Hyde Park Historic District
The Hyde Park Historic District (a Streetcar Suburb with both national and local designations) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2015, The Gombach Group.
Hyde Park is one of the most desirable neighborhoods of modern Austin. The legacy of its settlement and growth reminds one of the important role Hyde Park has played in the history of Austin.
When Hyde Park was established in 1891, America was evolving from a dispersed, largely rural society to one more dependent on manufacturing and industrial capacity. The residential suburb was an important manifestation of this transitional era. Created in response to societal changes occurring across the nation, the suburb achieved a widespread popularity that would last well into the 20th century.
Due east of the State Lunatic Asylum, the land on which Hyde Park was to develop originally had been part of a 369-acre survey patented to Thomas Gray on April 20, 1840. By 1850, the tract had been conveyed to Joseph Lee who homesteaded the property and subsequently sold 206.25 acres to a group of investors from Travis and Guadalupe counties in 1872. The partnership conveyed 85 acres of the property to the Capital State Fair Association on June 2, 1885. The Association erected exhibit buildings, livestock pens, judges' stands, two racetracks and a 300-foot grandstand with a seating capacity of 3,500. With the onset of financial problems, however, the fair closed and the property was reconveyed to Edward Christian, one of the original investors in Lee's Homestead Tract.
Having bought out Christian's widow and partners, L. Fellman sold the property in 1890 to William B. Clarke, Victor B. Buck and George Rockwell of Kansas City, Missouri, and A. W. Terrell of Travis County. The 206.25-acre tract sold on May 13, 1890, for $70,000 to Monroe Martin Shipe of Abilene, Kansas. Shipe and his wife, Adele, conveyed the 206.25-acre Lee Homestead to the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Land and Town Co. on December 8, 1890, in consideration of the sum of $180,000. A month later the company filed the Hyde Park Addition with the Travis County Clerk.
An early promotional map of Hyde Park reveals Shipe's layout of the new neighborhood. Drawn by noted map maker Augustus Koch, who prepared "bird's eye" maps of many Texas cities including Austin, Cuero and Victoria, it depicts a grid pattern of tree-lined streets. The west side of the development was dominated by a large park in the area bounded by present-day Guadalupe, West 38th, Avenue D and West 43rd streets. A "Railway Car Barn" for the Austin Rapid Transit Railway Co., the city's streetcar line, was shown near the southwest corner of Avenue D and Third (now 40th) Street. Two separate man-made bodies of water are labeled Gem Lake and Crystal Fountain. Frequently mentioned among the amenities Hyde Park offered, the lakes were drained in the mid-1890s to provide additional land for residential use as part of the effort to develop Hyde Park Addition No. 2.
The individual primarily responsible for the founding and development of Hyde Park was Monroe Martin Shipe (1847-1924), president and founder of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Land and Town Co. Born at Paris, Ohio, in 1847, Shipe graduated from Ohio's Canton Academy and subsequently joined his brother in a business venture that took him throughout the United States. Shipe lived briefly in Florida to manage an orange grove, but eventually he became a prominent civic and business leader in Abilene, Kansas. Active in the development of new sections of that city, he built and operated Abilene's Street Railway system in 1887. The collapse of Abilene's boom economy the following year ruined the careers of many of its businessmen, including Shipe. He moved to Austin in 1889 (American Historical Society Vol.48 1931:233; Dickinson County Historical Society n.d., 1-3), quickly becoming an important civic leader. His influential efforts to encourage growth included early efforts to pass bonds providing for the construction of a dam and power plant on the Colorado River to produce electricity for the city. Shipe also proposed installation of electric streetcar and street lighting systems. An advocate of the commission form of local government, he ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1895.
Critical to Hyde Park's development, electric streetcars attained considerable success throughout the nation during the late 19th century as a new mode of transportation. Establishment of a streetcar system, along with improvement of streets and installation of water and sewer systems, were perceived as progressive municipal improvements. Attempts to convert Austin's existing mule-car line (established in 1874) into an electric streetcar system began in the late 1880s. These efforts failed, however, setting the stage for Shipe's involvement. In 1890 he obtained exclusive franchise rights to operate an electric streetcar system from the city council, much to the chagrin of other local businessmen. Shipe subsequently secured financial backing that required no capital outlay on his part, with the proviso that the project be completed and operational within ten months. At 4:00 p.m. on February 26, 1891, reportedly one hour and 44 minutes before the deadline, Austin's first electric streetcar rolled along the Austin Rapid Transit Railway's tracks on Congress Avenue (Jackson 1954:238).
Installation of the streetcar system afforded considerable financial opportunities on which local businessmen capitalized. Shipe's control of the system enabled him to extend the line north from the city, building tracks along the Old Georgetown Road (now Guadalupe Street). Near the entrance to the State Insane Asylum (now the Austin State Hospital) at 40th Street, the tracks turned east into the new development and made a loop along 40th Street, Avenue G, 43rd Street and Avenue B.
