Norman Scales Jr. says he doesn't care whether you're "black, white, blue, brown or gray," he wants to get to know you if you live in Rogers Washington Holy Cross Heights—the East Austin neighborhood he lives in, went to school, started to play jazz and learned the meaning of the word 'segregation.'
You can often catch Scales, a 75-year-old second-generation resident of the neighborhood, sitting on his porch. Walking by, he might let you in for a glass of water while you "sit a spell" and have a conversation.
"Some people laugh about it, whatever, but we strive to keep this neighborhood. Rogers Washington Holy Cross Heights was a fight to get here," Scales said. "We took care of our own and the houses, our parents built what they could with the money they had."
Norman Scales Sr. was Austin's first Black fighter pilot. (Austin Parks and Recreation)
Scales followed in the footsteps of his father and became a pilot. Norman Scales Sr., was a Tuskegee Airman and Austin's first Black fighter pilot. History is important to Scales, which is precisely why he wants to preserve the neighborhood.
Norman Scales' house was built in 1958 and he plans to pass it on to his daughter. (Preservation Austin.)
The neighborhood, which is located off of Manor Road between Chestnut and Walnut Ave., was designated as a historic district in September 2020, the first in Austin to commemorate the history of a primarily Black neighborhood. The homes of the historic area were featured for the first time in this year's annual Homes Tour, put on by Preservation Austin.
Usually in person but held virtually this year due to the pandemic, the Homes Tour is an annual event that has been showcasing "our community's diverse heritage and incredible neighborhoods every spring" for the past 40 years. Proceeds from the tour benefit advocacy efforts of Preservation Austin.
"East Austin is undergoing, I think the most rapid redevelopment in the city and has been for some time now, and that's where historically our African American and Mexican and Mexican American communities were segregated," said Lindsey Derrington, Preservation Austin executive director. "New development is rapidly taking over neighborhoods, raising property values. We've got these giant homes going up next to post-war houses, raising property values and it's really problematic and it's just causing a lot of folks to move out of East Austin."
Houses in the Rogers Washington Holy Cross historic district were built there by Austin's Black residents during the Jim Crow era, mostly in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Most of the residents have been there for decades and almost all of them know each other.
Integrating in a segregated world
Lavon Marshall grew up in East Austin on Washington Avenue. As an adult, Marshall, her husband and her children moved to Georgia at the beginning of racial integration in 1957 and her children attended an integrated school as first and second graders. Marshall was "promised that we would have no problems" by the school's principal, and outside of a small, resolved incident, her children integrated fairly seamlessly.
Lavon Marshall moved her family into a new house her parents built in Rogers Washington Holy Cross. It only cost $15,000 to build back in 1959. (Preservation Austin)
It was a different story when Marshall's family returned to Austin to live in her parents' newly built home in 1966. Austin schools were not fully integrated until 1971—17 years after the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.
"When they started to go to Blackshear Elementary, it was still segregated. They didn't become integrated until they closed Kealing (Middle School) and Anderson (High School)," Marshall said. "(After integration) there were bomb threats for the buses. There were fights. My husband and I spent, I'm sure, a third of our time going to either of the schools to quell threats."
Lavon Marshall was born and raised in East Austin. (Courtesy of Lavon Marshall)
It was the first Black principal of Anderson Hill School and the Marshall family's neighbor, Dr. Charles Akins, who drove their kids to school to their extracurriculars and pushed Black kids to succeed in an integrated school.
After a tough day at school, the kids would go home to being surrounded by friends. "Being in Rogers Washington Holy Cross, you knew you had friends. Everybody knew everybody in the neighborhood," Marshall said.
Preserving Rogers Washington Holy Cross Heights
After growing up and watching the neighborhood change, Scales and Marshall said they find it painful to see "McMansions" popping up and people moving into an area where just 20 years ago, "white people were taught that everything bad happened."
With the new historical designation, developers will have a harder time building in the neighborhood and asking homeowners to sell their homes, due to the "exceptional value" an area has in history. It's welcome news to the neighborhood that doesn't want to see any neighbors forced out.
"I listen to the people who come in here that are more affluent, or make more money than most of us do, and the first thing they want to do is change it, but they don't know the history and what these people went through," Scales said. "It represents something that can't be duplicated."
One of the homes featured in the Preservation Austin Homes Tour. (Preservation Austin)
There is still time to see all of the houses put forth in Preservation Austin's Homes Tour. Ticket sales will reopen for two weeks starting this Thursday until July 8.
"They're not gonna see something that's overly architectural here but you will see that this was a house of a person who served your country, no matter the color of your skin, and it's a place that says, 'look at this house, this is a house where people are welcome, no matter your ethnicity," Scales said.
