In her award-winning historical novel Mayhem: Three Lives of a Woman, Elizabeth Harris has a fish camp as the setting of ongoing harassment and a shocking crime. She sums up the Texas tradition: “Fish camp was a time before it was a fixed place.”
At the fixed place where Lake Austin Spa Resort is now, in a time shortly after the construction of the Mansfield Dam, a rustic fishing lodge was built. Lake Austin Lodges ran the property from the late 1940s to the early 1970s.
Along with a tribute to the writer and University of Texas professor J. Frank Dobie, who had recently died, the December 1965 issue of the Alcalde printed an ad proclaiming the fish camp as the most beautiful spot in Texas.
Lake Austin Lodges had ten guest rooms in its 3,600-square-foot cabin. Evenings could be spent dancing to live music under the stars, and guests who didn’t fish could picnic or hike during the day.
Who needs Google Earth?
The resort’s next incarnation, as Sunshine Nudist Camp, doesn’t appear to have been advertised. Word of mouth, perhaps?
The present-day spa’s bathrobe casual dress code works even in winter, but naked in November was a bit nippy for the naturists. Lake Austin is fed by the very coldest water from the depths of Lake Travis. Brrr!
Besides, by the 1970s, the Food and Drug Administration was warning people not to get too much sunshine. It suggested “Cover skin exposed to sun with long-sleeved shirts, pants and broad-brimmed hats.”
Sunscreen works, too, but the nudists moved on. Perhaps some of them decided Hippie Hollow (warning: site contains nudity), with its warmer surface water, would have to do.
Photo credit: Matthew Rutledge CC on Flickr
Steiner Rodeo Company next used the place to lodge cowboys and rodeo clowns who were training at the Steiner Ranch Rodeo Camp for their next championship buckle.
You can read about Bobby Steiner’s rodeo experience, as told by Gary Cartwright, in the March 1974 issue of Texas Monthly. In 2012 the Texas Institute of Letters honored Cartwright with a Lon Tinkle Award, the Texas literary equivalent of a lifetime Oscar.
The most recent Tinkle winner, Austin novelist Sarah Bird, is rumored to have told the august body that she is probably too young to be getting it. Then she allegedly dubbed it “the Tinklet.”
By 1979, the Bermuda Inn was advertising its reducing resort in Texas Monthly. Ten additional rooms were added to the original fish camp.
The reducing resort even put out an exercise cassette tape and a 45-rpm record with “The Diet Song” by Shel Silverstein and “Wastin’ Away Again at the Bermuda Inn” featuring drummer Ernie Durawa and sung to the tune of Jimmy Buffett’s hit.
You can guess at least some of the lyrics.
That $33 daily rate would be just over $115 in today’s money — a fantastic deal for the room, those stimulating exercise classes, and three squares a day!
Those squares were actual one-inch cubes: your choice of a raw carrot on a bed of iceberg lettuce leaf or an ounce of grilled chicken breast with a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar. If you felt like dessert, you could enjoy a raw apple quarter with the peel curled into a rose and then sprinkled with cinnamon. For extra decadence, a slice of lemon was added to your glass of ice water.
The place was renamed the Lake Austin Spa Resort in 1994, three years before its purchase by the present owners. Mike McAdams and William Rucks, former frat brothers who have owned and run Lake Austin Spa Resort since 1997, seem proud of their locale’s business history.
A cookbook and construction
Yet another bookish benchmark happens after the century turns. Fresh: Healthy Cooking and Living From Lake Austin Spa Resort, by chef Terry Conlan, was published in 2003.
Construction on the 25,000-square-foot LakeHouse Spa, emphasizing local limestone and cedar, finished in 2004.
The resort certainly looks different now than it did in the last half of the twentieth century. Someone paddling in the lake wouldn’t recognize the place.
But standing on the shore with your back to the new buildings and manicured gardens, the view of the lake and the forested hills beyond is probably not much different than it was fifty years ago.
More history — and fiction — is sure to be made at the spa in the upcoming century. Local author Katie Graykowski already mentioned it in her saucy romance novel Getting Lucky.
Perhaps she plans to feature the resort in an upcoming book? “I don’t deny it,” says Graykowski, who has turned her pen to writing mysteries. “What could be more relaxing than a murder at one of the best spas in the world?”
Elizabeth Harris says
What an interesting history of the Lake Austin Spa location! I like the cowboys-and-rodeo-clowns period.
Sandra Spicher says
Thanks, Elizabeth. It was fascinating to learn about.