Austin is losing what makes it weird

Memo Hutson

Since arriving to Austin, I have witnessed the deaths of many prolific locations. Classic bars such as Opal Divine’s Freehouse and the Dog and Duck Pub have closed. Now, one the last bastions of the original Drag, the Hole in the Wall, is under the same threat. If we allow places like the HITW to close, it will be another nail in the coffin of Austin’s cultural identity.

With all the controversy surrounding HITW, Wanda Cash, associate director of the School of Journalism, started a petition to establish the venue as a “culturally significant landmark." The fate of the Drag and the quirky charm of Austin are in the hands of the community, according to Cash.

“Do you want it to feel like a unique place when you walk on the street, or do you want it to feel like just another block anywhere in America?” Cash said. “I understand commercial pressures, I understand the value of that dirt on Guadalupe, but at the same time, it might not retain that value if people start to believe that it is Anywhere, U.S.A. The reason it’s valuable is because it’s the Drag — it’s the Drag with all its eccentric little shops owned by eccentric people.”

The controversy over HITW’s conflict with its property owners, the Weitzman Group, has been making headlines over the past few months. Owner Will Tanner has complained that the landowners have been raising rent to exorbitant prices. Meanwhile, Scott Freid of the Weitzman Group claims that they would be glad to keep the HITW but that Tanner has been violating their lease agreements. Neither could be reached for comment.

Regardless of who’s at fault, the dispute over the bar’s location is a microcosm of what’s happening to the Drag as a whole. Local stores such as Manju’s are slowly being replaced with nationwide chains. Do we really want stores like Urban Outfitters to swallow up all of Guadalupe?

The Drag is at risk of becoming just another street littered with restaurants and stores that can be found anywhere in America. The Drag has had a symbiotic relationship with the UT campus for decades, as it has historically occupied an important place in students’ extracurricular lives. If we allow it to be shrouded with corporate monotony, then UT and Austin will lose a crucial part of their character. Monetary gain for its own sake is not worth the cost of losing such cultural and historical institutions.

Hutson is a history senior from El Paso. Follow him on Twitter @MemoHutson.