New Austinites Joe Rogan and Elon Musk recently discussed their new home on an episode of "The Joe Rogan Experience": "I think Austin's going to be the biggest boomtown that America has seen in a half a century," Musk told the podcast host.
We've all heard the statistics. The Texas Demographic Center expects the five-county Austin metro to double in size by 2040, a projection that has spurred concerns about whether the city's infrastructure will be up to the task. But the city of Austin has been growing at a rapid clip since its founding in 1839, nearly doubling its population every 20 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Seen in this context, the Austin metro's current growth is nothing new. To better understand the city's magnetism, Austonia has looked at the drivers of migration—into Texas and Austin—starting with the 19th century. Stay tuned for more stories on what growth looked like in the 20th century, when World War II and other major historical events were reflected in new patterns, and since the turn of the 21st century.
Growing from the start
Texas' population growth predates its entry into the U.S. in 1845 and makes it an outlier among southern states, according to James Gregory, a professor of history at the University of Washington, where he directs the America's Great Migrations Project.
Migration from Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi helped field the rebellion that led to Texas gaining its independence from Mexico in 1836, Gregory writes. In the wake of that event, southerners, many of them enslaved, continued to move west to expand the cotton belt, a region of the southern U.S. where cotton was the main cash crop from the late 18th through the 20th centuries.
This migration applied not only to Texas but also to Austin, which was purchased to serve as the capital of the Republic of Texas—independent from both Mexico and the United States—in 1839 and later became the capital of the state of Texas in 1846.
East 11th Street in Austin in November 2020. (Isabella Lopes/Austonia)
Austin City Council acknowledged this history earlier this month when its members approved a resolution directing staff to devise a plan to create a "Black Embassy" in East Austin. The resolution also formally apologized for the city's participation in the enslavement of Black people, segregation and other intentionally racist practices and expressed support for a national program of financial reparations for descendants of slaves.
"The first census in 1825 showed Austin with 450 slaves, which was 35% of the population count," Austin Mayor Steve Adler said at the March 4 meeting. "By 1860, the number of slaves were increasing faster than the population as a whole."
Colonization laws that provided settlers with additional land for each slave gave way to other forms of institutionalized and codified racism, from denying Black residents the right to vote in the early 20th century to the city's adoption of the 1928 master plan, which limited public services for Black residents to a "negro district" east of I-35.
After the Civil War, population growth in Texas was spurred by the arrival of residents from nearby southern states. These migrants faced economic problems related to the war and "saw Texas, with its extensive public lands, as a place of opportunity," according to the Texas State Historical Association's Handbook of Texas. Although Southerners "posed no threat to the dominant culture of the state," the Black population continued to face racist policies through the Reconstruction period, free but not accepted as such.
In addition to the influx of domestic migrants, Texas also grew in population due to the immigration of European immigrants, the bulk of whom hailed from Germany.
Starting in the 1830s, German settled in ethnic enclaves stretching from Galveston to the Hill Country following in the footsteps of Johann Friedrich Ernst, who settled in Austin County, west of Houston, in 1831 and wrote letters to his friends back home that inspired a chain of migrants. "He described a land with a winterless climate like that of Sicily," according to the TSHA handbook, with low taxes and fertile soil.
In addition to Ernst's role, the German Revolution in 1848—and the years of discontent leading up to it—also prompted a wave of migrants to seek opportunity in Texas, far from the unconsolidated states that would eventually unite to form Germany. This wave of migrants founded the towns of New Braunfels and Fredericksburg. "I like to consider them entrepreneurs," said Janis Gonser, president of the Austin-based German-Texans Heritage Society.
During this period, German immigrants encountered Texan conflicts. Before its independence, Mexico was looking for settlers to create a kind of buffer zone between its heartland and the Comanche Nation. "This was an area of contested land between multiple groups," GTHS Executive Director Christopher Markley said. When Texas gained its independence and joined the U.S., German immigrants found themselves caught in the middle again. "When the Civil War broke out, that was a big conflict for the Germans," Gonser said. "They had just left a country in conflict."
