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'Austin Chronicle' opens time capsule before I-35 edges out historic building

The Austin Chronicle buried a time capsule in its historic office building in 1999.
Patricia Lim
KUT News
The Austin Chronicle Time Capsule was buried under the office's floors in 1999. Current and former staffers opened it on Friday as the newspaper prepares to vacate the building because of the I-35 expansion.

With the offices of the Austin Chronicle set to be demolished to make way for the I-35 expansion, publisher Nick Barbaro sent out the bat signal to current and former employees of the alt-weekly newspaper last week, inviting them for one last hurrah: the opening of a time capsule buried inside the building in 1999.

“With TxDOT set to take possession at the end of this month, there's just one thing left to do,” Barbaro said in an email.

On March 28, dozens of people milled through the building, eating pizza, sipping spiked punch and catching up with old friends. Attendees spanned four decades of Chronicle staff and their families. “Gray looks good on you,” one woman said, leaning in to embrace a silver-haired former co-worker.

Mark Christopher Gates, who worked as a production manager at the Chronicle until 2012, flew in with his wife for the event. He remembers when the time capsule was buried 25 years ago.

“I have no idea what we put in,” Gates said. “I vaguely remember it was just a bunch of junk, nothing of real significance — but maybe it'll feel more significant now.”

In 1999, the time capsule was essentially the solution to an office safety hazard. There was a recessed planter set into the floor of the building's front hallway, a feature that dated back to the building’s former life as the offices of the Elgin-Butler Brick Company.

“We couldn't keep anything alive in it, and it was just sort of a submerged pit that people could step in and break their legs,” said Susan Moffat, who is married to Barbaro and a former contributing editor for the paper.

The staff decided to put a time capsule into the space and fill the cavity with concrete. Over the top, Annette Patterson, one of the Chronicle’s account executives at the time, installed a tile mosaic bearing the word “Time.”

Plenty of staff members remembered the capsule being buried. But, like Gates, none remembered what was inside. The one thing folks were pretty sure of was that a joint had made it in — as alluded to by the event’s start time at 4:20 p.m.

A man jackhammers through a tile mosaic set into a floor while another man, kneeling, watches the action.
Olivia Aldridge
KUT News
The Austin Chronicle publisher Nick Barbaro kneels to watch the excavation of a time capsule buried in the newspaper's offices in 1999.

The capsule was not excavated easily. It took an hour of jackhammering to break through enough of the thick concrete beneath the tile mosaic to see pieces of the wooden box hidden below. Staffers got on hands and knees to dig through the detritus, and scraps of vintage newspaper began to emerge. It took some help from a sledgehammer to fully break into the box, but, at last, a decaying copy of The Austin Chronicle was pulled triumphantly from the rubble.

A string of items in various states of decay followed: an autographed volleyball, a VHS tape, a t-shirt, an Ohio license plate, Mardi Gras beads, a floppy disk and a “Don’t Mess with Texas Women” bumper sticker, to name a few. Conspicuously missing from the mix was any evidence of a joint, although there was a Coca-Cola can that appeared to be fashioned into a pipe.

A pile of items found in a time capsule sit atop a pile of rubble, including newspapers, a Rolling Stones poster and a bumper sticker that reads "Don't Mess with Texas Women."
Olivia Aldridge
KUT News
Staffers at The Austin Chronicle sort through the items found in a 1999 time capsule.

Each item received cries of delight, intrigue and puzzlement. But ultimately, the contents of the capsule seemed less important than the gathering in its honor, and the building folks had come to bid goodbye.

Moffat, who was there for the building’s purchase in 1991, watched her son grow up in the Chronicle’s offices. He eventually became the paper’s art director as an adult. It isn’t easy, Moffat said, to see the setting for 33 years of her family’s life be torn down. But she takes some small pleasure in thinking that building won’t yield easily.

“When we were buying it, the inspector came and said the foundation was such that you could put a 30-story structure on top of it, and in the event of nuclear war, this was where he was coming,” she said. “They’re going to have a hard time taking it down.”

Olivia Aldridge is KUT's health care reporter. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @ojaldridge.
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