Why 78704 Doesn’t Matter Anymore
78704 is over because of the east side. Actually, that’s not true. The essential reason 78704 is over is because the creative class are priced out of 78704. That’s the punch line if you need to roll out. There’s nothing more than decent writing backed by a bit of south Austin experience and history via cleaning stages, playing on those stages, and then eventually selling the property that those stages were inside of – a routine Austin story – a lot of it in 78704.
78704 has historically been the ACL Artist Village of the city. That state seemed unthreatenable. Matthew, Roky, Armadillo World Headquarters, some of the best coffee houses grinding away and some say, the best ‘Mexican’ restaurants in the city – and too many other legacies, businesses, and sweat to list – solidified the zip as the boiled down essence of the best of what Austin was and where that best would be going.
There’s a flight from Austin’s Jerusalem that newbies and the news aren’t aware of. 78704 is still the weird and organic Santa Monica with cowboy boots, and pro-runner row, only now, the decades of splinters are getting smoothed out. The usual culprits sighted by tenured 04′ers I’ve heard are: too crowded, too LA, and too corporate – all up for massive debate and discussion by another bloggist, but perspectives nonetheless. It may not be as wiry and boutiquey as it once was, but the photo will finally crystallize and be hung. 04 from this point forward will probably only look more like the way it’s starting to look now, which is: new. And that’s a problem for some; a joy for others. Hipster (formerly hippie) Disneyland has graduated.
The sea monkeys were dropped in to Barton Springs decades ago and have been multiplying on a nice simmer, but seems like 2014 the pot boiled over. Everything’s nearly filled in on the streets of the mostly all-natural zip code and the whole area’s building heights are maxed out for the most part and may rest at this height for a while, or even forever. I had a discussion with an original Austinite (a fellow Realtor friend with another brokerage. Yeah, I don’t know why either) and I said that south Lamar has looked the same for about fifteen years, but now it seems like it’s changed more within the last year than it has in the past fifteen. He agreed, so I knew something was afoot. He’s an original, long-time southie, so he may know things I don’t. That always surprises me too.
Urban Squared Realty’s first office was on the corner of South Congress and Riverside. We thought being on South Congress might be advantageous, possibly, to some extent. We signed the fifty page CBRE lease and decided to give it a shot. We weren’t sure though. The address was close to downtown, but there were still hookers down at the end of South Congress. There were always counterweights around 04. These helped make it feel not too . . . nice . . . or smooth. Seeing these ballast points of authenticity disappear seemed to be correlated to the rise in building heights, property value, and population. It’s not exactly “Safe European Home” material, but 78704 is changing, and growing up, and taking on more chores; the main one now being that it’s the quick, go-to, reflection-of-Austin area where visitors can get a fast three-day weekend puff and exhale and then leave (or stay), and not have to worry about any seeds or stems.
We heard the word too. Two years after we opened we heard, SoCo. Seems like it should have an echo when you say it. I would have kicked the word if I could have found it. It was so ridiculous it didn’t even warrant a laugh – just a half-attentive chuckle at a morning meeting at Dominican Joe.
We knew that wouldn’t stick.
Our 2001 tech-startup level forecasting abilities also didn’t see the street and timing in the market putting the company on the map in a way that we can’t take too much credit for.
So enter the east side. It’s been discussed constantly; set to blow up any minute for at least two decades as prognosticators tried to call the landing, but never did. I went to Bruce Hughes’ house one night around 2001 and wondered why in the hell would someone buy an old house on the east side and fix it up. Figured Bob wasn’t paying him enough. Turns out that buying in the Holly neighborhood, one-block off I-35 around 2nd street was a good real estate move. Then Pedernales materialized out of what felt like thin air, and before it even started, the small east side revolt quickly ended with the apartment-to-condo conversions craze and the global economic downturn. Then Austin jumped back to its feet again in August 2010 ahead of nearly every other major city. And the hint that the east siders of about eight years ago saw, that non-east siders didn’t see, was: the new riverside HEB. It sort of just appeared. The San Antonio grocery stalwart is always on target with their store drops. This was the sign to some that the tide was coming in and that a set would soon be here. The water from the 78704 was slowly flowing to the east side where creatives could become homeowners – 04 had been locked in at $250K minimum for scrapers (houses you scrape off the land) for years, at this time.
Andy Langer may be the next harbinger of neighborhood sea changes in town. While cramming my face with burgers or breakfast, I saw him three times in twenty for hours: San Francisco Bakery, the comic book shop one strip mall over (where I was at – Hopdoddys) and then back again at SFB. The midtown/Burnet road area is the only other place in the city that looks and feels like 78704 and it has the legacy businesses and shops to back that. Honestly, ten years ago, it used to be a dead part of the city. Top Notch, the three best and oldest dive bars in the city, Omlettry (closing. wtf?), Lights Fantastic, and the only old school Alamo Draft House left in the city (The Village Alamo Draft House; high on nerdom and weirdness, just the way it should be) are all the bastions of midtown’s cred.
In 78704, it’s impossible for baristas to live in the zip they work without finding a five-bedroom flop house. And that property would have to somehow be free of a multiple-offer WWE deathmatch of Volvo and Subaru owners (literally purchasing the zip code in to a backlog). It’s impossible for a 78704 barista to live in 78704 by themselves.
No complaining! No complaining! We promised we wouldn’t complain. Actually, we didn’t, but we don’t like complaining! Any complaining would be like calling 78704, Austin, California, like some people do, but don’t complain about that either.
78704 has become everything that it was supposed to. Exhibit One: there’s the newbie Gordough’s (funny-named fried doughnut burgers) 0.02 miles down the road from Mr. Natural, on south Lamar. Why? Who knows why and why even try to make it make sense. Just eat it and workout the next day or run around Town Lake. Just enjoy it, as long as no salamanders or food trucks are harmed in the process.
Like Mark Twain said, ‘Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.’ There’s nothing to do with 04 but enjoy it for what it can’t stop becoming; Austin’s dense south jewel that will continue to grow up while we lament and look fondly at its baby pictures, and while we create new ones too.