This service was essential to Hyde Park's development as it linked the new subdivision with the rest of Austin. Indeed, streetcar systems were a major factor in the advent and success of suburbs throughout the nation. They solved a fundamental problem of suburban development by providing cheap and reliable transportation between the new and relatively isolated residential areas. Soon after completion of the line to Hyde Park in 1891, Shipe resigned his position as president of the Austin Rapid Transit Railway Co. and devoted his energies to promoting the new development. (Austin History Center Biographical Files: Monroe Martin Shipe) He constructed his own residence (NR 1983) in Hyde Park the following year, and was actively involved with the neighborhood until his death in 1924.
The original intent of Shipe and the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Land and Town Co. appears to have been the development of an affluent suburb with large, majestic residences. Local newspaper advertisements in 1892 touted Hyde Park as "the Pride of Austin" and encouraged people to invest there as "its property will always command a good price because it will be the fashionable part of the wealthiest and most aristocratic city in the land." Moreover, the location of noted sculptress Elisabet Ney's residence and studio in the northeast section was expected to "make that part of Hyde Park especially attractive to the scholar and lover of art." The first houses built in Hyde Park, such as the Oliphant-Walker House, were stylistically pretentious examples of late 19th century domestic architecture that fulfilled these promotional promises. Construction of these residences, however, appears to have been part of a larger plan conceived by Hyde Park's developers, rather than simply the result of successful advertising efforts.
Provisions made by some land transactions stipulated predetermined values for houses to be built in Hyde Park within a few months of the property's purchase. For example, the original deed for the Smith-Marcuse-Lowry House at 3913 Avenue C states that:
"One of the conditions of the sale is that the said George S. Smith [Grantee] will cause to be erected a residence of value not less than $1500 on the above lots and adjoining 2 lots to the north; said residence to be commenced on or before September 1st, 1894 and be completed within the year 1894." (Deed Records 119:630)
The bulk of property sold during Hyde Park's initial phase of development was sold in close proximity to Third (now 40th) Street and included similar provisions. Not coincidentally, this thoroughfare carried the streetcar line which extended into Hyde Park. Thus, the original development scheme could have called for the construction of architecturally significant houses along the most visible route into the suburb, creating a strong and positive impression on potential buyers and setting the tone for subsequent construction. Shipe may have encouraged construction of large houses during initial development efforts in order to drive up the relative value of all property in the area. After all, Shipe and the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Land and Town Company had much to gain if land values increased. At least one longtime resident believes that Shipe reserved the southern end of Hyde Park, the area south of 40th Street and east of Speedway that included his own residence, for more affluent individuals. Re-platted in 1922, this area was renamed the Shadow Lawn Addition.
Despite these early promotions, however, sales and marketing strategies changed considerably within 8 years of Hyde Park's opening. After the turn of the 20th century, it was no longer advertised as an area for the city's elite; instead, it was portrayed as a development for the working and middle classes. A 1904 advertisement in a local newspaper informed potential buyers that:
"Now is your opportunity. Our prices and terms should appeal to every man or woman of modest income. Price of lots range from $50 to $150 each; 10 cents a day, or $3 per month will pay for a lot. Think of it. The price of two beers each day will pay for a lot. Invest a part of your earnings each month. It will help you to save your money. This is good advice for the average man or woman who works for wages."
City of Austin tax abstracts (city lot registers) reveal important patterns in Hyde Park's early development. In 1892, the first year information on Hyde Park appears in these tax records, the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Land and Town Co. owned approximately 95 percent of property within the subdivision. The remaining 5 percent (comprising 59 lots) was purchased by 16 individuals, all but two of whom acquired corner lots. These properties were scattered throughout the addition, without a discernible pattern of development. Property values varied greatly. Unimproved lots owned by the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Land and Town Co. had an assessed value that averaged $15 per lot. Property owned by private individuals ranged from values of $200 (lots 29-32, Block 21, owned by a M. Cox) to $1500 (lots 14-16, Block 33, owned by Miranda McRae).
Tax records indicate considerable real estate activity subsequently occurred in Hyde Park. In four years sales saw an increase exceeding 400 percent, with 259 lots sold by 1896. Corner lots still represented the majority of lots sold, although some infill development had taken place. Assessed values of $1600 indicated substantial houses had been built on land owned by Tom MacRae (lots 10-12, Block 33), Elisabet Ney (all of Block 2) and F.T. Ramsey (lots 29-32, Block 8). Concentrations of high-value lots occurred along Avenue F and near 40th Street, in proximity to the streetcar line. This pattern supports the claim that Shipe targeted prominent and highly visible areas for more affluent development. Values of remaining properties ranged from $100 to $400, indicating that more modest houses were also being built, especially in the western portions of the development. Despite increased sales, however, about 75 percent of the lots were still controlled by the development company.
Tax rolls reveal that only about 40 percent of the property in the addition had been sold by 1904. Depressed property values occurred throughout in Hyde Park, as the assessment of Elisabet Ney's land in Block 2 suggests. It decreased from $1,600 in 1896 to $1,275 in 1904, representing about a 25 percent decline. Holdings of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Land Co. (reorganized in the preceding year) lost an average of 50 percent of their 1896 value of $10 per lot. Noticeable increases in assessed value of lots owned by private individuals suggests nevertheless that new houses were being built throughout the suburb. Clearly, Hyde Park was beginning to develop an identity of its own after the turn of the century.
