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Photo by Rebekah Dobrasko

East Austin stadium celebrated by Black community nominated for national historic status

Monday, September 13, 2021 by Sean Saldaña

At first glance, Yellow Jacket Stadium feels a bit unassuming. Visitors see a track, a football field, a few sets of bleachers, and a parking lot with room for only a handful of vehicles. Unlike other athletic sites like Burger Stadium or House Park, Yellow Jacket doesn’t sit right off the highway but in the heart of the east side, at 3101 Hargrave St.

What sets Yellow Jacket Stadium apart is its irrevocable link to Austin’s Black community. First constructed in 1953, Yellow Jacket – originally called Anderson Stadium and later renamed for the high school’s mascot – was built for Original L.C. Anderson High School, the all-Black public high school within then-segregated Austin Independent School District.

Despite being constructed in the South during the Jim Crow era, Anderson High and Yellow Jacket Stadium quickly became celebrated. Perhaps most noteworthy was Anderson’s football team, which produced NFL players and earned state championships and drew visits from football legends like Darrell Royal. More than 8,000 people were in attendance when the team won its 1957 state title.

Anderson High School marching band, circa 1961. Photograph courtesy Austin History Center.

Equally decorated was the Anderson High marching band, which like the football team was a point of pride for East Austin’s Black community. Between 1940 and 1953, the band won seven Prairie View Interscholastic League championships.

This notable history is why an effort has recently been in the works to list the property with the National Park Services’ National Register of Historic Places. The effort is spearheaded by Rebekah Dobrasko, a historic preservation specialist with the Texas Department of Transportation who is working with the Anderson Alumni Association on the project.

Anderson track team, circa 1956. Photograph courtesy Austin History Center.

Dobrasko, who has worked with Anderson’s alumni community since 2017, told the Austin Monitor that getting the historic designation is important because “East Austin is changing so quickly, and so many of the places and institutions that defined East Austin for so much of its history are being demolished or overshadowed by all the new construction and change.”

East side of bleachers, 1961. Photograph courtesy Austin History Center.

The Anderson alumni have a committee dedicated to preservation, specifically around the Original Anderson High School field and school. They serve as advisers to AISD and advocates for preservation and have been integral in documenting the stories and photos of the school.

The Anderson alumni who have contributed to preservation are especially important because, unlike other schools in Austin that have consistently produced graduates for generations, the Original Anderson High was shut down in 1971 as a part of the school district’s desegregation push.

After the school was closed, the property was not maintained. According to the application prepared by Dobrasko, “because of systemic racist policies and decisions surrounding the closure and ultimate reuse of the original L.C. Anderson High School and Stadium, the stadium suffered from neglect and disinvestment as the Austin Independent School District did not maintain any of the buildings or structures at the stadium, causing their loss.” Sometime in the 80s, the track and field were paved in order to create more parking in the area. Anderson’s field was not restored until the 1990s, when Anderson alumnus and former Dallas Cowboy linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson stepped in.

Dobrasko calls Yellow Jacket Stadium a “place of significant African American achievement, leadership, community, and celebration in East Austin and it should be recognized and celebrated today as such. It’s remarkable that it still exists after all these years, and likely wouldn’t without Mr. Henderson and the support of the East Austin community.”

The application for Yellow Jacket Stadium, which was prepared last year, details the history of the stadium, its various features and why it’s such a crucial part of Austin’s history. The application has been submitted to the Texas Historical Commission and is set to be reviewed this Friday.

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