Community Impact Newspaper

Rainey Street History in the Making

By Jennifer Curington

The Rainey Street corridor may be undergoing a major facelift, but the current construction is moving the area closer to aligning with the increased density outlined in its master plan.

The neighborhood was established in the 1880s, but the 2005 Rainey Street Master Plan calls for high-density commercial and residential development. That vision is becoming more of a reality as construction crews and orange cones line the corridor.

“There’s all this talk about Rainey Street’s changing, it’s not the same, this and that,” said Ben Siegel, owner of Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden. “What’s amazing is it was the same thing for almost 100 years. It was this old neighborhood in Austin, and five or six years ago it began to change. It’s never stopped evolving since that point.”

The neighborhood started as a place where predominantly middle-class families lived, said Austin History Center Manager Mike Miller. Between 1900 and the 1930s, low- income working-class families began moving into the homes, and middle-class families relocated to other areas of the city. During this same time period the homes being built started shifting to the bungalow-style homes seen today along Rainey Street, Miller said.

During the 1950s the neighborhood’s homeowners and tenants were predomi- nantly Hispanic. The street retained that culture until the early 2000s when residents began working with the city of Austin to change the Rainey zoning laws to allow for businesses. Those changes were finalized in 2005, Miller said.

Growing business base

Siegel said he intends to expand Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden. His move comes at the same time other nearby lots are being purchased for large-scale developments such as hotels and residential projects.

“There’s this really unique thing happen- ing here, which is restaurants and bars in residential houses on this little old residential block,” he said. “[People] are then seeing all these large buildings go up, and there’s this fear that the residential component is going to go away. The reality is that’s not very likely, and it’s not very likely for a long time.”

During the construction along Rainey Street, no bars have been lost to development, Siegel said. Some bars relocated or took a temporary hiatus, such as Lustre Pearl, which was the first Rainey Street bar and restaurant to open in 2008. The original Lustre Pearl lot is now the site of The Millennium apartment building, which is under construction, but Lustre Pearl will soon return to a different Rainey Street location. At the same time, the original Lustre Pearl building was relocated to East Austin with plans for both locations to open this summer.

Jesse Lunsford and Dale Glover founded Rainey Ventures in January after recent work with clients, such as Lustre Pearl owner Bridget Dunlap, to turn historic bungalow homes to restaurant and bar destinations. Lunsford said he never expected for Lustre Pearl or the rest of the businesses along Rainey Street to become the destinations and successes they are today.

“We embraced the idea of being able to take this area and really help keep the soul,” Glover said. “It’s priceless. If we wouldn’t have done what we did, the feeling wouldn’t be the same.”

Growing residential base

Glover and Lunsford said they believe the bungalow homes on Rainey Street will remain in spite of the ongoing development boom. Depending on who you ask, there are either two or three Rainey Street single- family homes still occupied by residents.

The Rainey Street Neighborhood Association was created in February 2011, said Bonita White, the group’s president. There are about 2,000 residents within the asso- ciation’s boundaries, which stretch from Lady Bird Lake to Cesar Chavez Street and from Waller Creek to I-35, White said. Once construction of ongoing apartment and condominium projects are complete, she estimates there will be 2,500 residents within the corridor.

Area residents in the past have had to battle noise, traffic congestion, infrastruc- ture improvements, walkability and light- ing, White said. However, she said there have been fewer complaints about Rainey Street bars and restaurants after working with the city and the business owners to set acceptable live music noise levels. Now most invasive noise comes from construc- tion, she said.

Installation of new sidewalks on Rainey Street began in recent months, White said, and roadway infrastructure will hopefully improve based on changes made by incoming developers, she said.

“It is and is going to be a great place to live. It’s just going through growing pains right now,” White said. “It’s changed a lot since I moved here when it was a quiet and sleepy place [in 1999]. [The neighborhood association is] very positive about the changes. We just want to work with everybody.”