Although Hyde Park was primarily residential in 1921, services were housed in buildings scattered throughout the neighborhood. Several 1-story, frame, buildings housed commercial enterprises, including the Avenue B Grocery at 4403 Avenue B and a commercial row on the east side of the 4100 block of Guadalupe. Four churches served local Baptist, Presbyterian, Christian and Methodist congregations.
Mechanics liens on file at the Travis County Courthouse also document Hyde Park's development, particularly during the 1920s and 1930s. These legal records identify the type of work to be completed (i.e., new construction or remodeling), the location of the property by legal description, the date of construction, and the contractor and property owner involved. While the increase should not be taken at face value, entries from the 1920s and 1930s far outnumber those for previous years. Methods of financing residential construction were in transition at that time as home owners began to abandon the practice of paying cash for a house. The resultant proliferation of mechanics liens assist in identifying individuals and firms who helped determine Hyde Park's architectural character. The most active builders in Hyde Park, for example, were Calcasieu Lumber Co., Nalle Lumber Co., Brydson Brothers Lumber Co., Kuntz and Sternenberg Lumber Co., Ed Mallet, Wilhelm Dieter, A. H. Edburg, R. A. Spiller and Son, Simon Gillis, Richard Rosene, and William Voss, Sr.
This list, in many ways, is a who's who of local builders and lumber yards of late 19th- and early 20th-century Austin. Calcasieu Lumber Co., which built many houses in Hyde Park, was founded in 1883 by William and Carl Drake and named for a parish in Louisiana known for its high-grade lumber. The firm is still active today  although it has moved from its original downtown location. The Nalle Lumber Co., established by Joseph Nalle in 1871, arguably grew to be the city's largest building supplier during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Although large lumber companies built many Hyde Park houses, many more were constructed by independent contractors, several of whom resided in the neighborhood. Ed Mallet, who lived at 4008 Avenue C, built houses at 4215 Avenue A, 4012 and 4204 Avenue B, 4115 Avenue H, and 4107 and 4115 Speedway. Other neighborhood contractors identified in city directories and mechanics liens include A. H. Edburg who lived at 4109 Avenue C. W.O. Gustafson at 200 East 43rd and John F. Meier at 4318 Avenue C.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Hyde Park became fully developed. Continued expansion of the neighborhood subsequently was hampered by a number of events. In response to the increased mobility afforded by the availability of automobiles, city administrators conducted a massive campaign in the 1930s to improve the local transportation network by paving streets and building bridges. As a consequence, newer subdivisions were developed further from the city's downtown core. The streetcar system that provided the underpinning of the development subsequently was dismantled in 1941. As a result, numerous Hyde Park residents left the neighborhood and it had begun to deteriorate by the 1960s. Rapid expansion of the student population at the University of Texas in that decade exacerbated the situation, as Hyde Park's proximity to the university made it an attractive area for students. Suburban flight increased the number of rental properties and afforded greater opportunities for developers to build apartment complexes to meet student housing needs. Apartment buildings replaced many historic houses in the area, most notably along Speedway.
Hyde Park was "rediscovered" during the 1970s and its unique character, history and architecture were enhanced by an infusion of new residents. Many houses subsequently have been rehabilitated, thus restoring much of Hyde Park's dignity and historic character. Residents organized a neighborhood association in 1975 to promote sympathetic development, and their efforts to preserve the unique character of the area have been largely successful.
Residential properties are the most prominent property type in Hyde Park, with single-family dwellings comprising about 95 percent of the neighborhood's built environment. These structures reflect the success with which Hyde Park was promoted as an ideal yet affordable place to live.
Most lots within the neighborhood were improved between the late 1890s and 1935. Houses built during that period reflect the architectural tastes, trends and patterns that prevailed at that time. Bungalows are the most common house type, followed by examples of the stylistic influences of the Queen Anne and Tudor Revival styles. Although examples of other stylistic and vernacular influences occur infrequently in the neighborhood, they nevertheless contribute to the richness of historic fabric that characterizes the area. Other architectural influences of some District homes include Folk Victorian, American Foursquare and Colonial Revival.
Many of the dwellings in the Hyde Park area were the residences of individuals who were significant in the culture and development of Austin. In some cases, they were well-known and highly regarded professors at the University of Texas. Other residents were entrepreneurs who owned and operated business establishments that were important locally. Hyde Park also attracted artists and artisans, such as Elisabet Ney and Peter Mansbendel, who maintained studios and/or residences in the area. Thus, structures within Hyde Park have strong associations with individuals who were important in the past in addition to their architectural significance.
Martha Doty Freeman, Rio Group; David Moore, Hardy-Heck-Moore; Bruce D. Jensen, Texas Historical Commission, Historic and Architectural Resources of Hyde Park, Austin, Texas, nomination document, 1990, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.