Republic Square is truly the birthplace of Austin. In 1839, the public land auction for a newly formed city was held under the oak trees that are still the focal point of the park today. Funds from this auction paid for the construction of government buildings for the new Republic of Texas. Edwin Waller recognized the importance of town squares in the original city design which introduced Austin as a grid with a central square (the capitol) and four smaller squares. Today, three of those smaller squares remain—functioning in the way that they were always intended—as city parks.
Since its beginning in 1839, Republic Square has had quite the storied past. By 1905, the neighborhood to the west and south of the square largely identified with Austin’s Mexican population surrounded by churches and factories. Families gathered in the park regularly to celebrate, worship and sell homemade goods and food. In its 1928 plan, the city began forcing residents of color east of what is now I-35, and the neighborhood was filled with warehouses, car lots, and lumber yards. City leaders saw little value in parks and public spaces. In 1976, downtown advocate groups reclaimed the block (at that time a parking lot) and rededicated the land as Republic Square, a tribute to the Republic of Texas.
By the early 2000s, as experienced by many cities across the US, increasing demands on budgets meant funding for parks were diminishing. A new vision for Republic Square, along with smaller improvement projects, opened the door for a unique partnership between the Downtown Austin Alliance, Austin Parks Foundation, and the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department. The City organized community meetings and spearheaded the creation of the master plan. The Austin Parks Foundation, an advocacy organization that helps fill the funding gap for parks in Austin, took the lead on the capital campaign and construction. Following the park's almost $5 million dollar renovation, the Downtown Austin Alliance funds and oversees the management, operations and programming of the square.
With an operating budget around $500,000 annually, the Downtown Alliance ensures that the original intent of this important square is preserved. Once again, Republic Square is a neighborhood park that is a part of a network of downtown public spaces. The park is staffed daily by a downtown ambassador in charge of maintaining the park and restrooms, making guests feel welcome and safe.
The Downtown Austin Alliance will begin providing seasonal programming this Spring, both inclusive and collaborative, weaving the cultural stories of the park into today’s activities. Working with community partners, the park will host diverse educational programming, fitness classes for all ages, movies in the park, cultural arts, and music.
Cover photo by Michael Knox
The Downtown Austin Alliance is a partnership of downtown property owners, individuals, and businesses devoted to preserving and enhancing the value and vitality of downtown Austin.