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History of Symphony Square

Symphony Square was planned as a southeastward extension of Waterloo Park on both sides of East 11th Street east of Red River Street starting in 1971. The “cornerstone of Waterloo Park,” redesigned to serve as the headquarters of the Austin Symphony Orchestra, the complex was formed by three historic buildings: the Jeremiah Hamilton House, the New Orleans Club, the William P. Hardeman House, and the Michael Doyle House (11th Door Tavern) (fig. 6‐23).  

The project included moving the New Orleans Club and Hardeman House from their previous locations to form a square behind the Hamilton House and erecting a stage and amphitheater in the square. 

In 1974, the Austin Symphony Orchestra Society entered an agreement to lease the property and cluster of historic buildings from the City of Austin for a term of 50 years. When Symphony Square first opened, the Hamilton building was earmarked as the main administration and ticket box office, the Doyle House for use as the Symphony’s youth activities, and the old New Orleans club as an “Early Texas general store” selling crafts by local artists in the square. Symphony Square’s completion and grand opening were celebrated during a week of festivities in early April 1978. “Symphony Week in Austin” included an opening luncheon and tour attended by various dignitaries as well as concerts and performances by diverse musical groups at Symphony Square, Waterloo Park, and Municipal Auditorium. The week culminated with the Waterloo Music Festival—a two‐day crafts and music festival that served as the Austin Symphony’s annual spring fundraiser; Willie Nelson headlined the festival. 

From its establishment and under the leadership of Jane Dunn Sibley, former head of the symphony’s board of directors for whom the complex is now named, Symphony Square became an important venue for live music and other outdoor performances. In the early 1980s, Symphony Square hosted an Easter “Eggstravaganza” and weekly summer concerts such as the Classical Sunset Series, the Catch a Rising Star program featuring “Austin’s best bands,” and the Friday Series. From the 1980s, Austin Symphony hosted Children’s Day Art Park on Wednesdays in June and July until the new Austin Public Library opened in 2018.  

In January 2017, the City of Austin agreed to split the lease for Symphony Square, dividing it between the Austin Symphony Orchestra Society and Waterloo Greenway. In November 2018, a portion of Symphony Square north of Waller Creek (Hardeman House and New Orleans Club) became the Waterloo Greenway headquarters after a four-month restoration of the square, designed by architectural and interior design firm Page and landscape architecture firm .dwg. 

Symphony Square Buildings
The development of Symphony Square commenced in 1971. The following historic buildings were relocated to the area surrounding the Jeremiah Hamilton House to serve as a cultural arts center. 

William P. Hardeman House (originally located at 401 East 16th Street) 
The former residence was built in the 1850s. When moved to Symphony Square, the house was placed over a newly dug basement. Austin architect Girard Kinney recalls that the location for the basement was excavated, the concrete structure built, and re‐filled. After the Hardeman House was moved and laid on top of the new basement, the fill was dug back out. The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1976. A pavilion was added in the 1970s. Tex‐Mex restaurant Serrano’s operated in the building from 1987 to 2015. It will now house the Waller Creek Conservancy offices. 

Jeremiah Hamilton Residence 
The house was built in 1871 by Jeremiah Hamilton, a formerly enslaved African American man who served as a Reconstruction‐era state representative from 1869–1871; he was the first black man to serve in the Texas Legislature. Hamilton possibly built the unique, three‐walled limestone building where he operated a grocery store.  

Italian carriage maker and ice manufacturer Michael Paggi owned the property from 1873 to 1881. Over the years, a number of families owned the property; the Kingsberrys sold it to the City of Austin in the 1960s. The Hamilton building will retain its function as home to the Austin Symphony Orchestra. 

New Orleans Mercantile Club (originally located at 1123–1125 Red River Street) 
This building was constructed along Red River Street in the late 1870s where it initially served as the home and grocery store of coal dealer Charles J. Wilson until 1907. In the 1910s and 1920s, it was occupied by a series of groceries and saloons. From 1927, the building housed the Acme Class Company, two different wholesale florists, and a pet shop. The New Orleans Club opened in the 1950s. During Symphony Square’s planning, the Urban Renewal Agency decided to save the building, but—despite efforts by musician Doris Miller, club operator Dr. Byron Smith, and property owner Reuben Kogut—not the nightclub. The agency’s director Leon Lurie said that the “beer joint” did not fit in with plans for the area. For some time, the building housed the Serrano’s party room. It will now serve as additional space for Waller Creek Conservancy’s community events and rental opportunities. 

Home of Waterloo Greenway
The restoration was completed in November 2018, led by Waterloo Greenway Conservancy, with builders Formed LLC, designs by architectural and interior design firm Page, and landscape architects DWG. As part of the project, we completed a comprehensive interior restoration of three buildings: New Orleans Club, Pavilion, and Hardeman House. Site-wide accessibility upgrades were added including an entrance lift, 3500 square-foot deck spanning the site, and indoor/outdoor A/V capabilities.

The site debuted to the public in fall 2018 with Creek Show, receiving over 50,000 visitors. Having a permanent home with space for special events, including a beautiful 350-person capacity outdoor amphitheater, now enables us to serve our community through exciting programs that educate about Waller Creek and our future parks. This is the first time WCC staff is officing on the creek, representing a huge milestone for long-term operations and the added ability to monitor daily creek conditions. Read coverage in the Austin American-Statesman and Culture Map.

Funding has been provided to Waterloo Greenway Conservancy from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act of 2021.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.