Editor’s Note: Jack Evins and his wife Debbie have lived in and around Hyde Park since 1974 and have been stewards of the Weisiger-White house on Avenue F since 1977. Jack served as president of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association for two terms beginning in 1978. As a longtime resident, HPNA officer, and owner of a historic home, Jack offers a unique perspective worth sharing before he and Debbie move to Debbie’s hometown of Galveston to begin the next chapter of their lives.
KL: You have lived in and around Hyde Park since 1974. What brought you to Austin and Hyde Park?
JE: I came here to do graduate studies in International Relations at The University of Texas after graduating from Texas A&M with a political science major and history minor.
KL: What is it like to be the steward of a historic landmark home?
JE: Our home, the Weisiger-White house built in 1892, was one of the first structures in the neighborhood to get historic zoning. When we bought our house, it had been divided into a triplex with one unit upstairs, one unit downstairs, and a garage apartment in the back. It needed extensive work on the foundation and elsewhere; we have made several attempts over many years to get it into its current condition.
KL: How did you become involved in the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association?
JE: In about 1976, shortly after the neighborhood association was formed, Debbie and I became aware of the HPNA and we began attending meetings. Merle Franke was president and Dorothy Richter was, as always, one of the main players in neighborhood efforts. Dorothy and others encouraged me to take a leadership role and I was nominated as president. I served for two terms, 1978 and 1979. As a student of history and political science, I was drawn in during an era when young people were inclined to be politically active. We were coming off the heels of Vietnam protests, Watergate, race riots, and assassinations, and so the notion of being involved in political issues that impacted a neighborhood that had historic merits was a natural fit and really engaged me. So, the HPNA favored me with the office of president for a couple of years, which was a real privilege, and at an exciting time to be involved. Of course, at the time, the neighborhood’s reputation and standing as an historic neighborhood was not well established or recognized.
KL: Will you tell me about the work you did during that time?
JE: We saw historic zoning as an opportunity to protect some of the landmark structures and try to stabilize the neighborhood. At the time, there was considerable pressure on the old housing stock. Absentee landlords, with little inclination to perform necessary upkeep for old, tenant-occupied structures, allowed homes to deteriorate. There was pressure from multi-family development to replace single-family homes. The Hyde Park Baptist Church was seeking parcels for surface parking, activities, and expanding their physical plant, and they demolished several houses.
Historic zoning was a mechanism used to stem the tide of deterioration and demolition and preserve the historic fabric of the neighborhood. We wanted to draw attention to the unique characteristics of some of the structures, which was a step in the right direction.
KL: How have you seen the character of the neighbor evolve during the time you have lived here?
JE: Well, fortunately, we were in at the beginning of the wave of historic zoning, and then the neighborhood revitalized the Historic Homes Tour. We identified particular landmarks and then the tour generated some public support and appreciation outside the neighborhood for the unique characteristics of the built environment here. Of course, we had some contentious episodes with the Hyde Park Baptist Church as they expanded their footprint and threatened housing stock. Ultimately, the inherent beauty of the neighborhood with its distinctive older housing stock, urban forest, and proximity to central city amenities drew other people with sufficient resources who came in and started fixing up houses.
The flip side of that trend is a move toward some type of gentrification, and that is a double-edged sword. The neighborhood is an asset in terms of representing a certain historical epoch. Aside from the surviving structures, there are a number of people important to the history of the city and beyond who lived in the neighborhood and who are worth memorializing. However, the requirement to invest significant capital to preserve structures means that the neighborhood is less affordable for people with modest incomes. That concerns me because I believe the neighborhood benefits from having as much diversity as it can support.
KL: As a resident and neighborhood leader, which accomplishments are you most proud of?
JE: I served on the Travis County Historic Commission and I also served on the city’s Commission (an urban master plan committee) back in the 1980s. In terms of actual results, I am proud of what Debbie and I did to preserve our own house. In terms of my work in HPNA, I helped in resolving an impasse between the City of Austin and the Texas Fine Arts Association that was impeding a commitment for funds to preserve the Elisabet Ney Museum. The museum structure had some serious issues and, like other historic buildings, it was deteriorating. We were able to persuade TFAA and the city to work together and that resulted in an agreement that led to significant funding from the city, the Heritage Society, and others. I took my sister to visit the museum for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and it was a real thrill to show her something that was so significant and to feel like I had some small role in its current vibrant state.
KL: The Hyde Park neighborhood has a long history of intense division on important issues such as the demolition of houses, the Hyde Park Baptist Church development, the local historic district, the debate about accessory dwelling units, and commercial development. People who live here tend to be very civically engaged. How do you think these conflicts have shaped the neighborhood over time?
