Congress Avenue

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Austin History Center
Written By Austin History Center

The Austin History Center's mission is to procure, preserve, present and provide the historical records that make up Austin's unique story.

Congress Avenue is the wide, tree-lined avenue that leads from southern Austin over Lady Bird Lake (a widened portion of the Colorado River) to the Texas State Capitol. It’s home to interesting businesses and historic sites and is a great place to begin your exploration of Austin. 

Before Austin became the capital of Texas it was known as Waterloo, and it almost didn't even become the capital. The Vice President of the Republic of Texas at the time, Mirabeau Lamar, was working with Texas revolutionary Edwin Waller to design the capital. Meanwhile, Sam Houston was pushing to have the city named after him serve as the capital. However, Lamar and Waller's plan was gradually executed. After Texas became a part of the US, Waterloo was renamed Austin and officially designated as the capital of the state of Texas.

The Old Bakery and Emporium, also known as the Lundberg Bakery, at 1006 Congress St. is a place worth visiting near the Capitol. The bakery was started in 1876 by a Swedish immigrant named Charles Lundberg, and the citizens of Austin once lined up here with baskets to buy their bread. It now contains a visitor’s center as well as a gallery featuring work by local artists and craftspeople. 

Another site not to be missed is the Paramount Theater at 713 Congress Ave. This Classical Revival style movie theater and performance venue, originally known as the “Majestic" was built in 1915 and has hosted countless legendary performers since then. It was renamed and lavishly renovated in the 1930s, so some of its features reflect the Art Deco period. 

In its earlier days, the Paramount hosted live performances by renowned performers like Harry Houdini and Katharine Hepburn. Even when films took the place of live performances, stars still showed up to the theater. 

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Adam West appeared in character for the 1966 premiere of Batman with his co-star Lee Meriweather as Catwoman. The stars arrived in a motorcade for the opening of the film. The event was held in Austin because the Batboat was constructed here by Glastron and the company requested the premiere's location as part of their deal. See what it was like to be part of the crowd in the video below.

If you travel further south along Congress until the addresses are listed as "South Congress," you've reached the South Congress neighborhood, known for its unique boutiques, galleries, and restaurants. Visitors love to take pictures with the words “I love you so much,” which are painted on the side of a building at 1300 S. Congress. The words are said to have originated as graffiti left by a drag performer. They have been restored multiple times by locals and have become a symbol of the neighborhood. 

Make your way far enough south, and you will reach the Ann Richards Bridge over Lady Bird Lake, named after Texas Governor and Austin native, Ann Richards. The underside of the bridge is home to one of the world’s largest urban bat colonies and an amazing spectacle. At dusk from mid-March through early December, visitors can watch up to 1.5 million bats head out for the night!

Congress Avenue and the Paramount Theater continue to be popular sites for parades, festivals and special events.

Cover photo: Derek Key via Flickr.

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