- 1976, 2017
- Miró Rivera Architects (2017)
- Design Workshop (2017)
- Historic Status:
- Austin Landmark
Republic Square is a one-acre park that anchors the southwest quadrant of downtown Austin. Renovated in 2017, the urban green space is home to amenities including the historic Auction Oaks, pedestrian promenade, shaded seating areas, an 18,000-square-foot event lawn, and a small kiosk containing concessions and restrooms.
Austin’s historic squares date to the city’s earliest days. Texas gained independence from Mexico in 1836, and by 1838 Mirabeau B. Lamar (President of the Republic of Texas) had designated an area called “Waterloo” as the state capital. In 1839, the Texas government named the capital after Stephen F. Austin and commissioned Edwin Waller to draft a plan for the city. Waller selected one square mile between Waller and Shoal creeks and subdivided the area into a 14×14 block grid. Waller reserved four city blocks as civic squares, three of which still remain: Brush Square, Wooldridge Square, and Republic Square.
From the beginning, this location played a vital role in Austin’s establishment. The first auction of city land was held beneath the 300-year-old Auction Oaks (find them surrounded by protective vegetation at the southwest corner of the site). Initially viewed as undesirable due to frequent flooding from the undammed Colorado River, the area around the square became home to Austin’s Mexican community. Referred to as “Mexico,” the neighborhood included three churches, a school, and numerous Mexican-owned homes and businesses (including several that contributed to the birth of Tex-Mex cuisine). Embraced by the Mexican community, the square became known as “Guadalupe Park” and was used for outdoor events, festivals, and everyday activities.
In the early 20th century, the center of Mexican-American life shifted to East Austin—a move that was accelerated by the segregationist Master Plan of 1928, which mandated that government services for non-White citizens be located outside the central district. The following decades witnessed the square’s rapid decline; it was paved over and used as a parking lot from 1950 until the mid-1970s. The square was restored to a park in 1976 as part of the U.S. Bicentennial, and officially dubbed “Republic Square” in honor of the former Republic of Texas.
Recently renovated with an eye toward a more diverse range of uses, Republic Square today is a lush urban retreat shaded by bountiful oaks. The core of the revitalized park is an open and welcoming central lawn surrounded by programmed pockets of space that include public art, flexible seating, connections to the city’s Rapid Bus system, and a small kiosk whose limestone walls play off the nearby Federal Courthouse. The park’s most prominent piece of public art, Blackbird (by local artist Holly Young-Kincannon) reflects the square’s position at the western terminus of the 5th Street Mexican American Heritage Corridor. A weekly farmers’ market activates the space along Fourth Street, while the lawn hosts yoga classes, outdoor movies, and festivals. – Bud Franck