BRENTWOOD BEGINNINGSBrentwood (and Crestview to the north) began to be developed in earnest in the late 1940s, after the end of World War II. Many original residents were veterans. Some had grown up on farms outside Austin and were of Swedish and German descent. The G. I. Bill, a Federal law passed in 1944, helped veterans purchase the relatively affordable homes for their young, growing families.
Much of the land in this area had once been owned by John Hancock (1821-1893), a prominent Austin lawyer, district judge, and Texas legislator. Hancock Creek (also known as Hancock Branch) passes through Crestview and Brentwood along the divided street named Arroyo Seco and eventually flows into Shoal Creek. In the early 1950s, unpaved streets and swampy areas near the creek were challenging for builders and early residents, so the C. H. Lester Construction Company dug a deeper channel for the creek.
The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI), along the southern edge of Brentwood, moved to West 45th Street in 1917. A few years earlier, one observer described the area beyond 45th, then outside the Austin city limits: “On the north . . . stretch rich farming lands that were once illimitable prairies. Westward . . . is a chain of hills which make a purplish background for the intervening fields in various shades of green and gold.”
TSBVI once had a working farm north of the school up to North Loop. Sunshine Community Gardens was established on three acres of the original farm in 1983. The remainder of the property north of West 49th is home to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Along the north side of West 49th between Woodrow and Grover are a row of homes and businesses with similar limestone facades. The stonework likely was done by Frank B. Wright (Benjamin Franklin Wright), a skilled stonemason and builder and World War II veteran. He created other homes and businesses, many with similar stone facades, in the area during the 1940s and 1950s.
In 1947, when Charles McCullough, Dr. Joseph S. Koenig, and A. G. Adams Jr. began developing Violet Crown Heights between Payne and Ruth streets in Brentwood, they advertised the lots as having a “beautiful view of the Violet Crown Hills.” With so few trees on the land, early neighbors could easily see the hills to the west and the violet glow that sometimes appeared over them at sunset. Austin was first described as the “City of the Violet Crown” in the early 1890s. Centuries earlier, the phrase was used to describe Athens, Greece.
The Violet Crown Shopping Center was built on the northwest corner of Brentwood and North Lamar. By 1953, the center had four businesses with “Violet Crown” in their names, including a beauty salon, grocery, pharmacy, and a barber shop. Later called Cockrell Barber Shop, it closed in 2016 when Tom Cockrell, a barber for 60 years, retired. Since 2003, Brentwood and Crestview have become the home of the Violet Crown Festival, Violet Crown Community Works, Violet Crown Community Theater, and Voices of the Violet Crown community/history project.
Daniel Gay built the Capitol Roll Arena in 1954 at 821 Brentwood St., across from the Violet Crown Shopping Center. The only known roller skating rink in North Austin at the time, it was popular with children and adults for several decades. (It may have been constructed by Frank B. Wright, based on information from his family matching the structure’s description, location, and year it was built.) Today, the building houses a body shop.
SCHOOLSBefore Brentwood and Crestview were annexed by the city, Esperanza School, once on the northeast corner of today’s Romeria and Burnet Road, served local students who lived on farms outside the Austin city limits between 1893 and 1941. According to a 1936 history of the Travis County rural schools, although the school’s name was Spanish, there were no records of any Hispanic students and no Hispanic or African-American schools in the district. The first Esperanza School was built in 1866 near today’s Spicewood Springs Rd. and Mopac. Today, that original log structure is at Zilker Botanical Garden in Austin. It received a Texas Historical Marker in 1974.
