At the head of Sixth, just east of its intersection with Congress, the Bremond-Polk buildings stand on the spot BWC has pegged for the parking garage. They are two of the city’s oldest structures. The Bremond Building has been traced back to 1852, which makes it 34 years older than the Driskill. Both of the threatened buildings are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, which more or less means they are old enough that the federal government won’t readily countenance their condemnation. Unlike the Driskill, though, their architectural recommendations are not compelling. Neither is their state of repair. The second floors sag, the roofs leak, and the limestone construction is less than solid. John Covert Watson, one of the three owners leasing the block for 99 years to BWC, told the Austin American -Statesman, “The structural integrity is shot and gone. There’s bricks falling off the building.” Watson ought to know, because he has made few if any improve ments on the property in the last five years. But neither physical soundness nor historical preservation is the issue here; people are. The ten small entrepreneurs who do business from shops in the Bremond-Polk buildings, along with the hundreds of people who are drawn downtown each day and night to patronize them, are about to get more “revitalization” than they can stand. If and when BWC erects its parking lot, there will still be street-level shop space for rent, and the owners have assured the current tenants that they will have first call on the space. But rent in the new building will be much higher than the block’s businessmen can afford to pay, and even if they could, they’d have to set up shop somewhere else for up to a year while the old buildings are torn down and the new one put up. There’s no way around it: BWC’s growth plans are going to snuff out a good bit of economic and cultural life along Sixth Street. What do the people themselves make of such progress? Clifford Antone was standing in front of his club at Sixth and Brazos, his shirttail flapping in the breeze as he watched the afternoon traffic. He wasn’t one to complain too bitterly”You can’t stand in the way of progress,” he philosophized. But he did have a few things to say about the version of downtown renovation that leaves no room for places like his. Antone’s isn’t a pretty club, he admitted. There isn’t a light show, or any hint of expensive decoration inside or out. It is, however, the only club west of the Mississippi that specializes in rhythm ‘n’ blues. I met Jimmy Reed at Antone’s a month before his death and found his loping, whining style to be nothing short of pure pleasure and genius. The secrets of black cajun zydeco music were shared with me there many a night by Clifton Chenier and his Red Hot Louisiana Band. Local musicians have received thorough educations Renewal can be ‘nervy and life-giving’ The urban loom By James Stanley Walker Austin One of the most unfortunate of architectural fadsthe cataclysmic approach to downtown and outer-city revitalizationhas spawned citizen revulsion for anything smacking of blockby-block injection of new life into the dying monsters of urban America, and for good reason. After all the years of bulldozing. asphalt, and glass crates, the big towns are worse off than before, hot and boring as dry lakes with restaurants. It all looks pretty damned grim. But out of failure comes recognition and the discovery that the reason why “urban renewal” doesn’t work very well is more a matter of deceit than bad thinking. The words of A. J. Guerard, appropriated from quite another context \(the went wrong with the urban patchwork quilt: “Deception is most sinister when it becomes self-deception, and the propagandist takes seriously his own fictions.” We’ve been had, and it is time to put the pieces back together. Let’s begin with the role architects play in all of this. A notoriously splintered band, architects are nearly unanimous in feeling that their expertise is simply not heeded: few are prepared to acknowledge the contributions of their profession to the momentum of decay. Building experts, like other professionals, often gather to carp about their impotence in a complicated society. They don’t really “sympose” at their symposiums; they posture the current stateof-the-art. They agonize about the urban mess and their part in it. And, as occurred at a UT-Austin conference in April, they continue to make of Kodak’s 35mm slide carousel a vehicle of universal instruction. \(The Slide Master of the moment courts that segment of the audience he takes to be sympathetic to his architectural specialty, leaving everyone else to his own devices. His is a picture show, and, whether one is a student, teacher or worldly practitioner, an underlying Unwritten Law obtains: it’s all right to Show and Tell, but never seem: Philip Johnson’s latest structural inand architects that they are bereft of psychological intuition and common sense, innocent of modern social theory and the needs of most people. Of course, so are lawyers, body mechanics, dentists, accountants and other specialists. It is dismaying, however, that so obvious a professional resource as America’s architects, a trained cadre that has at its historic best brought us worthwhile revision and delight, should seem hamstrung, and hamish, in group settings. UT’s mock symposium took up the theme of “Appropriate Architectural Response in Texas” or, as if to make the point for me in subtitle, “The Texas Nexus.” In a letter to the Observer, the dean of the UT-Austin architecture “Some sensitive looks at design issues, different from the East Coast connections, can be expected, and there should be plenty of meat here for articles.” But it was apparent early on that Dean Box’s butcher shop was a well-fed kid’s buffet. Example: Dallas architect James Pratt, who appeared very rich, flatly announced that his town was located in a botanical and ecological fringe belt or no-man’s land, and so, since there wasn’t much to respond to, he had decided to make up his own responses. He showed us a series of slides depicting the fashionable relief he’d provided for a client who had wearied of not being able to see the sky clearly through his Highland Park trees. In place of the smothered and shaded coop of the man’s old house, Pratt created a brand new chaotic Country Club California Contemporary in what I took to be the $300,000 range on the Dallas prairie outskirts. So much for an appropriate-dynamic regional architectural response. 4 JUNE 23, 1978
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