Visions of Rainey Street

Ensconced in a frothy, white wedding gown, Mary Mendez Ybarra looks serenely past the camera. She’s sitting next to her new husband, Robert Ybarra, who instead gazes right into the camera’s lens, bearing a shy smile. Both look like kids caught in the middle of a church sermon – which is to say, a little bored – politely waiting everybody out until they can get on with the fun.

MARY & ROBERT YBARRA INSIDE 97 RAINEY STREET ON THEIR WEDDING DAY IN 1968.

MARY & ROBERT YBARRA INSIDE 97 RAINEY STREET ON THEIR WEDDING DAY IN 1968.

DIONICIA AND ELIAS MENDEZ RAISED NINE CHILDREN AND TOOK IN SEVERAL OTHERS AT THEIR HOME BEFORE IT WAS LUSTRE PEARL.

DIONICIA AND ELIAS MENDEZ RAISED NINE CHILDREN AND TOOK IN SEVERAL OTHERS AT THEIR HOME BEFORE IT WAS LUSTRE PEARL.

The two are sitting in the living room of Mary’s mother’s house, and in fact, it’s where a lot of us have had fun. It’s the house that became Lustre Pearl.

Mary’s parents, Dionicia and Elias Mendez, bought the house in the 1940s, but the Rainey Street neighborhood was established much earlier than that. A cattle baron named J.L. (“Jesse”) Driskill and a Confederate Army vet, Frank Rainey, founded the neighborhood in 1884. Most of the homes still standing were originally built between 1885 and 1937, and on some porches, you can still make out the intricate wood trim that bears their historicity. It was the turn of the century, and white families snatched up the new houses as fast as they could, only to abandon them just a few decades later for the suburbs. Think of it as the 1920’s version of white flight.

The neighborhood eventually evolved into a Mexican-American enclave, and as recently as 1999, you could buy a home there for $50,000 (take a moment to let that sink in). But 1999 was also the year that a large question mark began to loom over Rainey Street, a historic – albeit deteriorating – neighborhood caught in the crosshairs of a fast-developing Austin. At the turn of that century, the city wanted to know: what would become of it?

Historic preservationists, condo developers, and longtime residents all had designs for Rainey Street, whose property values began to skyrocket even while the many of the homes were falling apart. In the end, it was rezoned in 2004 as part of Austin’s central business district, opening the doors for entrepreneurs like Bridget Dunlap to make their mark: she opened Lustre Pearl in 2009, signaling a new chapter for the neighborhood.

ONE DEVELOPER'S VISION FOR RAINEY STREET INCLUDED ROW-STYLE HOMES NOT DISSIMILAR FROM THOSE ALONG THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO.

ONE DEVELOPER’S VISION FOR RAINEY STREET INCLUDED ROW-STYLE HOMES NOT DISSIMILAR FROM THOSE ALONG THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO.

YET ANOTHER CONCEPT DEPICTS RAINEY STREET AS A PEDESTRIAN-FRIENDLY DEVELOPMENT WITH AN EXPANSIVE PLAZA AND CENTRAL FOUNTAIN.

YET ANOTHER CONCEPT DEPICTS RAINEY STREET AS A PEDESTRIAN-FRIENDLY DEVELOPMENT WITH AN EXPANSIVE PLAZA AND CENTRAL FOUNTAIN.

Five years later, in March of this year, Dunlap sold the property to make way for even more business development – condos – and in her Citygram exclusive essay, she talks to us about her Rainey journey.


Writing: Tolly Moseley


This article originally published in The Balance Issue of Citygram Austin Magazine [May/June 2014].
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