“On the north stretch rich farming lands that were once illimitable prairies. Westward is a chain of hills which make a beautiful purplish background for the intervening fields in various shades of green and gold.”
—Dr. John Preston, Superintendent, State Asylum (today’s Austin State Hospital, between Guadalupe and Lamar, and south of West 45th Street), describing the land north and west of the hospital, where the Brentwood and Crestview neighborhoods (and Brentwood Park) are today
“The house where I’ve lived the past 40 years is on land where I picked cotton when I was 10 years old — some 80 years ago. Daddy would round up a truckload of kids and go out way past the city limits (then West 45th Street). We’d pick cotton on land owned by two old fellers whose names I don’t remember, but I recognized the area when we moved there. Back then, I could pick 150-200 pounds a day.”
—A neighbor on Vallejo Street, west of Brentwood Park, in the Brentwood neighborhood
The eastern half of Crestview and most of Brentwood were annexed by the City of Austin, except for north of Koenig Lane and west of Arroyo Seco, which included the land that would become Brentwood Park.
“I remember when most streets—including Burnet Road and Woodrow—weren’t paved. Cornfields across from [Brentwood Elementary School, which opened in the early 1950s, before Brentwood Park was developed just to the north]. Many bluebonnets and sunflowers.”
One neighbor, Mae Waggoner, moved to her home on Justin Lane on March 6, 1950. It was a bitterly cold day. Several homes on the block, including the Waggoners’, had no heat. Mae and her husband “lit a fire” under the responsible parties, and they all soon were snug and warm in their new homes. After settling in, Mae and her husband focused their energies on raising their two children and later improving Brentwood Park, which would soon be developed behind their house, to the south.
Brentwood Park, once a cornfield between Brentwood Elementary and the homes on Justin Lane, was acquired by the City of Austin, and Brentwood Elementary School opened.
There were few trees in the new park—only a few hackberry and walnut. Neighbors formed the Brentwood Recreation Club to help develop and maintain the school and the park grounds adjacent to the school on the north.
The city had no money for trees but offered to dig holes for them. While picnicking and fishing with a cousin along Onion Creek, Mae and her husband saw that the sycamore trees lining it were thick, practically choking it. They could have all the sycamores they wanted to plant in the park. On March 15, club members and the City of Austin planted 48 trees at the park.
Fifteen members of the Brentwood Recreation Club met to plan a May festival, which helped raise funds for playground equipment.
The Brentwood Recreation Club helped build the stage at Brentwood Elementary School. At the time, Harold Ingersol was president of the club. According to several older neighbors, there also was a bomb shelter built under the stage, which was common during the Cold War years.
In February, the Brentwood Recreation Club and the PTA held their annual planting of trees and shrubs on the school grounds and playground. Everyone was invited to:
“Bring your garden tools, and let’s make our school and park one of the most beautiful in town!”
For the first ten years there was a summer park director and planned activities, Mae Waggoner said. The school and park shared the grounds and the gym. Mae remembers regular potluck dinners in the summer, with volleyball games and horseshoe competitions.
In the winter there were dances in the school gym. “The Schlessingers were beautiful dancers—the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of the neighborhood,” Mae said. They shared their talents by giving impromptu lessons in the waltz or the two-step to anyone who wanted to learn.
Over the Years
Mae Waggoner has visited the park, meeting neighbors old and new and helping care for the trees for many years. She also attended the Violet Crown Festival when it was held in Brentwood Park. A night of thunderstorms preceded the 2006 festival, and the ground was saturated the next morning. As volunteers worked to fill in puddles and soggy spots, Mae walked up and offered bags of mulch from her garage.
Friends of Brentwood Park, a volunteer organization, was founded during the sweltering hot summer of 2009 and dedicated both to keeping the park maintained and to continuing its development as a community resource. Since then, friends and neighbors have rallied around the cause with much support in the form of volunteer labor at work days and financial support for projects.
Friends of Brentwood Park coordinated a historic planting of 100 trees in the park, held on November 6. In addition, neighbors contributed funds and helped plant 15 dedicated trees. (You can view the film about the event, We Planted 115 Trees, and a separate video clip about the dedications here.) Since 2010, three park benches also have been placed in memory of special family neighbors, neighbors, and friends. (Read more about “Neighbors Remembered in Brentwood Park” here.)
FOBP completed a neighborhood survey and park master plan in 2011. (Read more about the master plan here.)
As a result, FOBP coordinated and raised funds for a new park pavilion, dedicated May 5, 2012, and a new walking trail, completed in Summer 2013. FOBP also helped coordinate the installation and maintenance of a purple martin house in the park. Projects completed in 2014 include a new stainless steel drinking fountain (with a separate pet fountain), new backstop fencing, and six new benches for the park.
Brentwood Park is a mix of original and newer trees, flowers, and other plantings, and FOBP volunteers continue to care for them and for other areas of the park, including the purple martin house. They also participate each year in the city’s It’s My Park Day, now held in the spring and fall. Find out how you can help here.
And, plans are underway for improvements to playground equipment in the park. More about that project here.
— Susan Burneson
Sources include From Abercrombie to the Violet Crown (a history of Brentwood, Crestview, and other parts of Central Austin) and the website violetcrownvoices.com.