Why Hyde Park Celebrates the Fire Station Festival

Suppose there were no fire station in Hyde Park, only another historic building for us to admire during a homes tour. Docents would solemnly describe how what was once a functioning branch of the Austin fire department had closed, and how the building, being a historic structure, had been appropriated for other uses. The tourists would listen politely, explore the building, and move on.

Is this a science fiction tale about an alternate universe? you ask. No, only a “what if” – what if Dorothy Richter hadn’t taken her son’s bicycle to the fire station to be registered, back in 1969? How different would not only the fire station but Hyde Park itself be? Fortunately, we don’t have to find out, because Dorothy did ride her son’s bike to the fire station, and that ride, more than any other event, marks the beginning of the modern history of Hyde Park.

This is Dorothy Richter’s account of the saving of Fire Station #9.  Hedges and digressions, some of the false starts, and other characteristics of normal speech have been edited out in order to transform the narrative into a written account.

Dorothy’s Account: Saving the Fire Station

Well, it was just an accident that I rode my son’s bike up to the fire station to have it registered. They were asking people to do that, and so I rode it up, rode up there, and the fireman said, Good thing you came today. We’re shutting down in a week or two, not real sure, but they’ve already closed the one on East Avenue. I don’t think I’m going to like that.

And he said, well, another lady had found out about it – a Mrs. Peterson – and she had looked into it and there was a master plan that had been adopted by the council a few years before that. I think very few people on the present council had adopted it, but it had been adopted and it was then going into effect. The one on East Avenue and the one in Hyde Park and the one in West Lynn were going to be shut down, and she had looked into it and had gotten this plan.

So, I went to see her, she lived on D, 4117 Avenue D. So I went to see her and she said, well, she had talked to the council or somebody and they were going to have a public hearing on it. But she said, it had already been decided and there’s no use, and I’m not going to have anything to do with it. And so she said, you can have this master plan.

Anyway, I just thought there might be something that we could do, and this public hearing was going to be before the council in two weeks. Well, that didn’t give me very much time, so I called the newspaper. And I knew the editor, Sam Woods, and I said, Sam, they’re going to close the fire station out here in Hyde Park and nobody knows about it, and you need to write an article. Well, that was kind of early in the week. Anyway, I waited 4, 5 days and nothing appeared, so I called up again and I said, why haven’t you had something the paper about it, and he said, Well – he was a good friend – he didn’t say this – but he was a good friend of the city manager, I think his name was Andrews, and a good golf buddy – and so he said, he’d talk to Andrews. And Andrews said, they don’t have anything to worry about. They’re covered by 3 other stations that are out there. And I said, I thought it was news. At least you could put something about the historic building.

Well, anyhow, it was – they hung up on me. And I got – that really did make me mad. And so I got to dreaming some ways to get some publicity. And it was kind of Vietnam time and people were demonstrating, and a lot of people thought it was really yucky to be demonstrating. But I don’t think I slept, all these ideas came to me at night, and so I thought of having a demonstration up there and the demonstration was going to be, instead of “firemen, fireman, save my child,” it was going to be little kids saying, “councilman, councilman, save my station.” Kind of corny.

But I didn’t know many people here yet – people with little kids – but I called a few and told them to make a sign and we were going to be at four o’clock tomorrow, because we didn’t have much time. I called the press, I called the TV stations, and said, we’re going to have a demonstration at the fire station. So we did and that picture was in the paper.

Anyhow, the fire station, well, you know, it has kind of a sidewalk that goes in a circle around out front. So these little kids came on tricycles and pushcarts and they were all pretty small kids that were pedaling around. I got a good picture of them and the TV was there and the paper was there. So it had good coverage because of that. It attracted a lot of attention.

Anyhow, I got this idea, to do this (the flyer publicizing the event) one night and got up in the middle of the night and drew it and wrote it off and Walter (Walter Richter, Dorothy’s husband. Walter died several years ago. For over ten years, he contributed “Corner on Politics” articles to Pecan Press.) typed it for me and took it off. We had – I don’t know, seems like – I’m going to say 3000 printed. That sounds like a bunch. Maybe a thousand. Must have been like a thousand. I’m sure it wasn’t 3000. Anyhow, they were printed and there was an old fireman, no, a policeman that lived near there and he was friends of the firemen and he helped distribute these. We had these everywhere, on a Sunday we put it in the part where churches were around, and we distributed this in a big area around here and it worked – I guess something worked.

There was a kind of a neighborhood meeting or community meeting I set over at the Baptist Church at 7:30 on October 12 and it was well attended. It was a bunch of people that, when they read this, came. I think that was Tuesday.

