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Music Lane Now and Then

Austin's Stylish Soul

Article by Jeff Nash & Mary Kaye Stuart

Photography by Dewey Mears, Cristina Fisher, Erika Rich, Nick Simonite

Originally published in East Austin Lifestyle

To the casual observer strolling down South Congress and across Music Lane most have no idea they’re walking past the birthplace of what was to become the Austin music scene as we know it. Music Lane IS and WAS a street just east of South Congress Avenue off Academy Drive.  Today Music Lane dissects Endeavor Real Estate Group’s fabulous redevelopment of the same name.

Flashback to the mid 50’s. Austin was abuzz about the newly built Terrace Motor Hotel, complete with a swimming pool. Who knew the ball room of this storied hotel would evolve into the Austin Opry House? Today, Music Lane IS home to the Bunkhouse Group’s latest gem, Hotel Magdalena.  Named for Mary Magdalene, Hotel Magdalena’s four spectacular buildings meander around an oasis like pool that, were you dropped in from anywhere, you’d have no idea where you were.  It’s that secluded and that beautiful.

Hotel Magdalena was designed by San Antonio based architects Lake/Flato who also designed the new Austin Central Library on Cesar Chavez.  Uniquely private, Soho House has opened its third US house on Music Lane, after its initial entries in New York’s Meatpacking District and West Hollywood in LA.   Music Lane IS also home to Aba Austin, the second incarnation of the famous Chicago based Mediterranean Restaurant with 85 percent of its seating “outdoors” designed around a massive old oak tree. Music Lane IS an exclusive shopping destination including such iconic retailers as Lululemon, Neighborhood Goods, Gorjana, Alice and Olivia, FRAME, the first brick and mortar presence of extraordinary Austin based jewelry designer Nak Armstrong, and soon, Hermes’. 

Now for a little history on what Music Lane WAS.  In 1951, the Terrace Motor Hotel spread across two hill tops on either side of Academy Drive, including the current site of Music Lane the development.  At its opening the Terrace was a glitzy example of mid-century modern architecture that eventually grew to 366 rooms and suites, a restaurant, night club and convention center/ballroom.  The night club and ballroom drew most of Austin’s then local celebrities and hosted some of the most famous entertainers of the time. 

In 1974 the former Terrace ballroom was recreated as the short-lived Texas Opry House, and although its run was short, The Texas Opry House was where Waylon Jennings produced his epochal live recording of “Bob Wills is Still the King.” Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers were also regular players. Ironically during this short window of time this writer passed on seeing a “new” band called the Eagles because of a $5 cover charge.

In 1977, after a disagreement with management at the Armadillo World Headquarters, Willie Nelson bought the property changing the name to the Austin Opry House. Under the management of long-time promoter Tim O’Connor, the venue operated for 10 years.  In addition to Willie, Waylon and of course, the Eagles, the Opry House, as it was affectionately called during both iterations, hosted the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughn, George Jones, Lou Reed, Neil Young, James Brown, BW Stevenson, and Jerry Jeff Walker. For the grand opening on June 28, 1977, Austin was treated to a Willie extravaganza playing every night for a solid week.

South Congress Avenue was back in those days was not what it is today. But you knew when you walked through the doors of the Opry House magic could happen. Seeing Stevie Ray Vaughn play otherworldly licks on his guitar on that stage is an experience that is hard to match to this day. The Arlyn recording studios on the site are still in operation today.

From the early Terrace days through the Opry House venues to today’s extraordinary redevelopment into Hotel Magdalena and the other spectacular living, eating and retail destinations, Music Lane WAS and IS an iconic experience for visitors and Austinites alike. This gem of property on South Congress has always been the stylish soul of our city.

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