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Texas Longhorns linebacker Jake Ehlingers' death this spring was the result of an accidental drug overdose, according to a statement by the late student's family.
According to the statement, the 20-year-old University of Texas student and Westlake High grad overdosed on pills believed to be Xanax laced with Fentanyl, an often-deadly combo that has resulted in thousands of accidental fatalities nationwide.
Ehlinger was found dead off campus May 6 in a tragedy that shook the Austin and UT community, as well as Ehlinger's family, including his brother, former UT quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who now plays for the NFL's Indianapolis Colts.
An honorable mention All-State player and district defensive MVP while in high school, Ehlinger followed in his brother's footsteps and continued his football career as a walk-on at UT. He was also a sophomore in finance, a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and a member of the Texas Silver Spurs, a student organization that cares for beloved mascot Bevo the Longhorn.
Counterfeit Xanax pills have caused an increasing number of fatalities in the area with 1,000 deaths related to synthetic opioids in the state in 2020. Drug dealers have begun stuffing fentanyl, an opiod that the DEA said can be up to 60 times more deadly than heroin, into pills resembling the prescription anti-anxiety medication and selling them to unwitting customers.
"The spread of counterfeit pills is an ongoing and significant issue throughout our country, particularly in schools, colleges and universities," the the Ehlinger family said in a statement. "As our family continues to process Jake's death, we felt it was important to share these details with the hope that Jake will not have died in vain. We pray that sharing Jake's story will help shed light on this problem and prevent other families from also tragically losing a loved one."
To combat the surge of deaths, Austin police now have access to a supply of Narcan, a drug that can combat the effects of an opiod overdose. Though it's not mandatory, APD officers can now check out supplies of the drug when responding to calls. The department had almost completed training on the drug by June, according to a KXAN report.
"You can talk to a number of families that have had family members die because of opioid overdoses and if this was an option to help their loved one or save their loved one, I'm sure that every single one of them would tell you that it was incredibly important that we now have this incredible tool in our tool belt," Assistant Chief Scott Perry said in the report.
Ehlinger is remembered by his brother, Sam, his mother Jena, his sister Morgen and the University of Texas community. Ehlinger's father, Ross, died of an apparent heart attack while swimming in a triathlon in 2013.
"(Jake) was his dad's little buddy, and they shared an unbreakable bond," Jake's obituary read. "His father's spirit was alive and well in every part of Jake's life. Tragic life circumstances created a unique opportunity for Sam and Jake to uplift and empower each other. They were each other's biggest fans. Their mother, Jena, as well as their sister, Morgen, were the loves of Jake's life. Everyone will miss his giant hugs, but no one more than Jena and Morgen."
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Eight of the world's best Brazilian jiu-jitsu athletes flew into Austin in September to be in the new hub for the sport. But after over a decade of fighting together, they'll no longer be under the same name.
The legendary Danaher Death Squad, which started in 2007 and was led by black belt John Danaher, made a highly-publicized split in late July while in Puerto Rico, with Danaher, legend Gordon Ryan and teammate Gary Tonon announcing the aptly-titled "New Wave Jiu Jitsu" as their new studio to open soon in Austin.
Missing from the new roster were former teammates Craig Jones, Ethan Crelinstein, Nick Rodriguez and even Ryan's younger brother, Nicky Ryan. The new crew announced that day that they would also be forming a new studio with the tongue-in-cheek title "B Team Jiu Jitsu."
Jiu jitsu greats Craig Jones (left) and Gordon Ryan have opened rival studios in Austin.
Both teams chose to move to Austin, a hotbed for the sport that the B Team's Seth Belisle said is becoming a "mecca for jiu-jitsu." With plenty of renowned studios, jiu-jitsu enthusiasts like Joe Rogan coming into town and the presence of Flo Grappling, the sport's premier media outlet, Belisle said there's now "more jiu-jitsu here than anywhere in the world."
While Belisle, an Austin native, handles the business side for the crew, the team's coaching is headed by Jones, a leopard-print wearing Aussie who has been known to sport assless chaps and places importance on the lighter side of things (the studio advertises that they train "Mexican ground karate," a name they created for jiu-jitsu).
Rumors abound about the famed fighters' breakup, including money issues in the Ryan family or a well-rehearsed PR stunt, but Jones told Austonia that the split of the Death Squad simply comes down to personal differences between the fighters.
"It wasn't an amicable breakup at all," Jones said. "What Gordan represents is quite controversial... I would say there would be no line he wouldn't cross to promote a grappling match. So in that sense, we're sort of focused on a different, more positive sort of vibe."
