Beau Site: A Case Study

By John G. Bordie

The area presently designated as Beau Site in City records encompasses the residential group between Harris Boulevard to the south, 38th Street to the north, Red River Ave. to the east and Waller Creek to the west. The area has a complex history that is marked by land speculation, loan defaults, re-capitalization and shrewd development planning. Some of the speculators and developers were individuals of honor and character, others were quite the opposite.

Beau Site's origins can be traced to the original state land Patent 163 V.2. State of Texas to Masillon Farley on March 1, 1849 that granted him Lots 6 & 9 of block C on the City of Austin plat; Lots 7 & 8 were granted to Farley a few days later. Lots 20, 21, 22, & 29 had been granted to Farley in late 1848 and were sold to Jos. C. Swisher in January, 1849.

Swisher purchased lots 6 & 9 in April 1849 for $130. All of these lots were sold by Swisher to Francis Dietrich in April, 1850 for $1500. The increase in value by a factor of 11 within one year testifies to the land boom then underway within the state subsequent to the conclusion of the war with Mexico. After the death of Dietrich, the lots were passed to his wife Sarah E. Dietrich as community property. She married J.W. Whipple in 1863 and the lots, valued at $8000 were transferred to both their names. These lots were posted as surety for a $13,775 dollar loan to William A. Blackburn who was trustee for Anna J. Robards. There were complications and loan default sales during the next six years. A quit claim to Whipple for lots 6, 9, 29 was filed in June 1875 by J.W. Hannig who had acquired a lien. Robards transferred the other property to Hannig in July 1875 (filed September 1879!). Sometime prior to June 1877, Whipple had sold 3/8ths of an acre from lot 6 to J.B. Rector. Whipple sold the acreage remaining of the original property to Rector in May 1889 for $5640. This property was sold in April 1890 to Johnson, Ross and Terrell for $6250 before the founding of the Austin Country Club which would be located at its north boundary.

Beau Site subdivision was developed by Dr. J.R. Bailey around 1910 Dr. Bailey was one of the two individuals who worked out the formula for Novocaine when World War I prevented access to the German product. Bailey and the other developers of Beau Site viewed the location as being ideal for an exclusive community possessed of substantial attractions for those with the desire for space, proximity to a socially prestigious venue, and a taste for discreet elegance. Lot sizes were, and still are, quite large. Several lots were substantially larger than one acre and a number were greater than two acres. It was intended that such lots were to be for the construction or estate-sized structures. Primarily located on 37th Street, Hampton Road, and Greenway, these lots reflected the space sizes of other estates in the adjacent community such as the 2.5-acre site on Fairfax Walk north of 32nd Street. The exclusive nature of Beau Sale was underscored by its apparent isolation from the remainder of the city. 38th Street and Harris Avenue both stopped at Waller Creek. No bridges crossed the creek at those locations until the late 1950s. Greenway was not opened to 38th Street until the mid 1970s. Access to Beau Site was limited to the east end of 37th Street at Red River and the south end of Hampton at Harris.

The cost of such large size lots would necessarily restrict the nature of development in the area but the developers established a series of deed restrictions and conditions incumbent on ownership for the future purchasers of the lots. This was intended to keep the area exclusively residential. As early as the 1920s, deed restrictions began to appear which reflected concern that non-residential commerce might be poised to invade. Deed restrictions forbidding such commerce became extremely common at that time. Many restrictions simply ban commercial business: "no commercial business" being a common phrase in many deeds. During the 1930s and 1940s such a direct statement seemed to be insufficient as more powerful, specific and inclusive restrictions began to be used: "no trade, manufacturing, or mercantile establishment: no commercial garage; no livery stable would be permitted and no animals may be kept." Reflecting a 1920s view of proper commerce "no liquor [is] to be manufactured or sold within the area."

This desire to maintain the area exclusively residential is found in those deed restrictions which state that land is sold for residential lots only, and that all "structures [are] to be single family units for residential purposes only." To maintain the up-scale values of the neighborhood there could be "no subdivisions of existing units, no building to be closer than 25 feet to front of lot; and all structures [are] to be constructed of brick, stone, or concrete." Surprisingly, given the goals of the developers, the framers of these restrictions were not very good at predicting future real estate Values because one of the common restrictions is that "no house [is] to cost less than $5000."

There were further urban planning views regarding the nature of residential construction in order to maintain the exclusive coherent appearance of the neighborhood "all residences must face the front of the lot, garages must be kept, cars must be garaged; no motorcycles or three wheeled vehicles, no trailers shall be permitted." Similar limitations were imposed to maintain the physical broad sweep of avenues and boulevards One exception to the view that the area was to be a network of such boulevards is Greenway. Inset into the curbing at the corner of 35th Street and Hampton Road is the blue and white tile street marker identifying Greenway as Green Way, the path to the golf course. There was also a public footpath from Hampton to 38th street east of 822 37th Street that was the shortcut to the golf course before Greenway was cut through to 38th Street.

A downside to these restrictions were those which emphasized race: during the 1920s and 1930s such restrictions excluded blacks; this was modified somewhat during the 1940s when the restrictions read "only Caucasians" to reside. The restrictions limited residence but not ownership by certain races.

To ensure that such restrictions would be observed many deeds state "It shall to be lawful for anyone in Beau Site to sue for damages in case of violation of these restrictions." Street names in the Beau Site area reflected the conventions of the times. 37th Street was originally Oakview Avenue and was renamed during the 1930s citywide renaming of east-west streets. Oakview then ended at Hampton Road. The segment between Hampton and Greenway is shown on city plats as a continuation of Hampton Road which, in turn, continues northward from its intersection with Greenway. The south end of Greenway, according to the 1932 Austin Mayoral proclamation, begins at the corner of 35th and Hampton and has its north terminus at 3700 Greenway. Perhaps for postal address clarity the plat names were modified to their present configuration during the 1940s.

Harris Avenue and Harris Park Avenue were named for Sidon J. Harris, a turn of the century developer in the area. Residents along those streets might reconsider the honor since Harris had many problems with his financiers. The last deed to mention him in the early 1900s states process could not be served as S. J. Harris had gone to Cochise County, Arizona Territory! Cochise County is the location of Tombstone and its famous cemetery.