Saving a Piece of True West

/Johnny-Cash-with-Joe-Small-at-the-Norwood-House.More than 30 years passed before four citizen groups and multiple city councils saved a “precious jewel in Austin’s crown,” the Norwood Park Foundation reports.

While they were at it, they saved a jewel in the crown of True West Magazine.

The charming 1920s Craftsman bungalow that is finally being restored was also the publishing office, from 1963 to 1982, for this magazine that the Smalls had started in 1953.

When the Norwood House reopens as a meeting center—late 2016—it will stand as a testament to the dedication and perseverance of all those saviors in Austin, Texas.

You won’t find a more beautiful spot than the cliff overlooking Lady Bird Lake and downtown Austin, where Ollie and Calie Norwood built their unusual home in 1922. They chose an Oriental-influenced, California Craftsman bungalow—a design that came out of the 1880 to 1910 Arts and Crafts Movement.

By 1963, when True West founder Joe “Hosstail” Small and his wife, Elizabeth, became the third owners, the house had been greatly modified and stripped into office space. They moved in their publishing company, where it stayed for two decades.

This is the house where Johnny Cash visited the Smalls as he was searching for songs for a new LP record. The singer  credited Joe with both the inspiration and title of his 1965 album, Johnny Cash Sings the Ballads of the True West.

In the 1980s, the Smalls sold the property to a condo developer. Neighborhood opposition and a lawsuit resulted in a compromise that saved the house, which the Smalls moved to a nearby lot. Then the development deal fell apart. That’s when the City of Austin started paying attention.

The city wanted the view site as a park, and neighbors wanted the house returned to its original location and restored. Those wants have been slowly moving forward for three decades. In 1999, the Women’s Chamber of Commerce raised money to move the bungalow to its original site; in 2008, the Norwood Posse built a broad base of support; and in 2012, the posse turned over the reins to the Norwood Park Foundation, which is overseeing the $2 million renovation in partnership with the city.

“When I saw this home four years ago, I immediately saw it as an Arts and Crafts ideal,” says Colleen Theriot, president of the foundation and a major contributor to the project, financed mostly by private funds. “The bungalow is such a sweet, modest home, but it’s the home that grew America. This is an immense treasure.”

Austin’s treasure holds a special place in the heart of True West too.


Arizona’s Journalist of the Year, Jana Bommersbach has won an Emmy and two Lifetime Achievement Awards. She also cowrote and appeared on the Emmy-winning Outrageous Arizona and has written two true crime books, a children’s book and the historical novel Cattle Kate.


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