North University Neighborhood: A History

The permanent settlement of the area north of the University of Texas dates to a land grant that Thomas Grey received from Mirabeau B. Lamar, President of the Republic of Texas, in 1840 (Bergen 1840). During that same year, Lamar purchased sixty-eight acres immediately north of the forty-acre site designated in 1839 as the location for the proposed University of Texas. Lamar built the first house north of town in 1842 near the present-day intersection of 26th Street and University Avenue. Brewster and Juliet Jaynes also built a house nearby in 1842. However, on July 10,1842, most of the Jayne family were killed on their front porch by raiding Comanches. Only Juliet and one son survived to bury their dead (Brown 1875; Ford 1887; Hart 1959; Strong 1965).

In 1846, Colonial Horatio Grooms brought his family to Austin and resided for a time in Lamar’s house. The Grooms family survived raids by the Comanches, and their son, Judge Alfred Grooms, would soon establish a homestead on 100 acres to the north of Lamar’s property within Grey’s land grant. (Brown 1875). In 1848, Erhardt and Teresa Fruth emigrated from Hamburg, Germany to Austin.

The Fruth family built a log cabin on a forty-five acre tract to the west of Lamar’s property. After clearing the land, they began a dairy farm and a family of six children. Their daughter Louisa married David Cypher and had a son, John, who became mayor of Austin. The last of the direct heirs to live in the original house was Mrs. Charles Ing, who sold the remaining property to the Methodist Church for the construction of a girl’s dormitory, later to become the present Kirby Hall School. Other members of the Fruth family remain in the neighborhood to the present (Eilers 1923; Plat of Fruth Subdivision; Travis County Deed Record; Louisa A. Fruth; Brown 1875; Polk 1887; Ford 1887; “Rites Are Set…” 1941”).

Around 1850, President Lamar, frustrated by “an exposed and dangerous area,” moved his residence to Richmond and sold his property to General William Selbey Harney. General Harney established a military fort here. In 1870, after the last of the Indian Wars was over, General Harney sold the property. Lamar’s house was torn down and the materials used to build a barn (Brown 1875).

The earliest known remaining structure in the neighborhood is the Albert Buddington house, which dates back to the1860s. The original Buddington homestead included one of the two residential structures found north of the capitol on then North Congress Avenue – now Guadalupe Street. Albert Buddington was Austin’s first butcher. His son, Ralph, would later maintain a general store and residence at 3501 Guadalupe. The present Buddington compound contains the original Buddington house, as well as a 1930’s cottage with carvings by Swiss craftsman Peter Mansbendel, and a 1950’s cottage where Austin major Lowell Lieberman once lived. The land at the east end of the original homestead was never cleared and was overgrown with “cedar” trees. This is how Cedar Street got its name (Hart 1959; Polk 1918; Ford 1887; Iverson 2003).

As people moved into the area that would become the North University neighborhood, the natural character of the area began to change. Erosion from cleared and plowed fields clogged creeks and streams so that they no longer flowed continuously. The remaining woodlands were cleared for agricultural and later for residential purposes to meet the increased demand for housing in the capital city (Brown 1875).

The Whitis Addition

In 1871, the Whitis Addition (Lamar’s original sixty-eight acres), became the first subdivision north of the proposed University of Texas and was described as “one of the most desirable portions of the city for residential purposes.” Charles Whitis first lived near 38th Street. In 1877, he built a large and imposing stone house on 27th Street (then called Laurel). At the end of the nineteenth century, the Whitis house became the Whitis School. His daughters, Molly and Gertrude, founded it. Gertrude was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Texas. The college preparatory school, affiliated with the University from 1899-1900, was sold in the 1920s to the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Today, the Scottish Rite Dormitory, a Landmark building, sits on the original site of the school (Brown 1875).

The Grooms Addition

In 1890, the Grooms homestead was platted as the Grooms Addition, North University’s largest original subdivision. The present street names Helms, Grooms and previous street names Helen (the present Helms Street) and Bettie (the present Tom Green Street) are all associated with the Grooms family. A metal plaque bearing the designation “Bettie Street” can still be found on a curb near 38th Street (Brown 1875). Today, the Grooms Addition contains an excellent collection of houses that reflect the architectural traditions of the early twentieth century, particularly the Arts and Crafts movement. The Steck Subdivision was carved out of the Grooms Addition. In the early 1920s, E. L. Steck, founder of the Steck Company, built his family house at 305 East 34th Street. It was an impressive two-story house along a street dominated by modest Arts and Crafts-styled bungalows. At the time, present day Speedway was one of the only paved streets in the area. In 1929, that segment of 34th Street was paved with concrete (“Paving Lien” 1929; Cooper [c. 1970s-1980s]).

