When Austin’s Americana Theatre held its gala opening in 1965 with a premiere of The Rounders, starring Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda as aging cowboys, its builder pitched his single-screen theater as “The Showcase of Austin, featuring beautiful lobby, AirFlo rocking chair loge seats, and exotic ladies’ lounge.” Its movie lifespan was short: it closed in 1988.
Americana owner Earl Podolnick, a Texas movie mogul, probably never envisioned his 1000-seat “showcase” as a backdrop for a 1993 Richard Linklater film, Dazed and Confused, complete with mustard-and-ketchup-squirting cheerleaders. Nor would he have anticipated its adaptive reuse in 1999 as the Yarborough Branch Library, where stories are now told in a written, not film, format.
Who Was Ralph W. Yarborough? The retro theatre-turned-library is called the Ralph W. Yarborough Branch, for “The People’s Senator.” Yarborough was a populist Texan politician who became legendary in the 1950s-1960s, and died in 1996.
Fifty years after President John F. Kennedy’s death, one of Yarborough’s most fascinating contributions to history remains his role as a witness to the assassination, accompanying Vice President Lyndon Johnson in the second car following the presidential limousine. In “The Witnesses: Sen. Ralph W. Yarborough,” a video of his recollections, Yarborough’s emotion is evident when he recalls Jackie Kennedy repeating ‘They’ve murdered my husband.’ “It was he most tragic sight of my life,” he says.
Fast forward to 1999: Three years after Yarborough’s death, six years after serving as a set for a film that would launch the careers of Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck, 34 years after beginning life as “The Showcase of Austin,” a retro landmark reopened as an Austin library. Today its identity is still intact, and its history is as storied as its contents. ♣
- Rebirth of Austin’s Americana (midtexasmod.blogspot.com)
- Dazed and Confused turns 20 (thestake.org)
- Where Are They Now? The Cast of “Dazed and Confused” (complex.com)
- Ralph W. Yarborough: The People’s Senator (texasobserver.org)
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