East César Chavez
The East César Chavez neighborhood this year, arguably, took center stage for civic conversations around East Austin and gentrification, but pretty much everyone agrees that it is a vibrant neighborhood with a rich history and a energized present. The controversial destruction of a piñata store (now Blue Cat Cafe) for a SXSW event made headlines earlier in the year, and the struggle over the area’s identity isn’t new. The neighborhood has consistently held out for responsible change, though and lately things seem to be shifting a bit in that direction; it recently fought off the building of a boutique hotel, and there are plans to build affordable micro-unit apartments in that space instead. Right now it’s a mix of old-school bungalows and contemporary builds; award-winning new design; older businesses oriented toward the historically working-class, Latino population alongside boutiques, art spaces, and upscale landscape design storefronts; service organizations, churches, and, yes, piñata stores.
Extolling the virtues of Clarksville at this point is a rather fish-in-a-barrel situation. The Clarksville Historic District—bounded by Enfield Road on the north, North Lamar Boulevard on the east, West Sixth Street on the south, MoPac Expressway to the west—is a section of the larger Old West Austin neighborhood, but it has a distinctive, much funkier style than other parts of the area, one that has appealed to Austinites for quite a long time. That appeal dates back to at least 1871, when Clarksville became what is now the oldest surviving freedomtown—settlements founded by formerly enslaved African-Americans after the Civil War. It’s also home to many longtime businesses and restaurants along West Fifth and Sixth Streets, as well as on West Lynn Street, including Nau’s Enfield Drug, Sledd’s Nursery, Wiggy’s Liquor, and Jeffreys’, one of Austin’s original fine-dining establishments; it was also home to the original Whole Foods. Its Hope Outdoor Gallery “graffiti park” (now moving) was a testament to its continued commitment to funkiness. As downtown advanced west, with older developments like the Whole Foods mothership and the Waterloo Records complex joined by much larger scale projects such as the redevelopment of the Seaholm Power Plant, a funny thing happened. Because of its historic designation and the general will of the neighborhood, many of its older, sometimes ramshackle homes and businesses remained, making it an intimate, neighborly, small-scale area that just happened to be on a hill with great views, within walking distance of the now-thriving entertainment, restaurant, and shopping districts in southwest downtown. For many Austinites, that combination is downright irresistible.