Sixth Street the social hub of Austin

Jeni Obenhaus

The Austin Primer is a new biweekly column that will feature various facets of Austin that locals love most.

Sixth Street is one of the most renowned streets in the nation. Nestled in the heart of the city, Sixth Street has a rich history and, over the decades, has become the social hub of Austin.

Edwin Waller, the signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence and the first mayor of Austin, was the designer of the city’s downtown grid plan.

“Originally, the north-south streets were given the names of Texas rivers in the order in which they appeared on the Texas map. While Waller had recommended numbers for the east-west streets, they were instead given the names of trees,” according to the Pecan Street Festival Web site.

Eventually, numbers replaced the tree-named streets and what had been Pecan Street became today’s Sixth Street.

Sixth Street is a historic street and part of the entertainment district in Austin, with East Sixth Street being the center of the city’s live music scene.

“From jazz, blues and country to rock, hip-hop, beat, progressive, metal, punk and derivations of these, there’s something to wet everyone’s musical palette,” according to http://www.6street.com.

The street is lined with several historic houses and commercial buildings, like the notable Driskill Hotel and the historic Ritz theater, dating from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Many of these buildings now accommodate scores of art galleries, trendy boutiques, comfortable cafes, chic restaurants and, of course, popular bars.

On any given weekend night, as many as 20,000 people pack the nearly half-mile long stretch of road from Congress Avenue to I-35, as reported by News 8 Austin.

“Sixth Street draws an eclectic bunch including endless streams of mostly single UT students, the YUP’s, the burb’s, some interesting street folk and lot’s of out of town visitors,” according to   http://www.6street.com.

East Sixth Street also hosts a variety of events each year, ranging from its annual celebrations of Mardi Gras and Halloween,  South by Southwest, the Republic of Texas Biker Rally, and the Old Pecan Street Festival.

The festival is a free, biannual festival celebrating arts and crafts, as well as fine arts, and it is named in honor of Sixth Street’s original name.

“The show features artisans from all over the United States who display and sell homemade art and craft work,” according to the official festival Web site.

“Festival-goers can find paintings, sculpture, woodwork, candles, jewelry, cowboy hats, home decor, games and other useful and whimsical household items.”

The festival—the largest art festival in all of Central Texas—attracts over 300,000 people per event and generates $43 million in economic impact per year on average.

The event benefits local charities like the Austin Boxer Rescue, Friends of the Planetarium and United Care USA.

It is also the main fundraiser for the Old Pecan Street Association, an organization established to preserve and beautify Sixth Street.

This past weekend, the Old Pecan Street Festival hosted 250 arts and crafts vendors, art and dance classes, musical and performing artists and a scholarship competition. There was even a carnival and petting zoo for children.

For its spring event, the festival boasts that it will implement a self-imposed 75 percent or more waste diversion program in order to help reduce carbon emissions.

The next Old Pecan Street Festival event will be held on May 1-2, 2010.

For more information about Sixth Street, including history and events,  log on to http://www.6street.com.