May 13, 2017

Lowriders Help an East Austin Neighborhood Protect a Park’s Personality

Reporting Texas

A crowd gathers to smash a Trump piñata at Chicano Park in East Austin on October 9. Adults destroyed two of the piñatas during a Sunday afternoon lowrider car meet-up. Graham Dickie/Reporting Texas

A crowd gets ready to smash a piñata of President Donald Trump at Rendon Park in East Austin. Neighborhood residents convinced the city of Austin to back away from radical changes to the park. Graham Dickie/Reporting Texas

In 2013, when the city of Austin proposed big changes for Rendon Park, people who live in the largely Latino area had other ideas.

The park, located along Lady Bird Lake in East Austin, had become a center of community events since the Holly Street Power Plant was closed in 2007, and reaction wasn’t positive to the city’s plans to spend $550,000 building trails, a pavilion and space for large events.

“Lowrider” clubs, in particular, didn’t think much of the plan. They regularly gather at the park for family picnics, including an Easter egg hunt this year. Members agreed with others in the neighborhood in wanting more modest changes that preserved the park’s neighborhood focus.

“Team ATX and others went door to door to petition so they wouldn’t turn this into a commercial park, so we could have days like these happen,” said Joe Hernandez, a 30-year-old mechanic who co-founded lowrider club Team ATX, in an interview during this year’s Easter event.

In 2014, the City Council amended its plan for the park, which the locals call Chicano Park. Now the focus is on renovating restrooms and improving sidewalks. There will be limits on the size and number of public events.

“They were planning to put in parking meters and things that residents here really don’t have the money to pay for,” said Hernandez, who credits the car clubs with preserving Rendon Park’s character.

East Austin resident and veteran lowrider builder Ralph Flores, 50, says the park helps keep the community together.

“We’re out here having a good time … . We’re trying to hold on to the park as long as we can because it’s ours. We still love it and enjoy it, and that’s why we are here today,” Flores said in an Easter interview.

Work on park improvements hasn’t started yet because the city is still arranging funding, said Reynaldo Hernandez, a landscape architect for the city, in a telephone interview.