This migration tapered off toward the end of the 19th century and stopped when the Great Depression hit. Another wave of German immigrants arrived in Texas in the post-WWII period—many of them war brides—but by then their influence had already taken root.
In addition to their brewing skills (the founder of Shiner Bock was born in Bavaria), contributions to Tejano music (a blend of Eastern European folk music, including polka, and traditional Mexican styles), role as barbecue pioneers and beloved events (such as Wurstfest and assorted Christmas markets), German immigrants were key advocates for free public education in Texas.
Missing the free schools they were used to in their homeland, German-Texans built schools open to all children, including the German Free School in downtown Austin, which is the city's third oldest building. "There are records that show full integration," Gonser said, citing co-educational enrollment as well as a mix of religions and ethnic backgrounds. "In the 1860s and '70s that was revolutionary."
More than 160 years later, the school remains in use and is now home to GTHS and its ongoing German language classes. In addition to serving long-time Texans with German heritage, the society also attracts people like Gonser, who have moved to the Austin area from Germany in recent years, drawn by the growing tech industry and other opportunities. "Now today I see another wave of Germans coming in the last 10 years," Markley said. "I call them the New Germans."
Check back tomorrow when Austonia will look at migration and population growth in the Austin area during the 20th century.
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A $500 million mixed-use development spanning 1,400 acres is coming to Southeast Austin, near Tesla’s headquarters at Giga Texas.
Plans for the development by Houston-based real estate firm Hines include 2,500 houses along with multi-family and townhomes, and commercial land. Hines is partnering with Trez Capital, Sumitomo Forestry and Texas-based Caravel Ventures.
The development, which is known as Mirador, will be located off the 130 Toll and Highway 71, which the developers say provides easy access to the Circuit of the Americas Formula 1 racetrack and other Austin attractions like restaurants, parks and live music venues.
Hines also boasts amenities like a 60-acre lake, over 600 acres of greenbelt, community parks, trails and a swimming pool.
“As Austin continues to grow into the tech epicenter of Texas, coupled with a supply-constrained market, the demand for new housing is at its highest,” Dustin Davidson, managing director at Hines, said. “Mirador will be critical in providing more options for Austin’s growing population and we are excited to work alongside our partners given they each provide a unique and valued perspective in single-family development.”
The local housing market has been hot in recent years, with home sales accelerating earlier in the pandemic. In July 2021, the Austin metro area hit its pricing peak at $478,000. As Austonia previously reported, the area has been expected to see the Tesla effect, with the new workforce driving up demand for housing and other services.
The single-family houses are expected to be developed over the course of six years, in phases. Construction on the homes is expected to start this year and home sales will begin in 2023.
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Editor's note: This story summarizes Sports Illustrated's story detailing Michael Center's involvement in the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, based on interviews with SI's Jon Wertheim. Additionally, Austonia received comments from Michael Center, included in this story.
Confined to his couch, former Longhorns tennis coach Michael Center praised his players via FaceTime after the program he built produced the Longhorns’ first national championship in 2019—a bittersweet moment as Center faced federal charges as part of the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal.
His name dragged through the mud, Center was fired, arrested by the FBI and sentenced to six months in a Central Texas federal prison after pleading guilty to two charges related to mail fraud. And over a year after his release, Center told Sports Illustrated he doubts he was the only one in burnt orange involved.
When the Varsity Blues scandal broke out to the public in 2019, the investigation was a perfect storm for nationwide attention: Hollywood glamour, blue blood conspiracy and faith in the tried-and-true American education system came to a head as 33 movie stars and other elites were found guilty of paying more than $25 million to pave their children’s way into eight colleges, including the University of Texas.