So I guess on Thursday then we had – it was a council meeting. That’s when the council had their meetings at the building on 9th Street. The chambers weren’t very big, not many people went to council meetings in those days. The council did not have offices in the building. It was wherever they worked or lived and there were no aides, they didn’t have council aides. It was kind of like, they did things and nobody knew about it.

So at that meeting, at the church meeting that night, I said – here I’m running this thing like I knew what I was doing – but I said, there would be three of us that were going to take this master plan and tear it all to pieces, which was real easy to do, it wasn’t such a good master plan. I didn’t know anybody much then but Miguel Gonzalez Gerth and I needed to talk to him. He had come to me, oh, sometime earlier, about some zoning in his neighborhood and Agnes’s husband (Agnes and Forrest Edwards. They lived on Avenue G. Both of them are now deceased, Agnes within the past 3 years. For information about Agnes, read John Kerr’s article about her in a recent issue of the Pecan Press.) talked to me about why they had just moved here and in that house where they lived, because it was close to the fire station and he being a quadriplegic, he wanted to be close to the fire station in case. Where they had lived, the dogs had knocked the heater over. He just wanted to be close to the fire station there. So, I did not know them before that. Anyhow, the three of use were going to take parts of the master plan.

So we met at Agnes’s and each of us took a portion of this master plan, but Agnes wasn’t going to, it was Forrest that was going to do the talking. But Agnes was, you know, she was there listening to it all. Anyhow, that’s what we did except in the – I had been visiting all the council members, around to their offices, and had explained what the problem was, what I thought was not a good idea, and at this meeting at the church – I had copied – you know, you mimeographed things then – and I had a bunch of little slips, mimeographing the names of the councils and their phone numbers or their offices and told people to contact them, passed it out – give it to your neighbor and call, which apparently they did.

So, when we went to the council meeting, not many people were there but I went in and asked people, are you here for the fire station thing? No, well, would you mind letting us in? We filled the chambers and the hallway outside. It was a mob of us that went down for that. In the meantime I had borrowed a fireman’s hat. The firemen had been very cooperative. They were not in favor of it at all but they couldn’t take any kind of part in it and I wanted to have a fireman’s hat and they couldn’t give me one of theirs but they found one for me. So, when Mayor Butler called this case up, and who is the spokesman for this case, well, I got up, had my fireman’s hat in the paper bag and put the fireman’s hat on and went up to the podium and everybody laughed and there was a big deal. There’s a picture in the paper of me with this fireman’s hat on.

But when I got there, he said the council, at their work session the night before, had decided not to close the station and we didn’t want to make a presentation we didn’t have to. It had already been decided so we decided, well, why take up the time, so we didn’t do it. Afterwards, I was sorry we didn’t do it because the paper had a really nice editorial about how the council had buckled under the pressure, without any facts of why we really didn’t think it was a good idea. And I had to write Sam Woods on that one. See, Walter was a journalist and I knew and he knew these journalists.

Well, that saved it that time and that was, like maybe, I think about two years before the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association got going. But the way this became an annual thing is, when the neighborhood association was formed, and it was formed over saving the house where Avis Davis lived – not at the time – the Oliphant house. Some people bought it and they were going to tear it down and a young girl who rented over on Speedway, Janis Linder, came to me and she said, we need to organize a group to save this house. I was election judge and I had the names of people in this area and she wanted to see if she could have that and I said yes, and I said, this is a good idea, but I was in the middle of organizing Texans for the rights of nonsmokers. I just don’t have time to help you but I’ll give you this list. I said, I don’t think it’s going to help.

I said, I understand there’s a preacher that’s moved in, and see if you can’t get him to be interested in being president or helping you with it. That was Merle Franke. I didn’t know him, I just had heard he had moved in and I thought, well, we needed some respectable type person then rather than – a bunch of hippies were around in that time and they were buying up or moving in Hyde park, which was – really, I have to give them a lot of credit, cause some of the houses were not habitable but they moved in and maybe fixed them up, cleaned them up a little bit.

So that’s how that started and that summer when she got it going, we met frequently down at the park. There were 12 or so of us and Merle might remember some of them. Anyway, we drew up our goals and purposes and, you know, we were getting organized and we were trying to think of a way to get membership. You know, what do we do to get people to do this and I said, when the fire station thing came up, I said that was – everybody was for that. We had no opposition. And I said, maybe we can have a fire station festival, have it about – see, this was October when this meeting was – and just let the council know that we’re still got our eyes on the fire station and people want to keep it and so that’s how the fire station festival go started. It was where you could be a member, we got all these people to come. We gave prizes for attendance. We got businesses to donate things. We had a drawing and that was how we got membership started.

Recorded and Transcribed by Lorre Weidlich