If you’ve been to Austin in the past 20 years or so, you’ve likely strolled along South Congress Avenue. The street on the opposite side of the lake from the Texas Capitol Building is filled with highly-rated restaurants and lots of trendy shops. But 20 years ago, it looked a whole lot different.
The change began, in part, when Liz Lambert bought the San José Motel in 1995 for about $500K. She left her job as a lawyer and eventually turned the building into a boutique hotel, displacing the residents who called the motel home. The time leading up to the demolition is tracked in the documentary “Through The Plexi-Glass: The Last Days Of The San José.” The film has been around in various forms for more than a decade, but it’s getting an official world premiere at SXSW this week. Lambert co-directed.
What South Congress looked like when she bought the hotel:
“It was at a time when there was nobody parked on South Congress. There was no traffic on South Congress. I just happened to move into the neighborhood in Travis Heights and I spent a lot of time at the Continental Club. The San José Motel was directly across from the Continental Club, and I peered out the window from a bar stool at it for months before I ever even thought about inquiring whether they would sell it or not.”
Her relationship with the motel’s residents:
“After about a year, it was really clear to me that I couldn’t raise the money to renovate the hotel without being there full time and making it a full time effort. And so I was there day in and day out. And so, of course, I had relationships with folks who lived there.”