SXSW started in 1987 and since then, venues all over central Austin have showcased performances by tens of thousands of artists. But, only one place has been an official SXSW venue for all 33 years. A linchpin of the South Congress Avenue business district since 1955, the venerable Continental Club remains true to its live music roots, even as the city outside keeps changing.
In the early 20th century, South Congress Avenue’s business district, where the Continental Club is located, served the neighborhoods growing around it. Prior to the completion of Tom Miller Dam in 1940, the area closer to the Colorado River was prone to regular flooding, so the businesses were concentrated higher on the hill.
However, after the flood control measures were put in place, the land closer to the river became open for development. Prior to the building of the I-35 freeway, South Congress was also the main southbound road out of town. Since this land availability coincided with the post-war car travel boom, several motels popped up in the empty tracts along South Congress, including the Hotel San José and the Austin Motel, which remain in operation today.
The Continental Club opened in February 1955 at 1315 South Congress. The building had been a laundromat and possibly a garage before its original owner, Morin Scott, turned it into a stylish nightclub with live entertainment. To fit in with the name, Scott hired a local artist to paint fanciful European street scene murals on the walls, which were eventually covered by later proprietors with paneling, wallpaper and paint.
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