Keeping Austin Diverse: The Historic Victory Grill
The Victory Grill is a historical restaurant built in 1945 on East 11th Street in Austin, Texas. In the era of segregation in Austin, Victory Grill was a significant destination for African Americans to congregate. It also provided a space for Black veterans returning from World War II to relax when returning home. The venue can fit up to 250 people comfortably, and is the oldest blues venue for African Americans in Austin. In 1998 it was included in the National Register of Historic Places.
The venue was not only significant for the eastside community, but for white Austinites, college students, and music lovers of all races. It became a popular spot on the “Chitlin’ Circuit” for blues music in the south in the 1950s. Many famous blue players and singers performed there: James Brown, Ike & Tina Turner, Janis Joplin, and many others.
In the 1960s the venue fell short on business due to desegregation in the U.S. Desegregation, paradoxically, had an adverse effect on East Austin—in creating for greater equality and civil rights, it broke up the bustling cultural district the formerly segregated Black community had built up over decades. Many Blacks began frequenting other places, since they now had more options. Lacking the lively attendance they once had, many East Austin institutions lost their spark or shuttered entirely.
Starting in the ‘70s, the Victory Grill underwent several changes in its ownership and business. It was finally restored in 2005 when the Texas Historical Commission recognized it as a historic landmark, and gave its ownership to a local nonprofit to restore it to its original beauty.
The Victory Grill will always be remembered in East Austin for being a jewel in the community where African Americans have a place to call home. It was the place where generations of Austinites went to relax, enjoy incredible music, and find community.
Behind the Scenes in E4’s Creative Production Process
To share an oral history of the Victory Grill, E4 Creative Mentors Jadzia Padilla, Jennifer Chavez, and Karina Mata interviewed Harold McMillan. McMillan is a local musician and founder/director of DiverseArts Culture Works. He also runs Kenny Dorham’s Backyard, the outdoor event space immediately adjacent to Victory Grill.
Audio editing was done by E4 Producer Victoria Valadez. The 360 images used to build the VR environment were captured by Yvonne Rios, Nile Stewart, and Ricardo Villegas with a Vuze 360 camera, and coded by Chris Robinson using Glitch.
The Creative Mentor team collectively conducted research to learn about East Austin landmarks, and seeked credible local figures to share their knowledge of the area. Production logistics were overseen by AV Producer Mikayla Dumas, and Interactive Producer Grant Loveless.
This article was written by Interactive Producer Jalesha Bass, and E4 Producer Victoria Valadez.
Header image: Mural artwork by Runcie Studios.