To the west is the gleaming new Federal Courthouse, by Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects of Atlanta, which opened in 2012 on the site of the infamous Intel shell, an unfinished structure that the chip manufacturer commissioned and then abandoned. Sycamore trees and benches line the pedestrian-only portion of San Antonio Street in front of the courthouse, a pleasant transition from the square to the building’s banded limestone exterior.
Austin Map Free Photo Gallery
Experience modern Mexican art and culture at Mexic-Arte Museum. Our walk now leaves Austin’s Mexico, as we continue east past the bars and restaurants that line Fifth Street between Guadalupe Street and Congress Avenue. For now, the tide of construction in the blocks around Congress Avenue has retreated. It left new landmarks like the the Austonian and the Marriott Hotel (built on the site of beloved Mexican restaurant Las Manitas), but older, smaller brick buildings still set the tone along the avenue. One of these is the Mexic-Arte Museum, a white building topped with a Mexican-looking frieze at the junction of Fifth Street.
The gallery features modern Mexican art, and you will find work from contemporary Latino artists, as well as a gift store full of Mexican-style gifts. Director Sylvia Orozco worked with the city to develop the Mexican American History Corridor that we are following. Come back onto Congress Avenue and turn right onto Fifth Street, continuing past the murals on the long north side of the Mexic-Arte. The building across the alley with the handsome arched entrances is the Phillips Building, a last outpost of Austin’s Mexico.
In the 1920s it was a Studebaker dealership, but in the 1940s it was a dance hall that was popular with the Mexican American community. Continue east three blocks to arrive at the northwest corner of Brush Square, another of the four original city parks. Admire Austin Central Fire Station 1, a lovely Art Deco structure from the 1930s. The extension at the eastern end of the building, added in the 1960s, houses the Austin Fire Museum. Next door are two older houses, moved here from other locations to form a fascinating historical triptych.
The fire museum has an engrossing display of equipment and riveting photographs, including communication equipment from the 1960s and a section honoring the department’s African American firefighters. The house next door, the O. Henry Museum, was built in the 1880s and moved to this location in the 1930s. It was opened as a museum in 1934. The writer himself rented the house for only a couple of years in the 1890s, long before he became O. Henry.
As William Sidney Porter, he lived there with his wife, Athol, and daughter, Margaret, before moving to Houston to take a position with the Houston Post. He had worked at the First National Bank of Austin before moving to Houston, and his burgeoning career in the bigger city was cut short when an audit of the bank’s books led to embezzlement charges and he went to prison in Ohio. He began writing short stories during his time in jail, and it was there that he took on his famous pseudonym. Though he did not invent the sobriquet, his use of the phrase “city of the violet crown” to describe Austin (in a piece titled “Tictocq: The Great French Detective”) solidified it into local parlance.