Two East Austin landmarks on the way to the National Register of Historic Places – TOWERS

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Image: Google Maps

Following the approval of the nominations by the Texas Historical Commission’s State Board of Review earlier this month, two properties in East Austin, located approximately one mile apart, are awaiting federal historical recognition. The respective sites, both notable landmarks in the history of the region’s Mexican-American community, are Zaragoza Park at the 2608 Gonzales Street in the Govalle district and the currently vacant building 1200 East Sixth Street known by a variety of names throughout its 130-year existence, including Clemens Market, that sports bar, and finally Uptown Sports Club. With state approval of the draft nominations for both sites secured, each property should be added soon National Register of Historic Places, a status that grants certain tax benefits for restoration projects and other recognition.

Though the designation doesn’t prevent demolition by a property owner, it appears these two particular locations are safe despite rapid changes across East Austin — Parque Zaragoza is a city park that leads nowhere, and the Uptown Sports Club building is soon to face demolition undergone “very sensitive” restoration project to reopen as a bar and restaurant concept already announced for 2020 by a team of locals including BBQ legend Aaron Franklin. According to the bar property’s draft nomination, the new owners plan to use state and federal historic tax credits to fund the building’s renovation, which is reportedly being overseen by Architectural firm Michael Hsu.

Zaragoza Park

For over eighty years, Parque Zaragoza has served as a gathering place for Mexican-American Austinites to celebrate their cultural heritage, honor their civic achievements, and educate younger generations about the importance of cultural identity and community engagement. Established in 1931 by community leaders after extensive grassroots activism, the park is a physical reminder of the resilience and steadfastness of those who fought for a uniquely Mexican-American space in an era of segregation, institutional disenfranchisement, and systemic racism. The park’s intact layout and contributing sites, buildings, and structures demonstrate how community advocacy shaped the East Austin landscape and Austin cultural identity in the 20th century.

— Parque Zaragoza, nomination for the National Register

Named in honor of a Mexican general and political figure Ignatio Seguin Zaragoza, Legendary for leading a small force to victory over the French army at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 – celebrated today as Cinco de Mayo – Parque Zaragoza remains a landmark along Boggy Creek in the Govalle district.

An undated photo of a celebration in Parque Zaragoza. Image: Austin History Center

Established in 1931 at the urging of the area’s growing Mexican-American population on urban land in segregated East Austin, the park is well known in its National Register nomination for its cultural history as a venue for community events — including massive annual fiestas celebrating Cinco de Mayo and Diez y Seis de Septiembre, alongside smaller gatherings for weddings, quinceañeras, sporting events, and political events — but also for the architectural character of its historic structures, including a 1933 swimming pool and 1941 bathhouse, built in the recognizable New Deal-era style of members of the state youth administration.

The pool and bathhouse building in Parque Zaragoza. Image: Texas Historical Commission

As is so often the case with public amenities in East Austin, Parque Zaragoza suffered from years of decay and delayed maintenance between the late 1970s and 1990s, with further community organizations for the park’s renovation and maintenance leading to the construction of a new recreation center in 1996 The site also includes a playground, an early 1970s bandstand, and athletic facilities, including basketball and volleyball courts, as well as a baseball field and bleachers.

An epicenter of 20th-century recreation, togetherness, and grassroots activism, Parque Zaragoza presents a physical reminder of Mexican-American Austinite resilience. For decades it was the most used outdoor area for Mexican Americans in segregated Austin; Today it serves the entire city as a testament to the strength of their voices in the face of systemic oppression. From its wooded landscape to its historical sites, buildings, and structures, Parque Zaragoza embodies the ideals of its founders, advocates, and volunteers: those who made sure that Austin was a place for Mexican Americans to celebrate their heritage and their cultural identity can preserve the segregation era and beyond.

— Parque Zaragoza, nomination for the National Register

Clemens Markt / The Sports Bar / Uptown Sports Club

Built at the northeast corner of East Sixth and Waller Streets In 1892, the building at 1200 East Sixth Street was originally divided into two commercial premises, with a drawing room in one half of the building and a bakery in the other. The saloon in the building did not last long, but the bakery existed under various owners for about 40 years, ending in 1933. The name Clements Market, which is included in the site’s National Register nomination, comes from the presence of this business, a butcher shop, and later one Grocery store, in one half of the building from 1906 to 1941.

An interior photograph of the building in its configuration as a butcher’s shop in the early 20th century. Image: Austin History Center

After a period of vacancy, the building’s two commercial spaces housed many businesses, including a furniture store and a tortilla factory, between 1943 and 1953 — but the site’s best-known history began in 1949, when the property’s longtime owner, Lebanese immigrant Joe Joseph, allowed it encouraged his son Arthur to open a bar here after his return from World War II. Known then as the Sports Bar, the spot became a meeting place for veterans, including nearby resident Arnold Hernandez, who bought the bar from Joseph in 1969 and ran it with his wife, Connie.

Arnold Hernandez at the Sports Bar in 1980. Photo by John Kelso / Image: Austin History Center

“I used to come here all the time. I had an old job in a grocery store and was making about $42 a week. And I said to myself, ‘One day I’m going to own this place.’ That was probably the greatest ambition of my life.” When he bought the bar in 1969, Hernandez hung hundreds of photos of Austin veterans on the walls, “mostly pictures of East Side guys going to war” and the business continued to serve as a meeting place for veterans and sports enthusiasts alike. While clientele consisted of “workers and war veterans,” politicians including Travis County Sheriff Raymond Frank, State Representative Gonzalo Barrientos, and Mike Renfro, who launched his campaign for Travis County judge at the bar, all attended establishment. The jukebox played mostly Spanish music, a reflection of the clientele and neighborhood, and an avid sports fan, Hernandez displayed trophies from the local softball and basketball teams the bar has sponsored. The bar also had pool tables, shuffleboard and guests often played dominoes.

— Sports Bar, National Register nomination

A view of the sports bar building in the 1970s. Image: Texas Historical Commission

Hernandez renamed the bar the Uptown Sports Club in the 1980s, with his son Ron helping him run the business in the 1990s until it closed in 1999. Hernandez died a year later, and a series of family disputes over property have kept the space vacant in ever-deteriorating condition ever since — but with a new agreement Between the Hernandez family and the team planning to revitalize the aging bar, which should be helped by the tax benefits of the site’s new historic recognition, this structure’s legacy will live on for a new generation of Austinites.

Whether it was a bakery, meat market, grocery store, tortilla factory, or bar, Clemens Market/The Sport Bar was operated by and for the East Austin community. Of the diverse businesses operated by nearly 20 different owners at 1200 East 6th Street during the significant period, almost all were operated by immigrants or first-generation Americans. This diverse history is not unique to this building, but reflects East Austin’s overall commercial trends and demographics. The story of 1200 East 6th Street helps tell the story of East Austin as it transformed first from a freedman community to a European immigrant community, then to a racially segregated neighborhood and finally to the rapidly developing and gentrifying neighborhood developed by today.

— Sports Bar, National Register nomination

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