Wildly Austin: Famous and Fun Austin Folk Art
Fabulous Flamingo Flock
Austin's famous flock of flamingoes has been brightening the intersection at Highway 360 and Bee Caves Road since 1989. The colorful gathering began when Pots and Plants owner Pat Swanson placed two birds on the grassy slope in front
of his place and sold them before he could even get back inside. So more flamingoes were put out, followed by others, then still more.
When he was through, Pat had turned ordinary yard art into an Austin landmark.
Most people who drive past appreciate the sheer whimsy of the scene. Even President Bill Clinton had to buy a pair of birds when he was in town. However, there was a point in time when these faux flamingoes were an endangered species.
It could be said that the first battle to keep Austin Weird was fought over those gloriously goofy birds. It seems that at one point the "Fathers of Westlake" considered the birds a blight on the upscale community and sought to have them removed. Other Westlakers were up in arms over the prospect of losing the flock. The battle drew correspondents from AP, UPI, CNN and NPR, and even Jay Leno joked about the brouhaha on the Tonight Show. In the end, the pro-flamingo crowd won and the Pots and Plants lawn became a sanctuary for the beloved birds, reminding us that free spirits still prevail in Austin. Don't forget to look for the penguins that come to the lawn in August, it is reported that they come in an effort to coax the cold fronts in from the North!
Taco GoddessArms raised heavenward, the Taco Goddess seems to be suggesting that salvation awaits within Taco Xpress -- salvation for anyone weary of assembly-line Tex-Mex and yearning for the real deal. Or perhaps she's dancing to the music that frequently rocks the little establishment. Or maybe she just wants to give you a big hug.
If you know owner Maria Scorbalan, all three are possible.
The sculpture is a likeness of Maria doing her best Eva Peron imitation. A former resident of Argentina and Mexico, Maria endured a long, frequently harrowing journey before finding success on South Lamar. She started her taco business in 1996 in a trailer on a lot next to the current restaurant. The tacos were a hit from the start, but word didn't really get out until music was added to the menu, thanks to gratis performances by the likes of Alejandro Escovedo and other local musicians. Today, Taco Xpress is one of the hottest spots in town for Sunday Gospel brunch.
Regulars will tell you it's also one of the friendliest restaurants in town. That fun, feel-good atmosphere is reflected in the frequent changes in the Taco Goddess's garb. Whether she's in a boa, a wedding dress, or a Halloween costume, the lady with the outstretched arms is sending a message: stop here to fill your stomach and warm your soul.
Tough Little Bugger
The Terminix bug has been hanging around Austin more than four decades, making it the oldest landmark art in Austin. For a form of life so widely reviled, it has a large following of fond admirers. It's also had a startlingly profound impact on some people. Take artist Todd Sanders, for instance, who did the latest refurbishing of the bug. The former Houston resident said he was passing through Austin several years ago when he saw the bug and tattooed ladies on the sidewalk, and decided he belonged here.
The beloved bug spent the first 30 years of its life on a pole at the intersection of 12th Street and Lamar Boulevard, where it proved to be a favorite target for fraternities. At first they just tried to ride the pony-size insect. Later, they made several attempts to steal it, and succeeded twice. Then there was the wacky archer who would occasionally shoot the bug with an arrow carrying a note that stated, "Great White Hunter."
The bug was such a fixture at the intersection that it was a shock to the system of long-time residents when Terminix relocated Austin's favorite insect to its new office on Interstate-35.
Sadly, when Terminix later moved to an office park in 2002, the new landlord had no tolerance for six-legged tenants. Rather than exterminate their mascot, nicknamed Willie N. Festus (pronounced will he infest us), Terminix created an essay-writing contest to decide who would be its caretaker. The winner was Threadgill's, the Austin institution dedicated to preserving home-cooked food and pre-disco music. It seems Terminix was impressed with Threadgill's record of taking care of other Austin landmarks, like the sign for Hatties M&M courts, a former brothel on South Congress Avenue.
So all you fans of the Terminix bug can rest easy. Thanks to Threadgill's, Willie will be infesting us for years to come.
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Vikki Loving returned to Austin from Atlanta, Georgia in 2000 and spent Sundays exploring the city with her daughter capturing the quirky landmark art with disposable cameras. She eventually turned these experiences into the first book, Wildly Austin. Availble on Amazon
Gregg Cestaro has lived in Austin for the past five years, and is the photographer for Wildly Austin.