The Way Back: Counter-Culture on the Drag

Before World War II, The Drag was a drag. But between 1945 and 1946, the student population grew from 7,000 to 17,000, providing a much-needed boon to the street’s storefront economy. The University Co-op was swiftly joined by barbers and jewelers and grocers and bookstores, as well as a couple of movie theaters. The Drag depicted in these photos came next; born in the cultural tumult of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Austin became known as a relaxed and hip refuge for young eccentrics.

Street vendors began to sell candles and incense and wind chimes and tie-dye tees on the Drag’s ample sidewalks. In 1976, the city pedestrianized a section of 23rd Street that enabled the creation of Renaissance Market where, for a municipal fee, peddlers could lay down a blanket and sell their wares. By then quirky, zen-like ideas—like giving away kittens, or bringing your bonneted baby were the norm.

The Drag looks much different today. But these six blocks of Guadalupe have always represented a culture on the move. These images capture a particular moment in Southern ’70s counter-culture: Austin’s hippie high tide.


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