B Team and New Wave alike are opening at a critical time for jiu-jitsu, as the sport slowly becomes a household name. Now, top fighters can make a living from their sport while still maintaining a much lower profile than MMA fighters or boxers.
That name recognition and B Team's positive attitude drew in droves of new trainees, with many opting to move to Austin solely to train at B Team.
"Jiu-jitsu is a relatively new sport," Belisle said. "If you love basketball, it's impossible for you to say, 'I'm going to go play with LeBron James and learn from him this weekend... in jiu-jitsu, that's possible. You have access to the stars of the sport because it hasn't really blown up yet. It's something special."
After an open house that saw over 150 athletes show up, the team realized they needed to become more exclusive. Now, the studio trains only the "Olympians" of the sport, something that sets them apart from other local studios. They also frequently bring in celebrities of the sport for training sessions, including famed female fighter Ffion Eira Davies.
"We're obviously a new gym, but we're probably some of the best guys in the world," Jones said.
Meanwhile, New Wave is training at the famed Renzo Gracie Studio, Danaher's former trainer, as they wait for a new studio.
Will the world's two best teams soon have showdowns in the Texas capital?
While it's unclear whether or not things will get personal (no brother vs. brother matchup is on the horizon), trainees under each studio went head-to-head for the first time Wednesday as New Wave's Gordon Ryan announced his first match out of semi-retirement. Ryan, often lauded as the best grappler in the world, forced UFC fighter Phillip Rowe to submit four times in the 15-minute friendly exhibition match at Austin's Palmer Events Center.
But Rowe, who was first a jiu-jitsu athlete before switching to UFC, said he didn't know about the beef and was just looking to train under his favorite athletes, Jones and Rodriguez.
He competed for a few reasons—including a break from UFC and a chance to give BJJ a bigger name—but he mostly came into town for the fun of it. Ryan and Rowe talked often prior to the meet, with Rowe gifting Ryan a Bumpboxx, or decorated boombox, in honor of Ryans' father. The respect was mutual—Ryan shouted out Rowe after the match for coming out with a broken hand and the death of some loved ones a week prior.
The match was the first indirect competition between the two gyms. Jones said they won't be training with the goal of fighting any of their former New Wave compadres.
"I don't know what's going to happen ultimately," Jones said. "Because obviously, we're not friendly as it is right now, but I mean. I wouldn't go so far as to train someone that was going to compete against them directly."
But with B Team fighters like Nick Rodriguez expressing their interest in fighting in the future and both gyms training for the WNO Championships in 2022, it's almost inevitable that the former teammates will find themselves on either side of the mat sooner or later.
"'I'd be lying if I said that every day since I started jiu-jitsu my goal is to beat Gordon. I'd be lying if I was saying that isn't true," Rodriguez told the Jason Chambers podcast. "My goal is to be the best grappler in the world and nothing less. That's an old teammate that I have to go through to knock him out and get to the top, then that's fine with me."
Atop one of Austin's signature rolling hilltops, 1501 Ridgecrest Drive is similar to one of the plush palaces that one might find in Calabasas. For $10.9 million, the home has four bedrooms, four-and-a-half bathrooms and caps at 10,498 square feet.
Park in the massive, fully air-conditioned garage before walking in, where you'll have eight full spaces to park your collection of cars. If you're not a collector, the garage makes an excellent studio space.
The wide-open living spaces will draw your eyes to the two-story ceilings, glass catwalk, integrated fireplace and wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the pool.
Though the house was built in 2011, it doesn't show its age. Sleek, clean lines lead seamlessly from the formal living area to an elite open-plan kitchen. Separated by a 25-foot waterfall island that can seat at least eight people, the kitchen is fitted with only the finest Miele and Subzero appliances. The custom cabinets are just as pricey as the rest of the place, finished with custom high-gloss Aston Martin (you read that right) paint.
Upstairs in the sprawling master's suite, there are enough amenities to never have to set foot outside again. Armani tile floors, space for living and a walk-in showcase closet lead into the resort-style bathroom, where you'll find dual vanities, a walk-in shower and a lounging bathtub.
The bedroom is a quick elevator trip away from the "party" room, complete with a bar, wine room and movie theater, only the best for entertaining. If your guests are staying over, rest assured they'll be comfortable with the kitchenette, washer and dryer and spa-like bath in their suite.
Though summer has passed, you can still enjoy the grand lap pool's unobstructed Hill Country views, many private lounging areas, grill a homemade snack at the outdoor kitchen or shoot some hoops at the newly-added court.
The listing is held by Compass' Gary Dolch.
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