JE: The conflicts have some pluses. To the extent that people have strong feelings about neighborhood issues, they become engaged with others in discussions that have to do with the larger fabric of the neighborhood. I think that is better than not caring at all, regardless of their position. As a political scientist, I think people should be involved in deciding what their community and larger society should be. I place a value on diversity of thought as well as socio-economic diversity. Dialogue is important. If there was a homogeneity of thought about what this neighborhood should be like, the neighborhood could develop tunnel vision and become unnecessarily hostile to or even oblivious to opportunities to evolve into something even better than it is now. Debate and emotive issues are good because they involve people. The local scene is a microcosm of what is happening at a national level. Ultimately I hope that people will find grounds to compromise and not get drawn in to non-negotiable hard-line stances where nobody is able to get anything done. That is disadvantageous. What we need to do is be able to voice opinions and try to synthesize some kind of amalgam solution that maybe makes no one totally happy, but at least moves the ball forward.
KL: You have been very involved in the Halloween celebration on Avenue F. What part did you play in developing one of the best traditions in our neighborhood?
JE: Debbie and I hosted a Halloween party annually for several years. We invited friends and co-workers. Our neighbors Earnest and Carol Adams also hosted a party. Over the years our own party took on too much of a life of its own and so we decided to stop having them, but Earnest and Carol continued. They began decorating their porch and we began incrementally upping our game in terms of decorating and attracting more trick-or-treaters. It was just so much fun to have people come by and obviously appreciate the effort we and our neighbors put into the event. Even though they were often people from outside the neighborhood, it was great to have some means of providing a relatively safe environment that honored the tradition of Halloween because I don’t know how much opportunity kids have any more to get a sense of what Halloween is. Each year, what we put together was beyond what we did the year before. We went way over the top. Apparently it was contagious and now many neighbors participate. It was great to get feedback about how much fun it was and how much people appreciated our efforts. I love the spontaneity of the event.
KL: As you plan to leave Hyde Park, are there any thoughts you would like to share with your neighbors?
JE: I encourage those who live here, who are aware of and sensitive to the unique character of this neighborhood, to continue to find ways to recognize and publicize the historical nature of the neighborhood. The neighborhood is not exclusively defined by its history, but it would be different without it. It is important to value its architectural constructs and the existence of the subdivision itself, frequently referred to as Austin’s first suburb. Also, we should remember certain individuals who have resided in the neighborhood for key parts of their lives and their contributions to our Austin’s development.
Austin is a unique community and Hyde Park defines a part of Austin and an important part of Austin’s evolution. I feel fortunate that Hyde Park still exists in the state that it does. West Campus had a lot of structures comparable to Hyde Park. While a few homes still exist, the sense of the fabric of the neighborhood as it was has been forever changed. Parts of Fairview and Travis Heights still have a little bit of that flavor, but these areas are few and far between.
I am proud of the fact that my home and the one next door are the oldest side-by-side residences in the neighborhood. We discovered years ago that William D. Eyres built our house, the one next door, and the one immediately south across 41st Street, and that he also had a hand in the construction of the Elizabet Ney Museum. It may be just the nerdy history buff in me, but these details are significant to me and part of what makes Hyde Park different from other neighborhoods. I would encourage those in the neighborhood to focus on the things that make us distinct and help foster public appreciation of those elements because absent that, those elements are in danger of being lost.
Yes, Ney Day has been rescheduled for Saturday, July 18!
Though originally scheduled for late May, the recent monsoon season basically washed that date off the calendar. As a result, on Saturday, July 18, Ney Day returns! At this, the Third Annual Ney Day, celebrate Elisabet Ney, her art and her legacy, with readings from Austin women authors, sculpting demos, food trucks, performance art, technology activities, clay crafts, health screenings, and much more. The headlining act will be Elisabeth McQueen, with Yes Ma’am Brass Band, the Djembabes, and more. And don’t forget, Shipe Park Pool is right across the street. Bring your swimsuits and towels and make a day of it. The event will run from noon to 5.
You may also have noticed an addition to the 45th street side of the museum property; that’s Jennifer Chenoweth’s Dance of the Cosmos, a special project supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin’s Economic Development Department. This remarkable piece will be officially opened at Ney Day. It will then grace the north face of the museum grounds for a year.
Remember too that the Ney’s summer camp, Visual Literacy: Storytelling through Art, still has a few spaces in it! If you’re interested, call 512-458-2255. August will see the return of Saturday morning drawing classes, too.
The Ney is at 304 E 44th Street and is a part of the History, Arts, and Nature Division of the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department. Admission as always is free.
Welcome to the Pecan Press Kid’s Corner where you can find out about kid happenings in Hyde Park. Feel free to submit anything kid related, including event info, kids’ drawings, stories, comics, songs, poems, what have you!
