights neighborhood, and went on to infamy as the Tower sniper in the 1960s.

The neighborhood boundaries are generally considered to be South Lamar, South Congress, West Oltorf, and Barton Springs Road, in the heart of south-central Austin. The largest institutional development in the neighborhood is the Texas School for the Deaf, which encompasses 65 acres of land and was established in 1856, and is surrounded by South Congress, South First, Barton Springs Road and Elizabeth Street.

Due to the Colorado River's frequent floods prior to the construction of dams which help control the river waters, the land was very inexpensive, thus a very diverse group of citizens populated the area, and many churches cater to a specific ethnic group, such as the St. Anne African Methodist-Episcopal Church and the nearby Goodwill Baptist Church, both of which are on Newton Street. A small group of Hispanic families settled in the neighborhood around 1940, when the San Jose Catholic Church was founded at the corner of Mary Street and South Third Street.

The stone mission-style church is currently called Holy Name Of Mary Orthodox Church, and the Church still has a flourishing parish, many of whom are descendants of the original settlers.

Since the recent development of the SOCO and SOLA entertainment and shopping districts, which are respectively on South Congress and South Lamar, the residents of the neighborhood have even more access to restaurants, vintage shops, nightclubs, coffee shops, and antique dealers. Some of Austin's most well-known institutions are still located on South Congress, such as the headquarters of the local newspaper, the American-Statesman, and a few boot and saddle shops, such as Allen Boots, which has been in the area for years and years.

There a quite a few very eclectic shops, such as Lucy in Disguise in Diamonds, a costume shop, and Bohemia, a great vintage store, as well as the St. Vincent DePaul resale shop, which is run by Catholic charities and has a little bit of everything.

There are many churches and schools, coffeehouses, and nightclubs nearby, and the restaurant row area of Barton Springs Road is just a half mile or so east, and includes such well-known eateries as Shady Grove, Romeo's, Green Mesquite, Chuy's, and Austin Java. Patrons can enjoy frozen custard at Sandy's, an Austin landmark, or Italian food at Vinny's, both of which are even closer to the neighborhood, on the east side of Lamar on Barton Springs and in easy walking distance for most residents.

Even downtown itself is a short walk across the sidewalks or pedestrian bridges at both Congress and South First Street, which continues from Guadalupe Street across the river, and the whole neighborhood is also accessible by city transportation such as the Cap Metro busses and the Dillos, which are free. The Travis Heights neighborhood is one of your best bets in the Austin area for the quality of life it offers both visitors and residents.

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