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.


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15 Replies to “Why 78704 Doesn’t Matter Anymore”

  1. I rarely read an entire blog, but I really enjoyed this one. Im born and raised here in the 04 and have witnessed many of the changes you mention. Its sad to see some character and charm go, but its also exciting to see all the growth in the city. Im truly torn on the issue… thanks for this little nugget. I enjoyed it.

    2810 S 1st – right across from Torchy’s

    1. Thank so much for reading Scott, and it’s a true testament of the character and the caliber of people that make up 04 – giving another Realtor and brokerage some of your time. Thank you Scott. We’re all indebted for what original 04’ers created and built for all of Austin (and the world) to enjoy. 😉

  2. Really interesting article. I just spent the morning driving around east Austin in search of elusive inventory and came away with some realizations crystallizing. East Austin will eventually go the way of 78704 and every other piece of real estate in this town. But, it has plenty of grittiness, funkiness, dilapidation etc to keep the momentum going for a while. Although the rising prices may chase the creative innovators who start these scenes out before it runs out of those other qualities. That’s essentially the reason 78704 has seen the action it has. It used to be where folks on the low end of the socioeconomic range lived because they could afford it. Very modest homes, many rentals. Over time many became pretty dilapidated and thus, ripe for the fall once S Congress caught the attention of early creative adopters. There is still cool stuff going on of course but now it’s so expensive that the creative innovators can’t afford to live there and don’t want to because it’s too polished. They are in east Austin for now, but at the rate prices are streaking through the stratosphere, how long will that last I wonder. What I want to know, is where do these creative people go next? That’s the $64,000 question I’m curious to answer. Burnet/Midtown is turning over rapidly which is fascinating to watch but it’s not cheap to live there either. So, where will the next nascent scene start developing do you suppose?

  3. haha. All right on Allison. You’ve framed and phrased everything perfectly because it literally is the $64K question that everyone from our baristas to our business men are grappling with (as well as city planners). Maybe we’re just going to keep going up? I know further east will keep being developed too – since it’s the only direction to go. I think flow around the Domain as well (stretching our perspectives of what we call ‘central’) will start to happen, but you’re right – there’s only so many places in the city that have an ‘Austin’ look, history, and feel. Honestly, the elephant in the room is the fact that a lot of Austin looks like any other city in America except a few sections.

  4. A very good read.
    I lived in the now SOCO at the crappy apartments across from the 7-11 where the hookers bought their condoms in 1982.

    Those same apartments are now condos.

    in 2013 I spent the year living int he trendy condos behind Pearla (I hate that place) and had to literally dodge tourists on Saturdays and Sundays to sneak down to the snack bar for coffee (while they all stood in line at Jo’s for average coffee).

    Yes.. hipster disney. It makes me sad and sick and I am glad to be back in the 78748 for now. Its not hip, its not fashionable, but it feels more like real Austin than SOCO does…

    Now you kids from LA get off of my damn Lawn…

    1. KC – yeah, it’ sure is changing brother. I’ve only known it for 15 years; not as long as you at all. sorry to see you get our of the urban core, but you can always visit and get your avocado margarita at Curra’s when you need it. hope you find your balance in G-Town. 😉

  5. Nice article and I like that you boiled your points down to present calmly and precisely dealing with facts, basically coming from a business point of view. Which is needed to survive in this town. . I am now in 78748, which at first seemed so far away, from the Saxon Pub, when in reality it’s less than 10 miles. After living in 48 for 6 years it seems the amount of cars on the road have quadrupled and there are several new sub divisions going up on Manchaca so good times ahead. We now have Moontower and Giddy Ups which has been around 4-ever is ramping up by getting a liqueur license. So now those 10 miles from the Saxon seems even farther as one there are cops south of Slaughter where before they were not needed.

    1. Yeah, 78704 becoming a bit packed has really put a spotlight on what I personally call ‘deep south’ Austin – and a bit of the 78704 feel is getting down there by way of moontower and others. really getting good down there. and yes, traffic problems abounding all over town :/

    1. Cherrywood is a great choice. Only getting hotter. the houses, infrastructure, and local businesses in the area give it a nice touch as well. Only more to come out of this area

  6. So where to go? I would like to help my 20 something son get in home, but we are priced out of everything in Austin. Seems our only options are Manor or worse. (sorry Manor) Any cheap, craptastic areas left?

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