When developers started papering Govalle neighborhood houses with buyout pitches many considered overly aggressive, even threatening, the neighborhood made sure people knew about it—and that they didn’t like it—via media as well as their City Council rep, Sabino “Pio” Renteria, who went public with the opinion. That fierce defense of the long-established Eastside neighborhood is part of what gives it such a distinctive sense of place. While some development and displacement is still happening, of course, most residences in the area are still somewhat affordable (especially for longtime homeowners), mostly small-scale rentals and owner-occupied homes—some traditional, often somewhat eccentric, and some purposefully redesigned in a way that lands them a spot on the AIA Homes Tour. In the past, those residences were mingled with warehouses and light-industrial sites, and a few of those remain active, but most of them evolved into art and design studios, attracting the artists and designers who work in them to live there as well. Now the area is a thriving art center; it has long been an essential place on the East Austin Studio Tour, which was created and is run by art gallery Big Medium, one of the many studio/gallery spaces that occupy the Canopy artplex in the neighborhood. It recently became a landing spot on the first Austin Design Week landscape as well. Govalle is also the longtime home of a number of urban farms, and several restaurants of note—Justine’s, Sawyer & Co., and Jacoby’s Restaurant and Mercantile among them. While change is inevitable—one of the original art trailblazers to occupy a warehouse there, Blue Genie Industries, recently moved farther east—it’s clear that the intent to preserve at least some of the area for traditional residents and artful newcomers is strong.
It’s important to note, first off, that the North Loop neighborhood used to be under the flight path for city’s Mueller Airport (now redeveloped as a planned community). Incoming planes would fly terrifying low over the neighborhood and touch ground practically on I-35 just to its east, drowning out conversations and discombobulating some of the more delicate humans and other creatures in its wake. Needless to say, it was full of cheap rentals, occupied a mix of working-class families and students on the older side of twentysomething. Its main strips, North Loop Boulevard/53rd Street and 51st Street, catered to both lifestyles with a mix of vintage clothing and furnitures stores, guitar and shoe repair shops, a coffeehouse or two, an anarchist bookstore, a metalhead pizza parlor, and, for some reason, a Mediterranean restaurant that did healthy business (the neighborhood is also a few blocks from the original Tamale House). Times changed, of course, the airport moved, and North Loop slowly, then quickly, became a hot area in which to live, and buy, if possible. Rentals became rarer, and rents much higher. Redevelopment of the Airport Boulevard Corridor, its eastern border, and of nearby Highland Mall into a community college branch, as well as the construction of some multifamily housing within the neighborhood came about. A surprising number of those older, funky businesses remain, though; now they’re just joined by some craft beer and cocktail bars, higher-end foodie spots, and, occasionally, newer versions of themselves (Epoch Coffee) or favorites from other parts of town (Home Slice Pizza will be there any day now). And while the more modest single family homes are more expensive now, there are still a lot of them in the area. All in all, it’s a pretty good model of how to incorporate Old and New (Austins, that is).