Guy Town
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Guy Town

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Guy Town

Shanties
At the turn of the century, the neighborhood where Austin City Hall currently resides was one of Austin's most notorious neighborhoods, known as "Guy Town," a center for prostitution, gambling and saloons. The rich history of this red light district was explored during the comprehensive archeological studies conducted in the area before construction of the new City Hall building. The studies focused on the downtown area between Guadalupe and Colorado Streets and W. First and Fifth Streets.

Between 1853 and 1876, this area of downtown was a quiet residential neighborhood. In 1876, the International and Great Northern Railroad came to Austin and the tracks ran through downtown on Cypress Street (now known as Third Street), bringing commerce, noise, smoke and traffic to the residential neighborhood. The bustling neighborhood soon attracted gambling, dancing, saloons and brothels and the residents began to move out of the area to quieter locations.

The local authorities, in effect, condoned the activity, for it did not enforce the laws against prostitution, dance halls and drinking establishments, and were often patrons of the establishments themselves. The neighborhood was quickly dubbed “Guy Town” for the guys from the surrounding ranches and farms who frequented the area.

An article in the Jan. 14, 1887 Daily Democratic Statesman reported that there were over 20 poker rooms and it was common knowledge that business in Guy Town flourished when the legislature was in session. Saloons in Guy Town became notoriously rowdy places with frequent shootings, stabbings, loud parties, brawls and several murders.

The City Council attempted to regulate prostitution rather than suppress it, and unsuccessfully proposed motions to declare Guy Town a legal vice district.

By 1890, the lack of enforcement by officials went beyond turning a blind eye or occasionally patronizing the businesses, in fact, many of the civic leaders owned property in the district that had saloons and bordellos in operation. The area was also developing a reputation as a great place to make easy money from visitors flush with money. Land owners began to rent out tiny rooms in dense tenement homes to the hundreds of prostitutes and transient residents living in Guy Town because it became so lucrative for them.

Despite the negative reputation, Guy Town was very unique because the residents and businesses were remarkably integrated in an era of increasing segregation. Businesses in the neighborhood included an ice factory, a church, restaurants, barber shops, a blacksmith, grocers and the lumber company. The business owners were white, African-American, Hispanic, Asian and Jewish, some of which were recent immigrants, former slaves or former slave owners.

When the opposition to Guy Town had become stronger, the City Council passed an ordinance in 1900 to curb prostitution. In 1903, the sheriff closed down all of the gambling houses in Austin, and saloons were forced to remain closed on Sundays. Many civic officials continued to support Guy Town, and it was agreed that it would be unrealistic to enforce total prohibition and best to keep it contained in one area.

As prohibition gained momentum across the nation, clean-up efforts and morality campaigns started to transform Austin’s rough-and-tumble frontier town image. By 1913, community opposition against Guy Town was strong enough to demand strong action, and Mayor Wooldridge resolved to eradicate Guy Town. With the unanimous support of the City Council, Guy Town was officially closed on October 1, 1913 when the police were ordered to lock out the saloons and shut down the houses of prostitution. Most of the residents and working women quickly left the neighborhood, and the ethnic make-up changed dramatically as Hispanic residents started to build a new community in the vacated areas.

Most of the residential shanties were demolished by the 1920s and the Guy Town neighborhood began its transformation into an industrial neighborhood after the Calcasieu Lumber Company and Lone Star Ice Company expanded and the Segovia Tortilla Factory opened at Second and Guadalupe Streets.

Residential properties continued to be demolished over time as more warehouses and commercial buildings were built, and by 1940, almost all of the homes and families were gone.


- Austin City Connection - The Official Web site of the City of Austin


Discography

Currently mixing tracks for their first album to be released in early 2010.

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Bio

In a surviving photograph of Guy Town, the place, three girls in white pinafores pose on a porch. Their expressions are joyfully innocent, and their hoisted hems reveal a peek of stockings that must have pushed the limits in frontier times. Despite its PG-rated name, Guy Town was Austin's red-light district, and the girls in white pinafores were its main attraction.

Though they've worn pinafores in tribute to their namesake, today's Guy Town traffics mainly in "folk and roll" with girl-group kick. These are songs with their country roots showing – Guy Town's credo is "What Would Dolly Do?" – but their vocabulary is notably modern. Julia Parmenter, Evie Gladish, and Lisa Machac harmonize so sweetly, you might not notice they're singing about whiskey, bikes, and boys. The girls' grit is no show: Guy Town's got the dirty fingernails the Shangri-Las fetishized. Julia (lead guitar) makes cowboy boots in Charlie Dunn's legendary shop, Lisa (mandolin) lives in an off-grid cabin she built herself, and Evie (rhythm guitar) runs a CSA out of her own front yard.

Guy Town began as a George Michael cover band called Careless Whispers. They've also taken a turn as the Whisker Ticklers, a faux-moustachioed band for a beard-growing contest. One of their first official gigs as Guy Town involved serenading Austin's Eastside from the bed of a pickup truck, a tradition they repeat every year during East Austin Studio Tour. They've played Hole in the Wall, Room 710, Emo's, and the Cactus Cafe, to name a few. Currently, they are recording an album in Wimberley, Texas.

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