By Michael Barnes | Monday, December 19, 2011, 08:32 PM
When we moved to the Bouldin area for good in 1997, our bungalow was new.
Although experts have since been fooled by its reverence for early-century gables, porches and windows (not the brand new house pictured below), it surged to the vanguard of latter-day construction for this neighborhood first laid out in the 1870s.
Since then, at least 445 new houses, duplexes or condos — I include substantial additions — have been built in Bouldin between South Congress Avenue and Lamar Boulevard, Barton Springs Boulevard and Oltorf Street.
How do I know this? Because Nora the Explorer Lab and I carefully surveyed the newcomers during two recent weeks of early-morning walks.
Stark, modernist entries have received outsized attention, yet they make up less than 10 percent of the new residences. The rest would be classified by real estate agents as “traditional,” although given its 100-year history, streamlined modernism ought to be considered yet another traditional style. (One early modern sample sits among some lovely prewar homes on lower Bouldin Avenue.)
I’m willing to bet Bouldin is the most eclectic neighborhood, architecturally, in the city. This is due, in part, to the sale of the previously underappreciated land, slowly, with very few large-scale developments over the past 140 years.
So what was here before the 445 newbies?
Among the first settlers were African Americans, who put up cabins of vertical-plank construction. Their descendants still live among us, despite the 1928 City of Austin urban plan that (passively) attempted to segregate blacks to East Austin by refusing to extend basic services to neighborhoods like ours.
At least four tall, wooden farmhouses — the most famous now serving as Green Pastures restaurant — and a few stone farmhouses survive from the 19th century. After 1900, poor whites joined the African Americans, as humorist and civil rights advocate John Henry Faulk relates in “The Uncensored John Henry Faulk.”
“In those days I came to live to two separate worlds with distinct boundaries. Both were encompassed in South Austin, a neighborhood containing the farms of people like my father, a successful lawyer, as well as the shacks and tents of the poor black and white families living ‘down on the creek.’”
Some of those poor and working-class white families also still live within few doors of us, although the eldest members are passing away too quickly. They tell of a South Austin as a semi-rural place of dirt roads, frequent floods and hard work.
Latinos arrived in numbers after World War II. They lived in the cottages and bungalows that still dominate the hills around us.
Later, beatniks and hippies created idiosyncratic houses from almost any material — A-frames, concrete lilies, towers that offered skyline views and safety from prying police, as well as the bejeweled Never Never Land, just a block from our house. (A descendant of these fantasy homes is a stone castle recently built behind a small church on Mary Street.)