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12th & Chicon Bus Stop Will Showcase East Austin's African-American History

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
The Cap Metro bus stop at 12th and Chicon streets will soon feature historical images of the neighborhood.

The bus stop at the southeast corner of 12th Street and Chicon once featured vibrant plaques commemorating the history of East Austin. But the plaques have fallen into disrepair since being installed in 2003. Now, Capital Metro wants to redo the bus stop to honor the area's African-American legacy.

Creola Shaw-Burns is a fifth-generation Austinite. She owns Shaw’s Garage, located on East 12th, and is an active member of the East 12th Street Merchants Association. She said she was excited when Cap Metro reached out to the association last November to ask for help on the bus stop redesign.  

“I want to make that sure my children … I want them to know that there’s a history,” she said. “I want them to know that African-Americans were pushed to this area of town in the 1920s.”

The redesigned bus stop will feature historical photos of East Austin pulled from the archives of the Austin History Center. So far, Shaw-Burns has helped Cap Metro host two public meetings to solicit opinions on which photos to include. The second meeting was held last night at Huston-Tillotson University. 

Credit Austin History Center

“Please understand a lot of work has already gone into it, but we’re not married to it. We’ll take any suggestions,” Shaw-Burns said.

One suggestion shared by most attendees: the Harlem Theater, a historic movie theater once located at the corner of 12th and Salina streets. East Austin residents had some personal requests, too.

Another member of the merchants association, Stuart King is a fourth-generation Austinite. His family’s business, King Tears Mortuary, has been located on East 12th since 1954. 

“I would like to see a picture of Tears Funeral Home on Sixth Street with the horse and buggy," he said. "I'd like to see his location on 12th Street."

Barbara Daniels, a longtime East Austinite, asked for a map to be included to make the locations of bygone East 12th Street businesses more identifiable.

“Is there any way you thought of that when people look at the photos they can association it with where the property is located?” Daniels asked. “For example, if you look at a picture and it says this is the Harlem Theater, where was the Harlem Theater?”

Daniels also raised concerns about vandalism. Graffiti and general wear-and-tear from the elements led to the bus stop's current disrepair.

“What we’re planning to put these images on is porcelain enamel boards, and so that's designed to last for 25 years minimum with a warranty," said Jordan Smith, a community involvement specialist at Cap Metro. "It's designed to be vandalism proof.”

These boards don’t come cheap. Each one can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,500, Smith said. Cap Metro is looking to install 28. The money for the boards will come from Cap Metro’s art budget, as well as some community partners, Jordan said.

While the project has garnered praise from some members of the community, other East Side residents who take the bus every day question Cap Metro’s priorities. Trey Williams said he’s used this bus stop two to three times a day for the past 16 years.

“I don’t know if maybe Capital Metro is making too much money, and they don’t know what to do with it. You know, they could be doing a whole lot of different stuff,” he said. “Trying to get better bus stops or more frequent stops or less rates.”

Along with the cosmetic changes, Cap Metro plans to install two new LED light poles. Smith said construction on the project should begin sometime during the summer and be completed by fall.

Kate Groetzinger is a part-time reporter at KUT. She comes to us from Quartz, a digital media publication based in New York City, where she served as an Atlantic Media fellow. Prior to working at Quartz, Kate graduated from Brown University with a bachelor's degree in English. While at Brown, Kate served as an intern at Texas Monthly. Her work has been published online by Texas Monthly, CultureMap Austin, The Atlantic, Quartz, The Gotham Gazette and Paste Magazine, and in print by Rhode Island Monthly. She is happy to be back in her home state reporting on news for her fellow Texans.
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