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The Last of the Moonlight Towers DVD

  (Run time: 51 minutes)

There are seventeen left.  Which is remarkable, really, given that this is seventeen more than there are in the rest of the world.  That moonlight towers still grace Austin's streets reflects the city's slow pace of development in the first half of the twentieth century and a renewed dedication to historical preservation in the second.

What are they?  Nineteenth century American cities wishing to exploit the new miracle of electricity to light city streets had two options: placing dozens, if not hundreds of small light poles along every street or mounting lights atop tall towers to illuminate large swaths of the city.  In the 1890's Austin city leaders opted for the towers.

Native New Yorker John McDonald won Austin's 1889 mayoral election on the strength of his promise to oversee construction of a dam across the Colorado River.  This dam would not only provide city residents with a consistent water supply, it would serve to generate the huge amounts of electricity necessary for home and industrial use. Power from the dam would also allow the city to phase out the dim gas street lights then in use in favor of much brighter electric lamps.

When Edward O'Beirne of the Fort Wayne Electric Company presented a plan to install 31 towers supporting six carbon arc lamps each, Austin's city council voted to award him the contract to light city streets.  Hyde Park developer Monroe Shipe persuaded the council to install the first tower in his new subdivision in 1894.  Within a year the remaining 30 towers were ready and on May 3, 1895 the city celebrated  its first night of "artificial moonlight."

Hurricanes, tornados, and errant utility trucks have taken their toll over the years, but seventeen of the original 31 towers survive as testaments to the progressive policies of Mayor McDonald.  Historical designation in the 1970's and a complete restoration in the 1990's helped insure that city residents will enjoy these iconic artifacts for decades to come.  No other city in the world can boast of such towers.  They are graceful, they are unique, they are the Last of the Moonlight Towers.


past and present


Austin Past & Present 2-disk DVD
Austin Past and Present is the first interactive digital history of Austin, telling the story of the community through a multimedia production. Rich with archival photos,film and audio recordings from the Austin History Center and other local collections, Austin Past and Present features well over 300 segments, including eight Time Tour videos chronicling all eras of Austin’s history, 100 photo and text slide shows, and 160 photo and text biographies. All of these stories are accessible on most computers through a user-friendly interface, and the Time Tours can also be viewed on standard DVD players. Users can navigate through the story of Austin by time, or by place, or both. Beginning with the geologic formation of the area, Austin Past and Present offers rare footage and images of significant events throughout the city’s history – including the construction of the 360 Bridge and the very first Capitol Building – as well as little-known details about many historic neighborhoods in Austin. Austin Past and Present was created over six years by award-winning filmmaker and producer Karen Kocher with the help of more than 200 Austinites.
Created and Produced by:
Karen Kocher is an Austin-based media producer who works in film and video and multimedia. For the past 10 years, she has been creating media work for digital platforms and studying the ways that the digital technology is expanding the documentary genre. In 2004, she created the first course in interactive documentary within the Department of Radio-TV-Film. This course introduces students to the study and creation of disc and computer-based non-linear documentaries.Ms. Kocher's other work includes, Austin Past and Present, a multimedia documentary about the history of Austin, Texas that is installed in kiosks in public buildings, on computers in local libraries, and integrated into the social studies curriculum throughout the Austin Independent School District. The video portions of the project aired on PBS in a feature length documentary format that was nominated for a Lonestar Emmy in the historical documentary category. This feature length documentary was also screened at part of the Austin Film Society, Texas Documentary tour.

Published by Waterloo Press.


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