Willie Nelson, landlord in Austin

Photo: Scott Newton

by: John Spong

Read entire article here: Texas Monthly

This essay is part of a special project devoted to Willie Nelson where you’ll find more essays about the Red Headed Stranger, our new podcast “One by Willie,” and ranking of his 143 albums. Learn more about the special issue, too.

Most Willie Nelson fans know at least a little about his idyllic Hill Country world headquarters, home to his ranch, his golf course, his recording studio, and his Old West movie set, Luck, Texas. But lesser known in the lore is Willie World’s gritty urban prototype, a sprawling fourteen-acre complex Willie owned for much of the eighties in the heart of Austin’s city limits.

The property ran along South Congress Avenue near the now-famous Continental Club, barely a half mile south of what was then called Town Lake, stretching east from the intersection at Academy Drive. He’d bought it on the cheap, in 1977, when the strip was a no-man’s-land, light-years away from the tony tourist spot it is now; back then its main commerce was gun shops and streetwalkers. It was the perfect place for an outlaw to build an empire.

The anchor of the property was the Austin Opry House, a 1,700-seat hall run by the complex’s co-owner, Tim O’Connor. A onetime Willie capo who was bumped up to sweat-equity partner when Willie acquired the vast parcel of land, O’Connor was a music promoter from the old school, a gun-carrying hard case who turned the Opry House into Austin’s best eighties-era concert venue, a foundation for the Live Music Capital of the World moniker that the city would adopt in the nineties. The property also featured some empty South Congress storefronts, a roomy bar and grill favored by bikers and stray-dog guitar pickers, and, perhaps weirdly, some 230 flophouse apartments known unofficially as the Willie Arms. Many of the units were in two-story limestone-and-shingle structures that actually looked like apartment buildings, others were in dingy red-roofed bungalows ringed by live oaks, and all were occupied by exactly the kind of people you’d expect. Willie’s road crew—men with names like Poodie and Snake—had places to crash when Willie left the road. The Opry House staff got gratis abodes. Broke musicians dug the $65-a-month rent. Everyone there was a hippie, a misfit, or both, and none were afraid of a little dope. Some made their living off it.

Read entire article here: Texas Monthly

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