There are many urban legends of how Austins' moonlight towers came to be: some say they were put up to scare off an Austin serial killer—the Servant Girl Annihilator, who terrorized the town—other rumors suggest they were put up to keep crops growing and chickens laying eggs 24 hours a day.
However, the murders occurred about 10 years before the towers were erected and they had no such impact on crops or poultry. Austin followed a national trend to install the moontowers but more than 100 years later, Austin is the only city in the world with any moon towers remaining.
Austin purchased 31 moonlight towers, also called moontowers, from the Indiana-based Fort Wayne Electric Company in 1895, using electricity from Austin's first power plant on the Colorado River. Detroit, Michigan; New Orleans, Louisiana; San Jose, California and Wabash, Indiana, all had moonlight towers around the same time.
Each tower has a placard describing the history attached. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
They were predecessors to street lights and although the lightbulb was invented in 1879, not even 50% of people had electricity in their homes until around 50 years later. For the first time, residents had the freedom to roam outside their homes after sunset. Moontowers were once an "ingenious lighting system" and emitted a 3,000-foot diameter of light.
The towers' original carbon-arc lamp fittings were exceptionally bright but maintenance-heavy, requiring someone to take an elevator up 165 feet to turn them on every night. The fittings were quickly phased out, replaced by incandescent lamps in the 1920s and then mercury vapor lamps in the 1930s, with switches fitted at the base of the tower.
Only 17 of the original towers remain to this day—15 still sitting in front of their placards and 2 undergoing restoration. They were inducted into the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and are in the process of a $3.9 million restoration project managed by Austin Energy and Preservation Austin. The towers are also protected by local ordinances in the city.
You can find the towers that are still standing here:
Adding to the list of things that make Austin the unique city it is today, residents have been fascinated by the towers even in obsolescence.
Possibly the most well-known moontower sits in Zilker Park and it is enjoyed every year by crowds at the Trail of Lights when it is decorated with 3,159 lights, becoming the Zilker Holiday Tree.
Lovers of 1993 Austin classic "Dazed and Confused" are sure to recognize the "party at the moontower," though the scene was filmed on a set. The tower mentioned in the movie no longer exists. The moontowers even have their own documentary, made by locals Ray Spivey and Jeffrey Kerr, discussing the man who claims to have climbed all the towers (which is not advised) and their history.
Moontower Saloon combines several elements that make Austin what it is: Live music, Hill Country scenery, food trucks and a shared name with an exclusive relic. A few apartments, shopping centers and even ciders also share similar names.
Austin's Moontower Comedy Festival at the Paramount Theatre was launched in 2012 and has since become one of the biggest comedy festivals in the country.
Though not all of the towers remain, seeing them transports visitors back to a different time.
Here are the locations of the towers that are gone forever for being too costly to operate at the time and unuseful once street lamps were put up:
- E. 1st Street and Waller Street
- E. 6th St. and Medina Street
- E. 14th Street and Sabine Street
- E. 14th Street and Sabine Street (SW corner)
- Hawthorne (became either E. 20th or E. 21st) and Longfellow
- Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (formerly called 19th Street) and Lavaca Street
- E. 16th Street and Brazos Street
- E. 2nd Street and Neches Street (Austin Convention Center)
- W. 6th Street and Westlynn Street
- Dean Keeton Street (formerly called 26th Street) and Whitis Avenue
- E. 5th St. and Brazos Street (moved to Leland Street and East Side Drive)
- 29th Street and Lamar Boulevard
- W. 6th Street and Lamar Boulevard
- City Park, renamed Emma Long Metropolitan Park (moved to Zilker Park)
- North end of Granite Dam (near power station and Ben Hur dock)
- Cesar Chavez and Trinity Street (SW corner)
- West 4th and Nueces (SW corner)
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The Austin airport is warning travelers to “pack your patience” as it expects this Memorial Day weekend to be the busiest in airport history.
This weekend will kick off a period of more than 4.8 million passengers passing through Austin-Bergstrom International Airport by the end of summer—contributing to a projected record-breaking year of 22 million passengers at ABIA.
The surge in traffic at the airport comes as ABIA considers itself officially recovered from the pandemic's impact, an airport spokesperson ABIA Public Information Specialist Bailey Grimmett told Austonia. Additionally, the population growth in Central Texas and more service offered from ABIA has meant more people at the airport, she said. However, it has come under fire for increasingly long wait times at TSA and not having enough parking.
