Roadside Relics of Austin


Summer is in full swing here in Austin, and that means our weekends are filled with trips to Barton Springs for cold dips, kayaking on Lady Bird Lake, and fun evenings at the iconic Peter Pan Mini Golf. Constructed in 1948, this mini-golf course has occupied the same corner lot at South Lamar Boulevard and Barton Springs Road for 70 years.

When auto-tourism was in its prime in the mid-20th century, roadside attractions like drive-in movie theaters, small carnivals, and mini-golf courses were constructed by enterprising property owners who wanted to take advantage of auto-tourists pausing for a rest. In the late 1940s, South Lamar Boulevard was a main highway in Austin, leading south to San Antonio. Take a look at all the roadside attractions it housed back then:

Amusement parks, cafes, mini-golf, and a bowling alley lined the highway, providing auto-tourists with fun activities on their way out of town. To the south, Lamar Boulevard became increasingly sparsely developed, aside from a few motels, light industry, and single-family homes.

A short distance to the east is Congress Avenue, which, back in the 1950s, was part of the Meridian Highway (the original U.S. 81)-- a massive highway system connecting north Texas to the coast. Luckily, preservation efforts have kept the Meridian Highway-era buildings along South Congress intact, many of which are still in use and are some of Austin's most visited landmarks.

Tourist courts and motels, such as the Austin Motel, and San Jose Court (now Hotel San Jose), provided convenient accommodation catered toward auto-tourists.

In addition to dozens of motor-courts and motels along South Congress, other auto-related buildings included cafes, filling stations, auto-parts stores, and drive-in movie theaters.

Despite the presence of preservation gems like the Austin Motel and Hotel San Jose, there are countless more auto-related buildings along South Lamar and South Congress that are in need of reinvestment. Gas stations in particular, a numerous, and make great historic rehabilitation projects. The National Park Service recently issued guidance pertaining to the preservation and reuse of historic gas stations, found here. For a great guide to the different architectural styles of gas stations found in Texas, click here. Please contact us if you're interested in pursuing a rehab project involving a historic roadside resource-- we'd be happy to help you find one!


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