Preservation Austin Honors the City’s Past by Protecting its Future
Executive Director Lindsey Derrington discusses the fight to save local landmarks like Dirty Martin’s, Bremond Block and more
By Mary Lancaster
Photos by Drew Elaine
When Austin native Margaret Adams began the first Heritage Club in 1953, her vision was to preserve the city’s unique landmarks during post World War II urban sprawling. Her innovative thinking for that time led to some of the first national register districts along South Congress and East 6th Street. Today, Preservation Austin (renamed in 2012 to reflect the diversity of their work and their progressive approach to preservation in the 21st century) has helped save countless properties throughout the city with their grant programs, educational services and advocacy projects.
Current executive director, Lindsey Derrington, has the same passion and devotion for historical preservation one might expect Margaret Adams did. Her enthusiasm is infectious and within seconds of speaking with her, it’s clear that she has found her life’s work.
“My main focus is to broaden the organization’s impact, inspire city wide community engagement and lead by example,” says Lindsey. One thing she wanted to emphasize is that Preservation Austin does not focus on primarily upper class neighborhoods. “It includes all places of history because this is the fabric that shapes the city.” The organization recently conducted a membership survey to bring to light underserved groups. “Our goal is to have our membership reflect Austin’s diversity by 2025,” says Lindsey. “We get that the average citizen doesn’t understand the inner workings of the government and how they relate to preservation projects. We hope to bridge that gap and advocate for the people.”
The most recent landmark that Preservation Austin is fighting to save is Dirty Martin’s. Situated in a triangle between Guadalupe St., Nueces & West 28th, this very unassuming building has a very rich past. It opened in 1926 under the name Martin’s Kum-Bak because if you have one of their burgers you’re sure to come back for more. It was later nicknamed Dirty Martin’s because of the dirt and sawdust floors. But that didn’t discourage patrons from coming back for 96 years.
This iconic Austin restaurant at the north end of the Drag is now surrounded by other popular chain eateries such as Whataburger and Torchy’s, but competition isn’t what’s threatening this Austin landmark. A new transit plan for Austin, Project Connect by Cap Metro, has designated a new rail line along the part of Guadalupe where Dirty Martin’s currently stands. The bright red sign on the side of the building with the hashtag #savedirtys is a clear indication that they aren’t going down without a fight. And with Preservation Austin on their side, they stand a good chance at being here another 96 years.
Next on our historic Austin tour is the Bremond Block. Just 11 years after Austin was founded in 1839, the Bremond family began to build a family compound of 11 homes that mostly encompass the 600-block of Guadalupe St. These two- and three-story Victorian style houses, some of the last remaining upper class neighborhoods of its time, would have likely towered over any rivalry home built in the neighborhood, but today they almost look dollhouse-like among the enormous skyscrapers that surround the block. The large steel and glass towers are no match for the beauty of the intricately designed facades of the Bremond block.
East of IH 35 is Preservation Austin’s East Austin Barios Project, which Derrington is very proud of. “There are over 1,500 designated heritage sites in Texas and less than 30 honor Mexican Americans,” explains Lindsey. “We currently have only three in Austin, but through the work that PA has been doing, four more have recently been awarded.”
Cisco’s Restaurant, on East 6th, is one of the sites that will be receiving a historical marker. Built in 1914, the space was used initially as a meat market and other businesses until Cisco’s took it over in 1950. This beautiful two-story turquoise building, with its two-sided mural, stands out among the newly built cookie-cutter apartments and shops that have made their way from the Domain to East 6th, and with this new designation Cisco’s will surely be able to continue their legacy.
Another marker is going to the Herrera House at 1805 East 3rd Street. This was home to three trailblazing educators and activists in Austin for over one hundred years. These women were Consuelo Herrera Mendez, after whom Mendez Middle School is named, her younger sister Mary Grace Herrera and their niece Diana Herrera Castañeda. Consuelo and Mary Grace were the first Mexican American teachers in the Austin Independent School District. The house was scheduled for demolition in 2019, but with efforts of Preservation Austin another piece of Austin’s cultural history still stands.
Through their many programs and educational services, Preservation Austin continues to honor Austin’s past by preserving the future.