Flying soon? Here’s how to prepare for a busy airport this summer.
Arrive hours early for your flight, especially if it's in the morning
Summer travel lines in September 2021. (Austonia)
The busiest passenger traffic days in summer 2021 were Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays and Mondays, according to a release but each day of the week is expected to see increased traffic this summer. Lines tend to be longest before 8 a.m. and sometimes mid-morning hours.
Grimmett told Austonia the average person should arrive at the airport two-and-a-half hours before boarding time for domestic flights or three hours early for international flights. You might want to tack on extra time if…
- You need to park or are returning a rental.
- You’re traveling with a big group, children or those who require assistance.
- You’re checking in baggage.
Familiarize yourself with TSA requirements
The worst thing while traveling is getting stuck in security and having to repack all of your belongings. If you’re traveling with a carry-on of toiletries, medication or food, double-check with TSA.gov if you’re not sure.Security screening checkpoints open at 3 a.m. and Grimmett said don’t hesitate to ask a staff member if you need help. Faster screening is available by applying for TSA PreCheck or Clear screening for an extra fee.
Rather wait for the rush to die down?
Grimmett said to expect near-constant high traffic through August, when students return to school and tourist season ends. The lull is short-lived though—ABIA typically sees another travel uptick in October for events like F1 and ACL Festival.
Once you’re inside, refer to our complete guide to ABIA for a look at the amenities.
By Kali Bramble
Calls for firmer regulation of the dockless scooters, mopeds and e-bikes scattered about the city may hit the desks of City Council in coming months, as a recommendation from the Downtown Commission makes its way to the agenda.
The recommendation proposes stricter requirements for providers to remove devices blocking sidewalks, crosswalks and other rights of way and increase fees for subsequently impounded vehicles. The proposal also calls for implementing a ticketing system for riders who violate municipal traffic code or state law.
Since 2018, the steady influx of electronic scooters has left Austin’s Transportation Department scrambling to integrate the devices into city infrastructure. As of this year, companies Bird, Lime, LINK, and Wheels collectively operate a total of 14,100 micromobility devices, many of which are concentrated in Austin’s urban core.
“I walked out of my office at Sixth and Congress today at noon and counted 65 scooters laying on their side,” Texas Monthly founder Michael Levy said in a public comment. “It looks like a war zone.”
Critics of the exploding scooter market cite incidents of devices blocking pedestrian walkways for days on end. Under the commission’s proposal, improperly discarded devices would be subject to impounding within two hours, with the time limit reduced to one hour in the downtown area. A $100 release fee along with a $5 per day storage fee would go toward investment in infrastructure solutions, such as augmenting the 25 existing parking corrals throughout the city.
Detractors also cite episodes of reckless and inebriated scooter riders as an increasing public health problem. While restrictions like in-app speed reduction technology have sought to mitigate such incidents, emergency room workers anecdotally report an alarming number of scooter-related injuries, especially on weekends. Preliminary data from Austin Public Health supports such claims, though it is still a challenge to quantify.
Micromobility advocates, on the other hand, argue that scooters provide an important service to those navigating Austin’s patchwork public transportation system. The Transportation Department considers such short-distance mobility options another solution in its toolbox to combat the city’s over-reliance on cars.
Still, scooter skeptics wonder if these benefits outweigh consequences. Levy noted that cities like San Diego have responded very differently to the burgeoning industry, instituting strict regulations and penalties that have reduced the presence of scooters without banning them entirely.
The Downtown Commission’s recommendation proposes citations for scooter riders violating municipal parking and traffic laws amounting to $100 for first-time offenders, followed by $250 for subsequent offenses. The proposal would also ban scooter-riding on a number of highly trafficked sidewalks, though these remain unspecified.
The commission hopes such tools could work alongside efforts by the Transportation Department to ramp up enforcement, including the recent establishment of 10 full-time mobility service officer positions charged with regulating scooter use. Increased revenue from licensing fees and ticketing could also serve to finance infrastructure solutions.
“It’s shocking to me that we currently only get around $1 million a year out of these fees,” Commissioner Mike Lavigne said. “I did some rough math … and figure we’ve maybe gotten $6 million since this thing started. It seems to me like we could be getting a whole lot more to invest in making it more sustainable, like more docking stations and corrals, so there’s somewhere for these scooters to go.”