Boy, it’s hot! But don’t let the heat keep you from having some summertime fun around the neighborhood. Of course, a dip at Shipe Pool will cool you off. You can take your tike for a healthy smoothie at Juice Land or yummy vegan ice cream treat at Sweet Ritual, 45th and Duval. Or, hit Dolce Vita for a delicious gelato. Check out their kids‘ specials – Sock Monkey Sundae and Sprinkle Cup, both served up with gummy worms! Casey’s, across the railroad tracks at 51st, has been cooling off neighbors for almost 20 years with their New Orleans-style snowballs. They also have macaroons if you prefer. Don’t forget Sno-Beach at 34th and Guadalupe for straight-up snow cone delights.
For some indoor fun, you might want to take a peek inside the Elisabet Ney Museum across from Shipe Park, or bike on over to UT and check out the dinos at the Texas Memorial Museum, kids’ art tours at the Blanton, Texas history and the IMAX at The Bullock Texas State History Museum, Texas and American West landscapes by Frank Reaugh in August at the Harry Ransom Center, or bowling at the Union Underground. A bit further afoot, near Mueller, is the Thinkery for lots of kid fun – and dare I say education – and Café Monet at the Triangle to get their creative juices flowing. And of course, a stop at Quack’s for a whimsical cut out cookie and cool drink will always bring a smile to a kiddos face. Have fun and stay cool out there!
Editor’s Note: From the time of Elisabet Ney, a German immigrant, Hyde Park has been privileged to provide a home for people from around the world. Their presence in Hyde Park has added to its richness and diversity. In the following article, one of those people, Cristina Pérez Guembe, whose family lived in Hyde Park for a year, says farewell to their temporary home.
It was in the early hours of July 15, 2014, after a long trip that included a four-hour delay in New York, that we arrived at the house on Avenue H that was going to be our home for the next 12 months, exhausted but excited with the prospect of the new adventures awaiting us.
It’s been a great year, beyond our expectations and even beyond what we could have best imagined, a year that will be deeply embedded in our hearts forever and will always be cherished in the history of our little family.
I remember very well our first days and conversations with our backyard neighbor, Dorothy, the admirable lady Mayor of this Austin corner, and with Robert, Kathy, and their children, especially Lucy, with whom my girls had lots of fun back in those hot Texan summer days at Shipe Pool.
It is certainly going to be sad to close the door for the last time at the house that has been our home here on Avenue H, with those big windows open to the nature of the area, where I had the privilege to witness wildlife at its best, with the passing of the seasons, the squirrels, the blue jays, and the cardinals singing; it surprised us with a huge pecan rain one day or a full spring of white irises another. We will remember with a big smile the day we had that first paella night with Tim and Amie, an adorable couple who soon will become a family, who shared with us their Thanksgiving table. We wish you all the best!
Looking back with all perspective, it is curious to see how things developed in the weeks after our arrival and how what seemed to be at first casual encounters became later great stories to tell. As I’m writing this, I’m sitting at the very desk that once belonged to your dear neighbor, John Kerr, aka Squirrel Nutkin, who used to write in these same pages that help build your community so simply yet effectively, which has allowed me to know more about this little corner of Heaven on Earth. Being also a journalist by education, I feel honored to be able to use the place where he most probably sat and wrote for you, too, as I sit and write for you now.
Back in September, in my quest of furniture without a car, I saw an ad that led me to the Kerrs’ house on Avenue F, and a few days after, I was installing a decent number of pieces of their furniture and other accessories to make our stay comfortable. After knowing more about the history of this wonderful family of neighbors, I can honestly say that being surrounded by their things made me very happy, as I thought that it was the closest thing to being their guests at their very own home.
I wish I could have met them, as I’m sure we would have had great conversations about many topics, and surely the camino would have inevitably sprung, as the city where we currently live and my grandparents’ nearby birthplace are part of that pathway. It is now nice to think that we might receive their daughter’s visit one of these days when we get back home, as she is seriously considering following her father’s steps. Wherever you go, Ellen, buen camino!
Shortly after that, I got also to know that one can never foresee that a first casual encounter provoked by a simple styrofoam cooler can bring the joy of a beautiful and lovely friendship. Thank you, Carol and Amon, for everything! Words will never be enough to express how much I have enjoyed the time shared with you and all my gratitude for all the things you have done for us! I hope it won’t be long until we see you in Spain!
Yes, “thank you” is the key word. Thanks to all these neighbors who overwhelmingly responded to my petition of furnishings to make our house feel again more like a home, after the previous renters claimed the belongings we had borrowed from them up until January. Thank you, Sue, and thank you especially, Lin, the sweetest lady I have ever known.