Before major European and American contact in the 1800s, Grooms Addition, as other areas of NUNA, was home to the indigenous Tonkawa who were both hunters and farmers. By 1842, according to Frank Brown’s Annals of Travis County and of the City of Austin, when the first home “north of town” was built by Mirabeau B. Lamar after his Republic of Texas presidency, only a few hundred Tonkawa survived. Not only had continuous warfare and disease taken a toll on these people but the nomadic Comanche had also expanded their territory south from the Great Plains to become the predominant native people of this area. At this time the land throughout the future NUNA neighborhood was still a wooded area with numerous continually running streams with deep pools for swimming and bathing as well as fishing. Land grants and settlement would change this. In 1846, Alfred Grooms, along with his parents and possibly his sister and her husband, settled into the vacated home of Mirabeau B. Lamar. Lamar, due to constant concerns with the raiding Comanche, had decided to retire to his plantation in Richmond. The first year the Grooms family resided in Lamar’s house, also according to Frank Brown, an Indian raid took place in the eastern part of town just beyond Waller Creek. Judge Alfred Grooms, returning home from town on foot one evening, was just turning in from the main road leading to the family’s dwelling when he heard the Indians galloping up the road a short distance behind him. Alfred Grooms was not discovered in the dark and escaped. On July 12, 1872, deed information states that as the “highest and best bidder” Alfred Grooms purchased at the Galveston courthouse a 100 acre site for $195.50 in cash. The 100 acre tract was located just north of Lamar’s 68 acre Austin homestead which in 1871, had become Whitis Addition, the first of NUNA’s five original subdivisions. In 1890, the Grooms homestead was platted as Grooms Addition, North University’s second and largest original subdivision. The present street names Helms, Grooms and previous street names Helen (the present Helms Street) and Bettie (the present Tom Green Street) are all associated with the Grooms family. Grooms Addition was later divided into a number of other subdivisions. One of the earliest re-subdivisions was the Steck subdivision. Here E. L. Steck, founder of the Steck Company, built his family home at 305 East 34th Street. The house dates from the early 1920s, a time when the present day Speedway was one of the only paved streets in the area. At the time the Steck house was built, East 34th was designated as West 34th Street. The date for this designatiion change is unclear as varying sources give conflicting information. The West 34th Street designation can still be found up and down the street at corner curb sites. A city map shows the street as East 34th Street, unpaved, in 1925. In 1929, the present East 34th Street would be paved with concrete and it remains as one of the few streets in Austin paved in this manner. Steck built an impressive two story home on East 34th despite the unpaved condition of the street at the time. It was one of three original two story homes on a street that holds predominantly 1920s and 30s bungalows. An Austin Landmark property, it was recently divided into student apartments with additional duplexes built on the remaining property. The Landmark Eckhardt-Potts two story four square located at 209 East 34th is a unique Craftsman home and the only known four square in the area. The two story stucco at 300 East 34th was home to Ruby Terrill, Dean of Women and professor of Latin at UT. Ruby Terrill would marry John Lomax, who along with his son Alan, both well known folklorist and musicologists, would also live at this location. Leadbelly is known to have stayed at the Lomax home and recorded a song in which the house and East 34th Street are mentioned. Whether houses of one or two stories, garage apartments that appeared following WWII or apartments that filled in vacant land in the 1950s and 60s, the original homes on this street and throughout the original Grooms neighborhood reflect the Arts and Crafts movement as well as other significant styles. The Arts and Crafts bungalow at 310 East 34th, where Austin mayor Tom Miller resided, is another Landmark designated house. The two Landmark Finch homes on Duval, the H. M. Finch house, at 3300, and the Stanley P. Finch home at 3312, are both significant structures. The original Grooms Addition is filled with other significant homes, from the modest bungalow, which represents a majority of the single family homes to the prestigious Landmark Greek revival at 3126 Duval, known as the Morse home. The Landmark molded concrete block house known as the Brueggerman-Sandbo home at 200 East 30th, was built around 1907 by the stone and concrete mason Julius Brueggerman who worked on the state capitol. The house was sold in 1913 to Anders and Anna Sanbo. Anna was the first female graduate of UTs Law School and the first practicing female attorney in Austin. Though not Landmark designated, a number of places in Grooms Addition have housed well know persons such as Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, Jeb Bush and singer Tony Price. History abounds in Grooms Addition, whether officially recognized or not. Whether a single family home, garage apartment, duplex or apartment, one or another of these living space holds a memory or two and may be pointed out for some special occasion. Cartoonist Sam Hurt’s bachelor party at the duplex on Moore Boulevard. The mariachi serenades for matriarch Nieves Cobos on East 34th. The Butthole Surfers playing at the Eckhardt-Potts house. A number of now elderly Grooms residents fondly remember from their childhoods the house with the aviary in the backyard with all the singing birds. The Stenberg home at 209 East 38th that housed a significant collection of works concerning Samuel Johnson. That collection now a part of UT’s Rare Book Collection. Streets and sidewalks also stir up memories. There was that once broken sidewalk on East 34th that made a great bike jump. The Volvo parades that wound through the Grooms neighborhood. And don’t forget that year monarch butterflies appeared in abundance. Designated both an Austin Landmark and Texas Historic Landmark, the 1890s eclectic Whitley-Keltner house, at the northeast corner of East 32nd and Helms, has one of Grooms Addition’s most lively histories and has served as the background for numerous memories over the years. Also known as both the Helms House and the Halloween House, the house with its original third story cupola already had an eccentric Frank Capra “You Can’t Take It With You” sort of history before salvaged Victorian components were added in the early 1970s. The house, having morphed into a sort of counter culture rooming house, became “party central during the heyday of Austin’s hippie culture”. Fortunately, this impressive house was saved from the wrecking ball by the efforts of a number of Grooms Addition neighbors and now houses Red Fan Communications. Houses that unfortunately have disappeared despite numerous protests to save them include the Romberg house once located at 406 East 32nd. Here the LaCosteRomberg gravity meter was said to have been invented in the basement. A LaCosteRomberg gravity meter was later part of the equipment on the Apollo 17 Lunar Mission. The modest bungalow at 205 East 34th Street was home to the whistler Fred Lowery, known for his whistling performances, which included Disney movies. Numerous other houses have disappeared over the years, each with its own interesting history. On June 25th, 2018, though there was “dissent from several members of the neighborhood and disappointment from commissioners to see such a home fade into memory,” the Historic Landmark Commission unanimously approved the application to construct new residences at 3012 University Ave./101 East 31st St. Here William “Uncle Billy” Disch, the head baseball coach at UT for 28 years, with a winning streak of 512 out of 696 games, built a second home. The house, now divided into apartments, is still standing but it is not known for how much longer it will be there. Disch’s first home, located at this same corner site was moved in 1887. Disch put the one story house “on skids or rails and winched the building some fifty feet to its present location.” Disch’s first home on East 31st Street was Grooms Addition’s first known Landmark designated house. Such has been the history of Grooms Addition. An ebb and flow of memories and change.

