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Congress Avenue: Main Street Texas
Written by Shannon Barrientes / Photo by John R. Rogers
T he Austin capitol building is one of the most visually striking buildings in all of Texas. Built in the late 19th century, it is a fully functioning city center that houses the bi-annual Texas Legislature and the Governor’s offices. It is taller than the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., measuring just over 300 feet in height, and is similar to the United States Capitol in both style and stature. What makes the Texas capitol so thoroughly unique, however, is its breathtaking and rare sunset red granite walls, which were quarried from the nearby Granite Mountain in Marble Falls, Texas.
Be sure to take a tour of the capitol while you are in the area. You can self-guide a tour with pamphlets or join an actual tour group as you move through the grand rooms of the majestic building that centers downtown Austin. Visitors are allowed to freely walk the halls of the capitol until 5:00 p.m. daily. The grounds are park-like and stately, and you should take time to explore the beautiful statues and landscapes that form the area landscape.
Just across the road from the capitol on Congress is exciting downtown life. The first building on Congress is a special one, the Old Bakery & Emporium, which serves as a consignment shop, art gallery, museum, and, most conveniently, a visitor information center. The art gallery is on the third floor and exhibits more than 50 local artists. The museum is noted for containing the Lundberg-Maerki Historical Collection, which should not be missed.
The Old Bakery & Emporium is a registered national landmark and was built in 1876. Although it has been lovingly renovated for structural reasons, the impressively large oven and wooden baker’s spade has been preserved as part of the history of the building. Don’t miss a chance to visit this gorgeous piece of Austin history as you continue down Congress to great shopping and dining.
Just a city block down from the Old Bakery & Emporium is a sight to behold: the legendary Paramount Theater. The theater celebrated its 100th anniversary just last year. Its rich history will astound you – thousands of artists have graced the floor at a premier or upon its historic stage. Wonders like Katharine Hepburn, Lillian Gish and John and Ethel Barrymore have performed here. Modern-day celebrities have been known to visit as well; recent noteworthy celebrities include Ellen DeGeneres, Jack Black and even President Barack Obama. Just across the street is a Texas legend: the Hatbox Haberdashery, one of the last of its kind in the state, let alone downtown Austin. These days, the world’s modern selection of hats is blind conformity or rows of identical look-alikes. Hatbox offers custom styles, expert fittings and unique one-of-a-kind hats. It is well worth a visit to find a hat shop that replicates the type of quality and individuality that was found a century ago and is a rarity in today’s world of mass-produced commerce.
Austin’s passion for music is documented with the walls of Wild About Music, an art and gift gallery dedicated entirely to music. They represent over 100 local, national and international artists and carry thousands gift items all entirely dedicated to, you guessed it, music! For over 20 years, they have brought the spirit of melody to music lovers worldwide. This gallery is museum- like in its quality and selection and is a must-see. A visit through these doors will inspire your next stop: Historic Sixth Street to listen to some live music!