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As TxDOT gears up for the largest expansion of I-35 in Austin's history, we're taking a closer look at the homes and businesses facing the wrecking ball.

Austin Chronicle's historic headquarters to be paved over for I-35

The Austin Chronicle building on Sept. 25, 2023. The single-story brick building has a staircase out front leading to a set of double doors. A sign on the building says "Chronicle." Cars race by in the foreground.
Patricia Lim
The Austin Chronicle building, former headquarters for the Elgin-Butler Brick Co., will be annexed to asphalt. The structure was completed in 1957, half a decade before I-35 would open in Austin.

After years of skewering the state's political elite, The Austin Chronicle is slated to be swallowed whole by the jaws of a state-sponsored highway project.

Wheels are in motion to expand I-35 from Ben White Boulevard to U.S. 290 East. Work is scheduled to start next summer to add four lanes, rebuild bridges, lower the main lanes from downtown to Airport Boulevard and tear down the upper decks.

The Austin Chronicle is among more than 100 homes and businesses in the path of the new highway's footprint. More than 54 acres of Austin will be absorbed into I-35.

The single-story brick office building could qualify for a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, a 2004 study conducted for TxDOT found. The building is not considered historic because of the alt-weekly newspaper it houses, but because of what was there before the Chronicle: a 150-year-old business known as the Elgin-Butler Brick Co. (EBBC).

The EBBC was founded in 1873. The firm's bricks were used in famous structures around town, including the Texas Capitol, the University of Texas and the Stephen F. Austin Hotel.

In the 1950s, the EBBC's headquarters were torn down so the Capitol could expand. So in 1957 — five years before I-35 would open — the company built a new headquarters along the future path of the highway.

A sepia-toned image of the building when the Elgin-Butler Brick Company occupied it. 3D lettering on the outside of the building says, "Elgin-Butler Brick Company." The contemporary-style building has a flat roof and overhanging eaves.
Austin History Center
An undated photo of the building when it was occupied by the Elgin-Butler Brick Co. The one-story structure has a pier and beam foundation with brick walls and a flat roof. A sycamore tree, not yet visible in this image, grows from an open air courtyard in the middle of the building.

The brick company moved out in 1989. Two years later, The Austin Chronicle moved in.

"It's a good building for parties. We've had a few," said Nick Barbaro, publisher of the Chronicle and a co-director of South by Southwest.

The building is basically a circular hallway with offices jutting out. In the middle of the building is an open-air courtyard with a large sycamore tree. The tree's fallen branches have poked holes in the Chronicle's roof.

"It's vicious," Barbaro said. "You'd think it isn't. It looks like a nice tree."

The tree, of course, will be killed.

Austin Chronicle staff writer Brant Bingamon sits at a desk and looks at a computer. On the wall is a bulletin board with the headline QMMUNITY and some papers attached. A calendar is posted on the wall nearby.
Patricia Lim
Austin Chronicle staff writer Brant Bingamon at work in the newspaper's offices.

The staff at the Chronicle will move across a field to another building owned by the newspaper. That building houses the video production company Arts+Labor, which subleases some of the space to the Austin Museum of Popular Culture. They'll have to move out in December so the Chronicle can move in around early-January.

"[Barbaro] was sensitive to how it would impact us. We're working through it, and we think we'll be fine," said Alan Berg, who co-founded Arts+Labor in 2006 with his wife, Kristin Johansen-Berg.

An aerial view of the Austin Chronicle buildings occupied by Arts + Labor and the Austin Museum of Popular Culture. Three structures are on the property with trees around them: one larger building, a smaller shed-type structure and then a single-story building with offices on the left.
Nathan Bernier
Arts + Labor and the Austin Museum of Popular Culture offices will have to move out of these buildings, which used to be the headquarters of South by Southwest. The Austin Chronicle staff will likely move in early next year.

Berg, whose company has occupied the building since 2018, said Barbaro slashed their rent to make up for the lost value of their lease.

"It's a wash to us. It's going to work," Berg said, adding that he's known Barbaro for 30 years. "There's a huge difference in having a landlord-tenant relation with an old-time Austin person who you're simpatico with and dealing with a corporate-leasing type of situation."

Berg expects to suffer a financial blow, but he's not sure how hard it will hit.

"The area that really hurts, we've learned this through moves, is lost productivity," Berg said. "That's why we're trying to do this over the holiday period when it's a little bit more slow."

The Austin Museum of Popular Culture has been paying sharply reduced rent for the office space. Barbaro sits on the museum's board.

"We're just grateful for having had the space," the museum's executive director, Leea Mechling, said.

The museum hasn't been able to display items from the collection since it was forced to move from Threadgill's Restaurant on North Lamar Boulevard. The restaurant where Janis Joplin got her start went out of business after it was forced to close in the early days of the COVID pandemic.

But Mechling says big plans are in the works.

"We're just going to be like an armadillo and hunker down and burrow underneath and find our way and when we pop out, everybody will be amazed," she said.

Arts+Labor won't get any compensation from Texas. No help from the state's relocation assistance program. Same for the Austin Museum of Popular Culture. Neither is counted as a displacement by TxDOT, underlining how the ripple effects of a highway expansion are difficult to measure.

"They're the ones who are maybe suffering more out of this," Barbaro said. "Ironically, they don't get any sort of support from TxDOT."

Shortly after the interviews were conducted for this story, The Austin Chronicle reported the newspaper along with Louis Black, a co-founder and former editor, were being sued. The lawsuit alleges Black used power and influence to coerce a former employee into having a forced sexual relationship. Black denies the allegations. Barbaro issued a statement saying the woman has never been an employee of The Austin Chronicle. The case is pending in federal court.

As for the building, TxDOT has agreed to document the structure before demolishing it. Experts will sketch floor plans and take photographs of each room. The documents will be handed to the Austin History Center.

TxDOT says bricks from the building could be reused along the expanded I-35 to tell the story of the Elgin-Butler Brick Co., raising the possibility that fragments of history will literally embed themselves into the highway that mandated their destruction.

A TxDOT illustration of I-35 at 41st Street. A bridge is passing over the lowered mainlanes. On one side of the bridge, the mainlanes are covered by a large deck.
A TxDOT rendering showing what I-35 could look like at 41st Street, near The Austin Chronicle building. The main lanes will be lowered to Airport Boulevard. The covering over the highway will be installed only if the City of Austin can come up with hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for it.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.
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