Sixty-six years ago on January 29, 1948, rush hour in downtown Austin was given a jolt by an explosion. A small barbecue joint called the West Sixth Street Barbecue & Market was left in shambles. The news was reported as far away as Sweetwater where the snippet in the February 1, 1948 edition of the Sweetwater Reporter read:
“BARBECUE BLAST INJURES EIGHT – Rescue workers struggle with an explosion-wrecked barbecue stand in Austin, Texas, in an attempt to reach eight persons injured in the blast. The blast, attributed to accumulated gas, occurred during and evening rush hour.”
The day after the blast, the Austin American provided more details. Gas filled the kitchen from a leaky gas line going into the oven was ignited by a match at 5:18 pm. “The explosion caved in the roof, and flung the two side walls out at an angle…a loaf of bread still in its wrapper was blown out the door.”
After the dust settled, ten people were injured. There were lots of broken bones, but miraculously no one died. The building’s owner was Otto Ulit who was a first generation Texan whose parents emigrated from Germany. Otto moved to Austin from New Braunfels with his brother William. Otto operated at least one other establishment, the Speedway Saloon, while William operated a butcher shop on Sabine St. where Brackenridge Hospital now sits.
Today the site os the old barbecue joint is still empty. It’s now a pay parking lot next to the Guaranty Finance Co. building that sits at 513 W. Sixth St. That building was completed just a year before the blast and is still intact. You’ll find Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ in a trailer caddy corner to the site, just behind the Star Bar. Thankfully, they’re not cooking with gas.