We enjoyed very much being part of your community and going to all the events that make Hyde Park such a magical place: the Fire Station Festival; the Halloween night that, together with the Easter party and egg-hunt at the Kennedy-Cigarroa home, was unforgettable for my daughters; the Christmas Party; the Shipe Park day. I enjoyed very much being part of the Homes Tour and getting to know first-hand about the history of this place and its first settlers. Thank you, Kevin, Carol, and all the neighborhood association friendly faces that I always encountered at those gatherings for those opportunities of enjoying neighborhood life.
We also enjoyed the walks to Lee Elementary School and the experience of school life as we helped our children get the most of the big experience of attending school in a different country. Lee is such a gem in the heart of this city. Both my daughters have made memories and friends for life, I’m sure. School was, at moments, challenging for all, including us as parents, but it also proved to be a great opportunity to share unforgettable moments, such as the programs, events, and those science projects we did, thanks to the generous collaboration of Don and his chicken eggs. Thanks to the staff at Lee and to those families who are Hyde Park neighbors as well, who eased very much our journey through the school year.
As you read this, I’m probably overwhelmed by the number of things that moving back home after a year abroad with a family of four involves, with mixed emotions about what lies ahead, just as much, or almost, as I had when we first came, surrounded by suitcases and piles of stuff to fold and pack, trying to get everything clean and tidy at the house for move-out requirements and the next tenants.
I wonder if I ever will be able to close these suitcases. I’m pretty sure that we will have huge excess baggage fees, as the bags we are packing are full of great memories of this magical year in Hyde Park. I sincerely hope we can come back someday again, walk around the letter streets, and enjoy the beautiful gardens, the delicious cheese of Antonelli’s, the ice cream and the other culinary secrets of that concentration of yummy-ness revolving around the crossing of Duval and 43rd street.
Thank you, Hyde Park, for being such a warm, welcoming place, for all the joyful moments you have given us that will be forever part of us. Whenever somebody asks about the best place to live in Austin, I have no doubt about what will be the answer in my family.
Dear neighbors, you know very well that you have a treasure here, but it is not the nice houses that are valued at several thousands, nor the fact that it is close to UT or downtown or other useful services at hand, it is the people who live here that make the magic happen. Keep always alive that magic of Hyde Park.
Until we meet again,
Cristina, Ramon, Aitana, and Marina, the Spanish family at Avenue H and 39th street, your humble ambassadors of Hyde Park in Barañain, Navarra.
The world is full of rum cakes, but in the history of Austin, one stands out: the Cuneo Rum Cake, named after Cuneo’s Bakery, which stood at 4225 Guadalupe Street for close to 36 years after its founding in 1925 by Mr. and Mrs. V.A. Cuneo. The picture shows it as it looked in 1956. Its rum cake, the creation of Cuneo’s production manager, Ray Kennedy, became an Austin favorite.
Ray learned his skills at the Fleishman School of Baking in the 1930s. After 11 years at Cuneo’s, he briefly opened a bakery in Cisco, Texas, where he spent part of his childhood, but ended up returning to Cuneo’s. He left again in the 1950s and worked for 25 years at Mrs. Johnson’s Bakery before retiring in 1978. He was a resident of the Hyde Park Annex and he served as a deacon of the Hyde Park Baptist Church for 57 years. He died in 2003 at the age of 89.
In 1977, Ray Kennedy shared the bulk version of his rum cake recipe in the Austin American-Statesman, saying, “They used to line up outside the bakery to buy those rum cakes, they were so good.” Thirty-four years later, in 2011, someone requested the recipe from Monica Kass Rogers, Chicago food writer and owner of the website LostRecipesFound.com. Rogers reached out to Addie Broyles, food writer at the Austin American-Statesman, to track down Ray Kennedy’s children, James Kennedy and Rita Bruton, who still had the recipe.
Rogers scaled the recipe down to a single cake and posted it on her website. After she posted the recipe, readers added such comments as “We use to receive this rum cake each Christmas. … We lived in Houston and loved the rum cake every year.” and “Cuneo’s made my Wedding Cake fifty six years ago. I grew up in the area of Hyde Park surrounding the bakery. The donuts were delicious too!” In response to a request, Rogers adapted the syrup to include real rum instead of rum flavoring.
Yield: One tall, 10-inch, tube cake.
FOR THE CAKE
4 cups cake flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsps baking powder
4 cups sugar
1 cup shortening
¾ cup butter
½ tsp each lemon and orange extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
½ cup water
1 oz corn syrup
2 Tbsp butter
2 tsp rum extract
FOR THE SYRUP
1 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
½ cup water
2 Tbsp butter
2 tsp rum extract
Monica Kass Rogers’ Syrup Adaptation Using Real Rum
1/2 C butter
1/4 C water
1 C sugar
½ C Bacardi dark rum
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in the water and sugar. Heat to boiling and boil five minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in rum.