Wooldridge Square

Wooldridge

Wooldridge Square lay dormant for its first 70 years. Three of Austin’s first churches were built overlooking the square, the handiwork of early Austin civic leaders such as Jacob Fontaine and Swante Palm. In those early years the square itself remained fallow, yet not forgotten.

In 1909, Austin Mayor A.P. Wooldridge, animated by civic pride and backyard boosterism, inspired the community to clean the square and construct a bandstand for public engagements. Over the next century, Wooldridge Square would host Booker T. Washington, Minnie Fisher Cunningham, Lyndon Johnson, and scores of Texas political aspirants reaching out to voters from the...Read more

Wooldridge Square lay dormant for its first 70 years. Three of Austin’s first churches were built overlooking the square, the handiwork of early Austin civic leaders such as Jacob Fontaine and Swante Palm. In those early years the square itself remained fallow, yet not forgotten.

In 1909, Austin Mayor A.P. Wooldridge, animated by civic pride and backyard boosterism, inspired the community to clean the square and construct a bandstand for public engagements. Over the next century, Wooldridge Square would host Booker T. Washington, Minnie Fisher Cunningham, Lyndon Johnson, and scores of Texas political aspirants reaching out to voters from the bandstand.

The cultural convulsions of the 1960s reverberated through this square. Civil rights marches often ended at Wooldridge with a flurry of speeches and exhortations. In 1968, a benefit at the square introduced the world to an Austin icon, Jim Franklin's armadillo. The Keep Austin Weird era would soon begin, and with it, Austin’s transformation into one of America’s great cities.

Wooldridge Square tells a thousand stories, and we would like to hear them all. We have organized this narrative into three basic storylines. But while the storylines may be limited, the stories are not. Please share your Wooldridge Square stories and photographs, and help us better understand Wooldridge Square through its lived experiences.

Discussions: All (4) Open (4)
  • Rev jacob fontaine

    Edwin Waller designated Block 101, to the immediate south of Wooldridge Square, for churches. Three of Austin's first churches were built here: First (colored) Baptist Church (1869), Metropolitan AME (1873) and Gethsemane Lutheran Church (1874).

    Several of Austin's early civic leaders were involved in the establishment of these churches. The Reverend Jacob Fontaine would eventually help establish four churches in the region in addition to First (colored) Baptist. Fontaine also helped convince black voters to support the establishment of the University of Texas in Austin, even though African-Americans...Read more

    Edwin Waller designated Block 101, to the immediate south of Wooldridge Square, for churches. Three of Austin's first churches were built here: First (colored) Baptist Church (1869), Metropolitan AME (1873) and Gethsemane Lutheran Church (1874).

    Several of Austin's early civic leaders were involved in the establishment of these churches. The Reverend Jacob Fontaine would eventually help establish four churches in the region in addition to First (colored) Baptist. Fontaine also helped convince black voters to support the establishment of the University of Texas in Austin, even though African-Americans would not be allowed to attend the university until 1956.

    Swante Palm served as first secretary of the Gethsemane Lutheran Church. In 1897, Palm donated his sizable library to the new University of Texas in a gift that increased the size of the university library by more than 60 percent. Both Palm School and Palm Park are named for him.

    Henry Hirshfeld (1834-1911), a native of Germany, was a prominent Austin merchant and a leader in the city's Jewish community. Hirshfeld built a cottage across Guadalupe from the First (colored) Baptist Church in 1873, followed by his grand house in 1885. Hirshfeld served as president of the Congregation Beth Israel, and was instrumental in the dedication of their first synagogue at 11th and San Jacinto. 

    By the 1920s, the three Wooldridge churches had moved to other locations and were replaced by a new public library, now occupied by the Austin History Center. However, these churches (including Congregation Beth Israel) are still thriving. Please share your stories about these Wooldridge churches, both then and now, and the people who were instrumental in their successes.

    comment
    Reply notification settings
    Ajax loader transparent
    Didn't receive confirmation?
    Seems like you are already registered, please provide the password or use a different email ID
    Submitting your comment
    Cancel
  • Millie fisher cunningham

    Wooldridge Square is common grounds, a place within Austin where the issues of the time have been discussed and debated. A common thread that ties many of the issues together is freedom. For example, in September 30, 1911, Booker T. Washington spoke to a crowd of 5,000 people from the bandstand in Wooldridge Square. At that time, there were fewer than 25,000 residents in the city! 

