All Bills Paid

Al Billings

Behold the destruction of the Sunnymeade Apartment complex, in South Austin, Texas, an entire city block swallowed whole by a greedy and powerful Houston conglomerate known as the M. Kaplan Co. Well-paid lobbyists pushed Sunnymeade’s demolition to its ultimate conclusion, and while tenants were offered various concessions, hundreds of struggling souls were pushed out of their Modernist apartments and left to seek shelter wherever they could find it. Many of them failed. I remember seeing more than a few of them pushing wobbly, overloaded bicycles, headed nowhere in particular, fitfully dozing in the shadows of elevated highways among the alcoholic zombies panhandling for beer money.

I captured these monochrome images on a fog-shrouded morning in the late winter of 2008. I conned the bulldozer operator into giving me a half-hour’s worth of time. I really had no intention of leaving until I’d finished my work, and after I’d had a quick chat with him, he understood what I wanted. To me, the images look like the path of destruction left behind a wing of B-52’s after carpet-bombing a very select target, dented bathtubs flung into corners and the entire one-block site coated with fine concrete powder.

Despite various planning commission meetings and an endless stream of heart-felt speakers, the plight of Sunnymeade’s tenants failed to register among the louder and more belligerent commissioners, including a bald, self-righteous fool who kept shouting “The job of Austin’s government is to make money!” I remember wondering how he’d have felt if I’d walked up onto the dais, grabbed his necktie and slapped his glasses off of his grim, featureless face.

The Kaplan Company destroyed Sunnymeade Apartments and replaced it with an enormous box several stories high, a faux-French concoction that causes me to visualize overweight men in satin pantaloons climbing into horse-drawn carriages, completely distorting the neighborhood’s architectural skyline, rendering all other nearby buildings insignificant.

August 23, 2012 5:45 pm

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