In the 1940s and '50s, Congress Avenue served as a visual gateway into the city. Travelers would turn off what is now Interstate 35 to take the scenic route into downtown, past dozens of motels (including the still-standing Austin Motel), restaurants, and gas stations. The now-iconic Continental Club opened in 1955, but went through a few iterations -- a supper club, a burlesque club, and blue collar bar -- before landing as the live music venue it is today. During the civil rights movement in the early '60s, Harry Akin’s restaurants -- including the Night Hawk burger joint at Riverside and South Congress (which is now office space) -- became the first in Austin to integrate customers.
South Congress saw urban decay in the '70s and '80s as businesses relocated to I-35. Sketchy, run-down motor lodges -- including the now-boutique Hotel San Jose -- attracted drug dealers (and users) and crime. On the corner of Live Oak, Cinema West began operating as an X-rated theater. But cheap rents made the area appealing to a creative class who would come to define our city, and launched what would be one of Austin's most fertile eras for music. In 1970, legendary music venue Armadillo World Headquarters set up shop behind a skating rink on South Congress and Barton Springs Road. The Armadillo saw performances by the likes of The Clash, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Frank Zappa, and even AC/DC before shuttering in 1980; one of the founders, Eddie Wilson, later went on to open Threadgill’s.
Steve Wertheimer, owner of the Continental Club and C-Boy’s Heart & Soul, was introduced to the South Congress scene in 1983. "Until moving down to South Austin, I never realized what I had been missing. The culture, the musicians, and the artists were all right at home south of the river.” The Continental Club had morphed into a full-fledged rock venue by this time, attracting artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Ely, and Sonic Youth.