    Minnie Fisher Cunningham helped organize the National League of Women Voters and became its executive secretary. In 1928, she became the first Texas woman to run for the U.S. Senate, and she...Read more

    Wooldridge Square is common grounds, a place within Austin where the issues of the time have been discussed and debated. A common thread that ties many of the issues together is freedom. For example, in September 30, 1911, Booker T. Washington spoke to a crowd of 5,000 people from the bandstand in Wooldridge Square. At that time, there were fewer than 25,000 residents in the city! 

    Minnie Fisher Cunningham helped organize the National League of Women Voters and became its executive secretary. In 1928, she became the first Texas woman to run for the U.S. Senate, and she announced her campaign from the bandstand in Wooldridge Square.

    Lyndon Johnson began his run for the U.S. Senate in 1948 from Wooldridge Square as well. As president, Johnson would sign the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, two of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in modern history.

    The Travis County Courthouse, bordering Wooldridge Square to the north, is named for Heman Sweatt. Sweatt v. Painter is one of the most important civil rights cases in American history. The case, settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of Sweatt in 1950, opened the University of Texas Law School to African-American enrollment. The case would help inform Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision that would desegregate all schools in the country four years later.

    On March 9, 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to the University of Texas and spoke in front of 1,200 people at the Texas Union Ballroom. “Old Man Segregation is on his deathbed,” King said to the crowd. “The only question is how expensive the South is going to make the funeral.” The Tower at the University of Texas is easily seen from Wooldridge Square.

    Please share with us your stories the winds of change as they swept through Wooldridge Square. We want to hear them all!

    comment
    Reply notification settings
    Ajax loader transparent
    Didn't receive confirmation?
    Seems like you are already registered, please provide the password or use a different email ID
    Submitting your comment
    Cancel
  • Homegrown  austin music posters 1967 to 1982 1

    Austin began its transformation into one of America’s great cities in an inauspicious way. The Austin of today began with the music of yesterday.

    On September 29, 1968, local musicians held a benefit at Wooldridge Square. Jim Franklin, a local artist, designed a poster for that event. With the poster, Jim introduced what would become the new Austin’s symbol – the armadillo. The new Austin had brand.

    In 1970, Eddie Wilson, inspired by Franklin’s art, named his new music venue the Armadillo World Headquarters (AWH). On August 12, 1972, a newly arrived Willie Nelson...Read more

    Austin began its transformation into one of America’s great cities in an inauspicious way. The Austin of today began with the music of yesterday.

    On September 29, 1968, local musicians held a benefit at Wooldridge Square. Jim Franklin, a local artist, designed a poster for that event. With the poster, Jim introduced what would become the new Austin’s symbol – the armadillo. The new Austin had brand.

    In 1970, Eddie Wilson, inspired by Franklin’s art, named his new music venue the Armadillo World Headquarters (AWH). On August 12, 1972, a newly arrived Willie Nelson first appeared at AWH, and he later invited his Nashville friends to join him. With the AWH, the new Austin found a home.

    In 1974, Austin City Limits began its lengthy run, and Eeyore’s Birthday moved to Pease Park from its quiet beginning on the University of Texas campus. Clifford Antone opened Antone’s on East 6th in 1975, accelerating the transformation of Austin into the “Live Music Capital of the World.”

    Musicians, artists, and an eclectic collection of creatives began to relocate to our odd little community. In 1978, twenty-five-year-old college dropout John Mackey opened SaferWay, and two years later a merger led to the first Whole Foods Store.

    Michael Dell began building and selling personal computers from his dorm room at the University of Texas in 1984 at the age of 19. Remember, in the early days computers were countercultural (Steve Jobs named his company after the Beatles’ label). South by Southwest started in 1987, and by 2000 we were concerned as to how we might Keep Austin Weird.

    Keep Austin Weird is just another way of saying Keep Austin Creative. Austin’s creative community, that which led us out of a white-rocks-and-cedar-trees, hardscrabble existence, can be traced to places such as Wooldridge Square. Share your stories of that time with us here!

    comment
    Reply notification settings
    Ajax loader transparent
    Didn't receive confirmation?
    Seems like you are already registered, please provide the password or use a different email ID
    Submitting your comment
    Cancel
  • Is there a story we missed? Do you have a story about Woodridge Square to tell us? Propose a new story or idea here!

    Is there a story we missed? Do you have a story about Woodridge Square to tell us? Propose a new story or idea here!

    comment
    Reply notification settings
    Ajax loader transparent
    Didn't receive confirmation?
    Seems like you are already registered, please provide the password or use a different email ID
    Submitting your comment
    Cancel