By Carole Journey & Lynn Marshall

The Buddington and Lakeview Additions

The Buddington subdivision, located in the northwest section of the neighborhood and named after the Alfred Buddington, was platted in 1896. Perhaps the best known of the buildings in this subdivision is the former Confederate Women’s Home on Cedar Street. It was built in 1908 and originally housed Confederate veterans, then their widows, and continues today to serve Austin’s elderly (Hart 1970; “Haven of Rest…” 1919; Stocklin-Seely 2002). The building is currently owned and maintained by Austin Groups for the Elderly. Additional structures of significance include the building at the southwest corner of Speedway and 38th Street where the Speedway Service Station opened in the 1920s (Polk 1927).The Confederate Women’s Home, built in 1908 at 3710 Cedar Street, is now the home of Austin Groups for the Elderly (AGE).

Adjacent to the Buddington area is the Lakeview subdivision, platted in 1910. The First Assembly of God, located at 501 West 37th Street, purchased a lot and built a temporary tabernacle in the early 1920s. This structure was replaced by a permanent church building in 1926. In 1947, adjacent property was obtained for a parsonage. Soon after that, a radio ministry was broadcast from the site. The history of the church goes back to 1919 when ministers from across the state congregated for retreats near the intersection of 34th and Guadalupe (“Dedication of Church…”1960; “Started in Tent…” 1977”). The church was eventually converted to apartments and shares the block with a number of Arts and Crafts-styled houses. The houses along this block have become familiar to Austinites as the location of the annual 37th Street Christmas light spectacular. Many of the lights in the 37th Street annual holiday light display decorate the street throughout the year.

