Robert Mueller. No, Not That One

Mueller wildflowers

This story is part of a #30DayWritingChallenge chronicling the historic names of Austin. Read this for more context.

Here in Austin, I live in a neighborhood called Mueller. It’s a funny little place. I call it the Epcot Center of cities. It used to be home to the Austin municipal airport (we have an international airport these days, located further afield).

After the airport closed in the late ’90s, the land was developed into an urban utopia. While I do sometimes feel like I live on a movie lot, separated from the rest of Austin, it’s nice to live somewhere so walkable, with running trails, bars and restaurants, an Alamo Drafthouse, parks, a farmer’s market, and, for me, a view of downtown.

Mueller sunset from my patio. (Now I’m just showing off.)

In fact, as I sit here writing this on my living room couch, with my patio door wide open, I hear a violin player in the park across the street (her songs are accompanying a dance performance at a public art installation).

It’s not a bad place to land for a former New Yorker who doesn’t really want the downtown feel but still wants to live somewhere walkable.

Mueller has its pros and cons, as documented by NPR. (An aside: you can actually see my apartment window in the lead photo in the pros piece.) But today I’m interested in the individual behind the name of my neighborhood, who also lent his name to the municipal airport that once stood here: Robert Mueller.

Robert Mueller, via KUT

From what I can tell, this Robert Mueller is related neither to the OTHER Robert Mueller nor to Bill Mueller, former Red Sox 3rd baseman and member of the 2004 team that ended the Curse.

What I can tell is that Robert Mueller was elected as the City Commissioner in 1926. Sadly, he died just months after taking office, in January 1927.

The Austin American (via the Austin History Center) had this to say about Robert Mueller’s death:

“it was helping his city which has probably hastened his death, for on that night, according to members of the city council, he told them he was ill about 10 o’clock, and they asked him to stay a little while longer for the budget was almost planned and they needed his guidance. He remained, and every little while he would remark he was sick, but finally, with plans nearly completed, he went home at 11:30 o’clock.”

The Austin Chronicle adds more detail: “Mueller died in office after falling gravely ill while debating the city budget — of ‘blood poisoning brought on by hay fever’” In case you need a reminder: work-life balance is a good and important thing!

The Chronicle piece (which I recommend reading because it nicely envelops the research and writing I’m doing this month) has a lovely note about Robert Mueller, calling him “just a nice guy who died young and whose friends thought he deserved to be honored.”

Don’t we all wish to be honored by friends? And now that honor lives on, in this Rhode Islander who landed here in Austin via NYC, living among others in a community bearing his name. It’s funny what a life can become.

As for how to pronounce Mueller, well, that’s been a subject of some debate. I tend to say “Mew-ler” out of habit because that’s how many people living here pronounce it. I’m trying to move toward “Miller,” which is the pronunciation favored by both Red Sox player Bill Mueller and, apparently, Robert Mueller’s descendants. No one seems to pronounce it as “Muh-ler,” like the Robert Mueller familiar to most of us. The true German pronunciation is probably somewhere in-between.

In and Around the Mueller Neighborhood

Mueller is located on the east side of Austin, an area demarcated by I35. East Austin, well. When the Interstate was constructed, Black communities were pushed out of the neighborhoods they’d called home for decades and into “less desirable” neighborhoods east of the highway and close to the (former) airport. East Austin was/is home to many predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. A 2016 study identified east Austin as including the 2nd most rapidly gentrifying zip code behind Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn.

Mueller itself is a newly developed neighborhood situated on the grounds of the former airport and bordered by Manor Road to the south and east, 51st Street to the north, and Airport Blvd to the west. Its development is certainly contributing to an increase in home prices in surrounding areas. I am not a homeowner but am aware I contribute to displacement as a renter.

East Austin is a wonderful place. There’s a diverse and creative pulse here that is endangered. Here are some of my favorite local businesses, both in my neighborhood and surrounding:

Sahara Lounge

A chill place to dance and hang out. Spacious dance floor (that still gets crowded), pool table, bar area, and outdoor space with a separate bar and food trucks. Monthly 70s/80s dance night. Put on your best jumpsuit and get down.

Skylark Lounge

Tucked away on Airport Blvd. Amazing live music, heavy on soul. Be sure to catch Soulman Sam on Sundays. BBQ out back. Great place to dance your ass off and meet rad people.

L’Oca D’Oro

“Golden Goose” in Italian. This restaurant inside Mueller not only has one of my favorite wine lists in the city (and I’m hard to please on wine), they’re a leader in the anti-tipping movement. I also live upstairs, so… Win, win.

Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In

Honestly, their old location (currently being developed into houses here in Mueller) was better. But their new location still does the trick. Classic Austin. Bring your own booze, though.

If you’re interested in supporting communities of color in Austin, check out the Austin Justice Coalition, working to address community needs, increase political involvement, empower communities, and reform criminal justice.