UT was one of eight schools caught in the college admissions scandal. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
The figure behind Varsity Blues, “college consultant” Rick Singer, would plead guilty to four felony counts for faking SAT scores and bribing coaches at prominent universities for his elite clients—but not before throwing Center under the bus.
Singer's client, private equity executive Chris Schaepe, was looking for a way to bend UT's tight admissions policies for his son, who was seeking a position oddly as a manager on UT’s basketball team. Through a middleman, Singer contacted Center, who eventually agreed.
Schaepe's son hadn't played tennis since his freshman year of high school. It was a detail that Center says passed through plenty of hands before he was admitted, including "academic support staff, the compliance office, the sports supervisor and, ultimately, the athletic director," SI's Jon Wertheim writes.
No one in the entire athletic department, including seven "risk management and compliant services department" employees, was named, implicated or punished. After an internal investigation, Center was the only one named in the Varsity Blues "subterfuge" in a September 2019 UT news release signed by the university president.
He told Austonia he was never contacted by the university during the investigation, and when the NCAA interviewed him for its investigation, he says it cleared him of any violations.
“I almost fell out of my chair,” Center said. “I literally couldn’t breathe. There’s no college coach in America—much less at a state school, much less a coach of a nonrevenue sport—who can admit an athlete without consulting other people in the athletic department. What they were asking people to believe, it’s just impossible.” SI said Center's assertion was backed by multiple UT coaches and administrators at other schools.But why would the Forty Acres be complicit?
Center said UT’s then newly named athletic director Steve Patterson made clear that Center suddenly was responsible for more than building a successful tennis program. He was to be a "fundraiser first and coach second" and he would need to find donors to fund a new tennis facility. Patterson admitted to SI that he wanted his coaches to find donors and said the department was "$15 million in the red" when he started in 2013, though he denies any knowledge of the false tennis recruitment.
Center said he knew he would be "considered a team player" if he let in the son of a Silicon Valley magnate. And sure enough, Schaepe immediately began pulling out his wallet, donating $100,000 to UT tennis and a six-figure check to the school's communication program.
"I never entered this as a way to profit. This was a fundraising mission where I made a terrible mistake at the end,"
Months after Schaepe's son was admitted, Center agreed to meet Singer at the Austin airport and found himself accepting a backpack filled with $60,000 in cash meant for him, personally. He said he immediately knew he had made a mistake. He told SI “I put the money in my basement and gave most of it away.”
“Why did I do it?” Center told Sports Illustrated. "I go to bed and wake up each day asking myself the same question. I had to convince myself that I somehow deserved the money."
Once in court, Center showed texts with UT's compliance official and mentioned Chris Plonsky, a department executive involved in "overseeing men’s tennis, compliance, academic support (which generates letters of intent) and the Longhorn Foundation," according to SI.
“I knew I had to answer for my guilt,” Center said. “But I was like, 'Man, schools are going to get hammered.'"'
INMATE 77806-112 but out on Sunday: Actor Felicity Huffman in prison uniform outside low-security Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin to visit actor husband William H. Macy & their daughter. Huffman admitted to paying $15K to have fixer boost daughter’s SAT score. 📸: @TMZ pic.twitter.com/9jALmqnA0U
— Henry K. Lee (@henrykleeKTVU) October 21, 2019
But Center was the only Longhorn to go down for the crimes. “I was no rogue actor,” Center said. “And this wasn’t my word against their word. There were signatures that went along with it. That’s the system... There wasn’t one point in the process where I thought people wanted to learn the whole truth.”
Back at home in Austin, Center watched as actress Felicity Huffman served just eleven days for her part in the scandal. Some served up to five months; others simply paid a fine, and others, like Singer, await sentencing.
And because the prosecution chose to blame individual coaches, framing schools as victims in the case, universities like UT have received less than a slap on the wrist for their possible involvement.
“I was always taught that actions have consequences,” Center said. “What I’ve come to realize is that, yes, for some people actions absolutely do have consequences. Serious, heavy ones. For others, actions can have no consequences at all.”
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