Amid gentrification buzz, an East Austin neighborhood celebrates its collaborative spirit


Austin's East End neighborhood. Photo by Frank Mills There is perhaps no better example of how old East Austin mingles with new than East 11th Street. Once past I-35, the neighborhood entrance is flanked by Franklin Barbecue and a row of tony condominiums. A little further down and the Historic Victory Grill and Kenny Dorham's Backyard greet you on one side, while Take Heart gift shop and Blue Dahlia Cafe say hello on the other. The newly revamped J&J Spirits nestles up to The Longbranch Inn. And as you reach the Texas State Cemetery, you'll find locally owned shops operating out of the ground floor of a mixed-use development, the newest incarnation of the Quickie Pickie, East End Wines and Hillside Farmacy.

In a part of the city that so often serves as a microcosm for Austin gentrification, a story often tinged with anger and resentment, the East End neighborhood comes together once a month not to bemoan the changing landscape, but to celebrate and collaborate.

The East End neighborhood comes together once a month not to bemoan the changing landscape, but to celebrate and collaborate.

With this collaborative spirit in mind, the June 27 East End Fourth Friday is hosting a series of events celebrating both the old and the new. Part of Austin's IBIZ network, the evening is a chance for neighbors to gather and for all Austinites to support the local, independent businesses that serve as the beating economic heart of this boulevard.

At Tiny Taiga (1200 E. 11th St. Ste. 106), local photographer and artist Rama Tiru will sign copies of her 2010 book Austin East of I-35. Tiru spent months documenting the east side, a place she's always felt drawn to. "When I came here 18 years ago, I was told not to go to the east side. But when someone tells me not to do something, I do it," Tiru says laughing.

"Before [this project], I had been capturing small towns of Texas. I always feel history should be preserved, and [in 2010] I felt that this was time I should capture this." Tiru didn't want to focus on the narrative of gangs, drugs or gentrification, a story she says gets told enough, but instead on the people. And so she spent time capturing the portraits, architecture, history and stories of the city east of the interstate. With a grant from the City of Austin, Tiru was able to publish her book using only Austin-based companies for production. 

Though it's been only four years since Tiru published her book, the images still capture days gone by, featuring people and places that have already said farewell to the east side. One such place in danger of leaving is Kenny Dorham's Backyard. This Fourth Friday marks the first since news broke that Kenny Dorham's Backyard, an outdoor event space on East 11th run by nonprofit DiverseArts, could be shuttered by the City of Austin.

Citing complaints about the aesthetics of the event space and event compliance, the Urban Renewal Board threatened to terminate the Backyard's lease with the city. After a standing-room only meeting on June 16, the URB voted to extend the contract until September, giving DiverseArts and founder Harold McMillan three months to get the space in shape. Since then, DiverseArts has launched a call to action asking for volunteers for everything from gardening to event production, as well as an Indiegogo campaign to help raise funds.

"Just so you know, I'm feeling good about all of this," McMillan said on Facebook. "Lots of active love going on up in here."

On June 27, the Backyard will play host to a night of music beginning at 7 pm for a suggested donation of $5. Kids can enjoy free pizza from East Side Pies while adults can BYOB (but no glass, please!). The lineup has not yet been announced, but click here for more information.

And these aren't the only two local businesses celebrating the neighborhood. Enjoy free yoga from Eastside Yoga at 6 pm, throw your name in a lottery for a free tattoo from Hub Tattoo, and get food and drink specials from Hillside Farmacy, East End Wines, Quickie Pickie, Mijo's Tex Mex Cantina, Sagra, Tony's Jamaican, Blue Dahlia and the Historic Victory Grill. With wedding season upon us, get a jump on gift buying (or just say screw it and get yourself something nice) with deals at Take Heart, Olive, Tiny Taiga and artisan pop-up shops up and down the street.


East End Fourth Friday is held on the fourth Friday of every month from 5 pm -9 pm. For a full list of participating vendors, please visit Austin's IBIZ website.