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The way we were: An old video captures Austin during the challenging year of 1986

In a city that seems to experience constant growth these days, you may be surprised to learn that not so long ago, Austin had its own economic struggles.

If you lived in Austin in 1986, it’s easy to feel nostalgic about scenes like the city skyline with only a few tall buildings, not much traffic on the freeways, or the old Mueller Airport where jetliners were landing at what seemed like only a few feet above the traffic on Interstate 35.

But compared to our boomtown of today, it might be hard to believe that in 1986, Austin had a tough time getting people and businesses to move here. So city officials put together a breezy promotional video, a sort of infomercial about what made Austin a special place back then. The video has been archived in the Austin History Center film and video collection.

In Austin in 1986, the median price of a house was around $85,000. You could buy a new Ford Mustang for about $7,500 and fill up the tank for $13.

And while the video paints a sunny picture of the city, the mid-1980s was a time of economic hardship in Austin. Falling oil prices in the 80s damaged the Texas economy. Many of the financial institutions in Austin were declared insolvent. Construction almost came to a standstill. This time period is known to longtime Austin residents as “The Bust.”

Of course, no mention of that in the promotional video, and things did eventually turn around. Who knows? Maybe the video even helped convince businesses to re-locate here.

And re-locate they did.

By the 1990s, the “bust” turned into a “boom” – and now 37 years after this video-vision of a mid-sized city looking to grow, it’s a “boom” with no signs of letting up.


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