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Photo by city of Austin: Threadgill's in the late 1980s.

It’s not easy to replace a venue where Janis Joplin sang

Thursday, May 6, 2021 by Amy Smith

Will the treasured spirit of the old Threadgill’s live on in a proposed multifamily development slated to replace the iconic restaurant and live music venue?

That would be the preferred outcome of the Historic Landmark Commission, which unanimously recommended that the developer retain as much as possible of the structure’s exterior, in spite of the building’s many alterations since its youthful days as a gas station and beer joint in the 1930s.

The spot at 6416 N. Lamar is most widely renowned for its role in helping launch Janis Joplin’s short yet celebrated career, under original owner Kenneth Threadgill.

Kenneth Threadgill closed the venue after some 40 years of hosting musical acts. The place sat empty for several years before Eddie Wilson, a legend in his own right, bought Threadgill’s and reopened the business in the early 1980s following repairs and renovations in the aftermath of a fire.

Under Wilson’s ownership, Threadgill’s continued to flourish as a Southern comfort food zone and live music venue, but like many other local businesses in 2020, Threadgill’s fell victim to the Covid pandemic. Wilson closed the doors, auctioned off a deep portfolio of memorabilia and gutted the building’s interior.

The property sold quickly, and a site plan, which calls for a four-story residential development with about 90 units, is currently undergoing review.

The project’s original plan required a complete demolition of Threadgill’s, but after hearing from an HLC subcommittee before the commission’s April 26 meeting, the developer’s agent, Victoria Haase of Thrower Design, offered a revised proposal that would restore the front of the building to reflect the 1960s era when Joplin performed there. A statue of the blues singer is also being contemplated for the site.

“We’re walking a very fine, delicate line of how to allow the property to move forward to the next phase of life while being sensitive to (Threadgill’s) historic and cultural associations,” Haase told commissioners.

Commissioners expressed appreciation for the project team’s willingness to alter the design of the development, which would avoid a total scrapping of the property, but they want to see more of the existing structure incorporated into the new development.

The commission’s recommendation presents a bit of a challenge because the lot is rather narrow and deep, Haase noted later. Nevertheless, she said, “We’re exploring everything right now.” The case and any possible revisions will return to the HLC for consideration in late June.

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