GREENSPACESIn 1951, the City of Austin acquired a former cornfield north of Brentwood Elementary for Brentwood Park, the greenspace for Brentwood and Crestview. Early neighbors formed the Brentwood Recreation Club and coordinated with the city to develop and maintain the park, which had few trees. In 1952, the group held a festival to raise funds for playground equipment. In 1953, members helped build the stage on the north side of Brentwood Elementary. For several years, the group held annual tree and shrub plantings at the park and school. Individual neighbors also helped care for the park over the years. Since 2009, the Friends of Brentwood Park, including Crestview and Brentwood neighbors, have helped maintain and develop it as a community resource through workdays, including the 2010 planting of 115 trees, and fundraising for park enhancements. Projects completed by the group since 2012 include a park pavilion, walking trail, benches, stainless steel drinking fountain, and backstop fencing. Along once-bare Arroyo Seco, Brentwood neighbors began coordinating tree plantings in 1992, and neighbors in Crestview have continued the plantings north of Justin Lane. Trees also have been planted along Burnet Road and North Lamar and near McCallum High School. Each year since 1994, neighbors have coordinated the holiday tradition of luminarias all along Arroyo Seco.
FILM/TV LOCATIONSSites in Brentwood continue to be popular for period films and television shows. Richard Linklater filmed Dazed and Confused (1993) at the Violet Crown Shopping Center and the body shop that once housed the Capitol Roll Arena in Brentwood, as well as Top Notch in Crestview. A pink home in Brentwood was used in early scenes of Linklater’s film Boyhood (2014).
LONGTIME RESTAURANTSIn 1933, Threadgill’s “gas station and beer joint” opened outside the Austin city limits on the Dallas Highway (today’s North Lamar in Brentwood). Until 1974, owner Kenneth Threadgill performed at the club and encouraged other musicians, including Janis Joplin, who sang there in the 1960s. Purchased in 1981 by Eddie Wilson, owner of the Armadillo World Headquarters, Threadgill’s continues as a restaurant, bar, and music venue, filled with memorabilia from the original Threadgill’s and other Austin landmarks. Kenneth Threadgill was inducted into the Austin Music Memorial in 2010.
In 1953, Harry Akins opened the Frisco Shop at 5819 Burnet Road in Brentwood. It moved to its current location at 6501 Burnet Road in 2008. It is the last of Akins’ four Night Hawk restaurants; the first one opened in Austin in 1932. Decades before “equal opportunity,” Akins hired and promoted African Americans and women. In the early 1960s, he also was the first white restaurateur in Austin to serve African Americans.
LOCAL DRIVE-INSIn 1940, Eddie Joseph’s Drive-in opened, the first of four outdoor movie theatres in the area. It was outside the city limits then, at today’s 6812 North Lamar in Brentwood (site of Walgreen’s). At first, there was only one large speaker for the sound, which disturbed the peace at Frank Richcreek’s once-quiet farm just to the north. At times, Richcreek let local teenagers watch the show from the top of his large dairy barn. Nearby neighbors remember sitting in their yards to see a movie. When the wind was just right they could hear it, too. Eventually each car had its own speaker.
In 1947, Eddie Joseph’s became the North Austin Drive-in, and the Chief, which was larger and had more amenities, opened a mile south on the southeast corner of Koenig and North Lamar. Other nearby drive-ins were the Burnet (1952-1970s, today’s Burnet Road Self-Storage) and Longhorn (1954-late 1960s, Anderson Lane near 183). The North Austin closed in 1960; the Chief closed in 1973.
NEWER HISTORYIn 2003, Brentwood and Crestview volunteers created the Violet Crown Festival and the nonprofit Violet Crown Community Works to help raise funds for the mosaic Wall of Welcome. The festival is now an annual tradition, and the nonprofit continues to support neighborhood enhancement projects. The Wall of Welcome, created and installed by Brentwood artist Jean Graham with the help of hundreds of neighbors of all ages, was completed and dedicated in 2008. Gracing a long brick wall along Woodrow Avenue, it colorfully depicts neighborhood history through images and words. Another collaborative mosaic project spearheaded by Jean Graham was completed in 2004 on the west side of Brentwood Elementary.
Domino was a young spotted pig that escaped into the neighborhood from the petting zoo at the first Violet Crown Festival in 2003 and became a neighbor’s pet for a time. Today, he is a local legend. He is remembered in a mosaic on the north end of the Wall of Welcome; as the 10-foot-long pig puppet featured at First Night Austin, the Violet Crown Festival, and other events; and in the local film “First Night W/Domino & Friends.”