Goaded by Mexican president Santa Anna’s increasingly repressive rule, Texians fought and won the revolution of 1835–1836 and declared themselves a republic, and the riverside trading post of Waterloo was renamed and made the new state’s capital. Jobs in the city attracted Latinos from the surrounding ranchlands, and by the mid-1870s some 300 new arrivals were living around Republic Square, then called Hemphill Square.
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This new Spanish-speaking community called it Guadalupe Park, but Anglos started referring to it as Mexican Park, and the area around it became known as Austin’s Mexico. Despite prejudice, a lack of city services, tough working conditions, and bad housing, Mexican American families flourished for 50 years in the area between the river and Fifth Street, and West Avenue and Colorado to the apartment block rising opposite. These families forged a vital strand of the city’s DNA. Without Mexican art, food, and hard work, the city that has long been at or near the top of every ranking would be a much less interesting place.
Though the old barrios have long since been replaced by new buildings, this walk invites you to imagine life here in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when you could have smelled the chile factory, seen children on their way to the Our Lady of Guadalupe school, or mingled with the crowds at the Diez y Seis parade. A council resolution from August 2011 designated the route along Fifth Street from Republic Park to Plaza Saltillo as the Mexican American Heritage Corridor, and this is what we will explore. We will also visit three small but fascinating museums at Brush Square.
Note that these museums are open Wednesday–Sunday, from noon to 5 p.m. Walk Description Start at Nate’s Baked Goods & Coffee, hidden away down Orchard Street in a sweet old white house with a tin roof, where you can find freshly made sandwiches and turmeric lattes. Take your food to the shaded patio and turn your attention to the house next door, 403 Orchard St., a neat white building with blue trim hiding behind a tree. Both the house and Nate’s stand in contrast to the vast apartment block rising opposite, where fresh concrete has already buried any trace of the lives lived there. But the little houses on Orchard have done their own forgetting.
We know that a family called Quintanilla lived in a casita at #403, but that is about all we know about them. After finishing your coffee, walk north on Orchard Street and turn right onto Fifth Street. Turn left onto Baylor Street to find Treaty Oak Park. This tree was 100 years old when Columbus arrived on the continent, and legend has it that Stephen F. Austin signed a treaty with the Tonkawa under its branches. Once part of a grove known as the Council Oaks, it luckily escaped the axe in the 1920s and also survived a mysterious poisoning attempt in 1989.
Return to Fifth Street and continue across North Lamar Boulevard to honor a new Austin tradition: a selfie at the ATX sign. It’s on the northeastern side of this junction at the edge of the Whole Foods Market parking lot. The market commissioned the piece from Greg and Sharon Keshishian of Austin’s Ion Art, who are responsible for many of the city’s best-known signs. (For more on the history of Whole Foods Market, see “Clarksville”.) Continue east on the north side of Fifth Street, crossing Bowie Street and pausing over Shoal Creek to acknowledge the western boundary of both “Mexico” and Austin. Take a look up the channel. The creek is surrounded by high-rise apartment buildings, but in the 1870s it passed through a field at the edge of the city, and many of the city’s poor lived in shacks along its banks.