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Board says new facility to remain Town Lake Park

Thursday, February 28, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

There was actually one point in Tuesday night’s Parks and Recreation Board discussion of naming the park next to the Palmer Center that became so complicated that one of the commissioners threw up his hands and exclaimed, “Please, don’t give this job to us again.”


He was only half joking. The Parks Board has found itself torn over what to name the 21-acre tract located west of Palmer Events Center between Riverside Drive and Barton Springs Road. This land, only recently improved by the Parks Department, is fairly sacred to a number of families and groups, including the Butler family, which gave the tract of land along then-Town Lake to the City of Austin.


Parks Board commissioners took the comments of the Butler family seriously, even reworking their planned naming to some extent, but finally decided on the name Town Lake Park, with various areas within the park named for assorted people.

The Elgin-Butler Brick Co. was in the Butler family for five generations, founded by Irish immigrant bricklayer Michael Butler in 1873. Butler would build his company into a 1,000-acre site in Butler, five miles east of Elgin, and a site on the banks of Town Lake.


The Texas State Handbook describes the founding of the company and the company’s role in the history of Austin, the Capitol and the University of Texas:


In 1871 the Texas and New Orleans Railroad arrived at the site in Bastrop County, and the community that grew up came to be known as Butler, after an Irish immigrant bricklayer, Michael Butler, who was the first to make bricks from the nearby clay pits that he discovered by accident while digging holes on land then used for timber. The company was founded in 1873.

“Over the years Butler became a company town with a company store and brick houses for employees, who farmed on the side. By the 1940s the town population reached 150. The company also mined clay from a site now in the Zilker Park soccer fields in Austin and transported it in buckets, hung from mule-drawn lines, to kilns on the site of present Austin High School. Another plant was located farther down the lake at the site of the Zachary Scott Theatre.

“In 1912 the firm acquired the Austin Brick Company, and in 1965 it acquired its chief competitor, Elgin Standard Brick Company. The company supplied bricks for the Capitol, 80 percent of the brick structures at the University of Texas at Austin, fireplaces in many Austin residences, and many other brick buildings in Austin. Brick from the firm was also used for the façade of the United States Embassy in Mexico City.”

Stephen Butler said it was Tom Miller who convinced his family to donate the 49-acre parcel of land to the city on which the Long Center and adjacent park now sit. This generation of Butlers, he gently noted, were too young to be around for the fight to preserve the land as a park – criticism leveled by supporters of the name Town Lake Park – but the donation was no less meaningful today than it was 70 years ago, he said.

“We love the park now, and we’re proud of what the land has become, and we know the Town Lake Park Coalition are part of those groups who stepped up to make this park happen,” Butler said. “We may want to name this park after popular people or grassroots groups or a generic name, but you cannot limit from consideration those philanthropic families who gave the land to make this park happen.”

Zilker Park and Pease Park are not names intended to make people feel slighted about visiting those parks. And Butler Park was not intended to limit the park, either. It was simply an acknowledgement of the gift to the city 67 years ago.

Butler and a number of other cousins who were at the board meeting asked for the commission to provide an alternate recommendation of “Butler Park” when the Parks Board made its recommendations to City Council.

Parks Board commissioners took the comments of the Butler family seriously, even reworking their planned naming to some extent, but they finally decided on the name Town Lake Park, with various areas within the park named for assorted people.

So this is what the Parks Board will recommend to Council: The hill built in Town Lake Park will be named Doug Sahm Hill. Commissioner Mark Vane made an eloquent defense of Sahm’s role in the music scene, and the Board even had a brief discussion about re-naming Auditorium Shores for the musician. That land along Lady Bird Lake, however, is not up for naming right now.

The Board’s original recommendation was to name the fountain in the park after the Butler family. After some discussion, however, the Board agreed to give the Butler family a more substantial stake in the park, naming the park’s fountain and the soon-to-be-developed children’s garden after the Butlers. While the Butlers would have preferred the whole park be named after the family, they did express gratitude that the Parks Board had agreed to broaden the recognition in the park.

The pond will now be named after Liz Carpenter. The field in the park area, the predecessor of Disch-Faulk Field, will be named after shortstop Willie Wells, who grew up in Austin and was a well-known player in the National Negro League. Bouldin Creek resident James Rutherford, who championed his nomination, noted that Wells lived and died in a house on Newton Street. It was only fair that the one-time ball field near his house recognize his accomplishments as a star baseball player.

Chair Linda Guerrero did attempt to name an additional area of the park but was stopped by board members. This was enough, said Jeff Francell. Francell had argued that the city was handing away lucrative naming rights in the park when the board went ahead and named the various areas of the park after significant Austinites.

The Parks Board recommendations will be forwarded to Council for consideration.

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