The Iverson (Buddington) House

The oldest house in our neighborhood is owned by Rick Iverson at 506 West 34th Street. The house is barely visible from 34th street where all you see is the covered parking. But just on the other side of the parking hidden from public view and all the noise of urban traffic is a beautiful courtyard, densely green, with magnificent magnolia trees, huge old live oaks and stately cypress trees. The main house, a large two-story limestone structure sits on the westside of the courtyard with three smaller cottages on the south and east. A very tall stone wall encloses the garden on the north side. On the southeastern edge there is a windmill presently covered with Christmas lights, which is the last vestige of the original 40 acres of the Buddington Farm.Albert G. Buddington came to Texas in the 1850’s from New York with his wife, his wife’s sister and her husband in an ox-drawn covered wagon. After a short stay in Gonzales, they came to Austin and found a place at a popular camping site on the west Waller Creek tributary, a cold springs with a running creek. Buddington bought 10 acres of the property from Martin Moore’s widow, the holder of the land grant, then 10 more in 1865 and twenty in 1868, 40 acres in all for a total of $1700. The house, consisting of two large rooms, one up and one down, was built in 1860.

The Buddington’s had seven children and on two occasions Buddington leased the property and “moved into town” so his children could attend school because the wagons would become mired to the hubs in yellow clay in rainy weather. Buddington was able to add rooms to the original house and built a circle drive and porte-cochere on the old Waco highway with the main entrance facing west. A large fruit orchard was planted and the creek was damned up to form a pond. Travelers were taken in early on and the homestead became a stagecoach inn. Gypsies were allowed to camp on land west of the homestead in an area which became know as Gypsy Grove. Although Buddington remained neutral during the Civil War, Robert E. Lee was a guest in the house on several occasions. Buddington, a man of many trades, was the first butcher in Austin, had fruit orchards and grew strawberries and in 1893, had a “gents furnishing goods, hats” store at 723 Congress Avenue. A good portion of the forty acres was sold by Mr. Buddington who subdivided the property and sold lots. By the time of his death in 1895, the homestead had shrunk to its present size, which his widow sold in 1900. In 1921 Dr. Harry Yandell Benedict bought the property. He was the first University of Texas graduate to become President of the University, an office he held from 1927 to his death in 1937. His graduate degree from Harvard was in Mathematical Astronomy and he was instrumental in the creation of the McDonald Observatory.

Dr. Benedict loved the house and the gardens, writing about them affectionately in the Alcade. There is an inscription on the landing of the west entrance which was put there by Dr. Benedict, Parva sed apta mihi –“ small but suiting me.” He called the creek, Crazy Creek, supposedly because it originated at the “lunatic asylum” at 45th Street. The house became known as the Benedict House. Dr. Benedict, a gardener, took great care of the gardens, adding rock walls and planting trees. The Benedicts entertained often and were famous for their garden parties and grand occasions.

At Dr. Benedict’s death in 1937, Delia Edwards from Laredo bought the property and she employed a well known architect, Arthur Fehr, to make additions to the main house and build a cottage at 502 West 34.. The limestone cottage, the first private residence built by Fehr, has casement windows, Mexican tile floors and a Peter Mansbendel fireplace mantel. Fehr also designed the First English Lutheran Church and the Chapel at the Episcopal Seminary in our neighborhood.

In 1944 Wilhelmine Sheffield, a prominent Austin realtor and appraiser, facilitated the sale of the part of the property facing Guadalupe to Eddy Joseph for commercial development. Unable to talk Mr. Joseph into purchasing the entire property, Mrs. Sheffield bought the rest of the property herself in 1946. She continued to make improvements in the property, building a wall on the west side separating her property from Mr. Joseph’s commercial development and then a very high wall on the north side of the property creating the courtyard. In 1950 she built another limestone cottage at 500 West 34 th with casement windows and Mexican tile floors. She also built the small stone cottage at 504 W. 34th. Mrs. Sheffield owned a good bit of property in our neighborhood including 502 and 500 West 33rd Street, which she leased along with the cottages in her compound. Every year she gave a New Years’ Day party and it was at one of those parties that two of her tenants, Rick and Nancy Iverson, met. After their marriage in 1975, they bought the property from Mrs. Sheffield but allowed her a life estate in the original 1860 house where she lived until 1989.

By Judy Willcott, Carol Journeay, Scott Morris, and Scott Barnes

Aldridge Place

Neighborhood historians say the region north of UT was originally settled under a land grant to Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar in 1840. The high ground where Kirby Hall and the Scottish Rite Dormitory sit today is where the area’s first houses were. During these days, the area was subject to Comanche attacks. Albert Buddington, a prosperous local settler, built the first home here in 1860 (located at 34th & Guadalupe behind the commercial plaza). This compound served as a stagecoach stopover and predating the University of Texas, which was founded in 1883. Hyde Park was founded in 1891 and a streetcar was soon installed connecting the neighborhood with the rest of Austin

The high ground where Kirby Hall and the Scottish Rite Dormitory sit today is where the area’s first houses were. Aldridge Place was platted in 1912 by Lewis Hancock, a former mayor of Austin and prominent banker and developer of the Austin Country Club, On May 15, 1912, Mr. Hancock placed the “restricted residence addition”, Aldridge Place, on the market. Deed restrictions set a minimum sale price, prohibited apartments, and forbid the sale or rental of property to African-Americans, though live-in servants were explicitly allowed (Pruitt 1974). An advertisement by real estate agent K.C. Miller in the May 12, 1912 edition of the Austin Daily Statesman reads, “The restrictions as to the character of building, the cost, etc., insures [sic]…the attractive and high class homes and the companionship of refined neighbors…” Hancock also deeded Hemphill Park to the City as a public park. Though Hancock never lived in Aldridge Place, many of Austin’s well-heeled citizens built handsome and stately houses in this new exclusive development. J. Frank Dobie, a renter in 1922, purchased a house at 3109 Wheeler in 1926. There are also a number of Landmark houses in Aldridge Place (Brown 1875; City of Austin Historic Landmarks 2001).

Hancock platted Aldridge Place as “the suburb beautiful,” hewing to the nationally popular City Beautiful style of the time. Construction was slow at first, but following the end of World War I, growth began and professionals purchased homes along the winding streets on Hemphill Park. During the Great Depression, many property owners also converted garages into apartments by adding a story. By 1941, Aldridge Place had been nearly fully developed. Some postwar ranch-style and midcentury modern houses filled remaining vacant lots in the 1940s and 1950s. Today there are 147 residential buildings, 10 structures of note such as bridges and historic streetlamps, and Hemphill Park. Of the 159 structures surveyed, 141 (88%) contribute to the historic character of the district. Prominent architects who designed houses in Aldridge Place include Hugo Kuehne, UT’s first architecture dean, Roy L. Thomas and Edwin C. Kreisle. Longtime residents will tell you that at some point in the 1960s and 70s, many families moved out and the neighborhood became dominated by college student rentals. New families began buying the old homes in the late 70s and refurbished them again. Aldridge Place houses are an eclectic mix of styles from colonial to Tudor and Craftsman. These unique flavors make the walkability of the neighborhood all that more enjoyable. The epicenter of Aldridge Place is unquestionably Hemphill Park, which runs through the near-center of the neighborhood. The small, stone-lined creek runs north-to-south and feeds Waller Creek. This is where neighbors typically have serendipitous meetups, walks or picnics, and walk their dogs (Aldridge Place is quite a paradise for dogs). The well-built homes of the neighborhood combined with the layout of the streets and care of generations of neighbors have made the neighborhood a special place. Some families have even been here for more than one generation. Kids who grow up in NUNA and Aldridge Place tend to want to hang around awhile. It all led to a neighborhood worth preserving, and neighbors, led by the guidance of neighbors Rick Iverson, Roger Binkley and Janet Beinke, were able to compile an extensive application for the approval of the Local Historic District (LHD). All sites were surveyed and no stone was left unturned. The ultimate vote on the Historic District occurred during a heated Code Next debate in the city, the council passed it on all three readings in part because of overwhelming support from the neighborhood.

In April 2017, Aldridge Place, a subdivision within North University Neighborhood Association, became the City of Austin’s 4th Local Historic District. The 8-3 approval vote by the Austin City Council was the successful culmination of a multi-year effort of research, neighborhood activism and applications to the city. Aldridge Place makes up 34 acres of NUNA’s southwest corner, bordered by 30th street, Guadalupe, 34th Street and Speedway.

By Brandon Tucker & Janet Bienke