Austin Aqua Festival Records
An Inventory of the Collection
The Austin Aqua Festival (commonly known as Aqua Fest) was developed by the Austin Chamber of Commerce in 1962 as a way to promote the water and recreational resources of the Highland Lakes in Central Texas and as a way to improve summer business in Austin. The first Aqua Fest was held August 3rd through the 12th at Festival Beach and featured parades (both land and water), fishing competitions, canoe race, Sailing Club Regatta, golf tournament, water skiing competition, rodeo, beauty pageant and a Coronation Ball sponsored by the Admirals Club of Austin. The festival grew in popularity through the years and additional events were added such as car and motorcycle races, drag boat races, children's pet parade, Aero-Fest at Bergstrom Air Force Base, concerts and theme nights that would highlight the different cultures of Central Texas.
In its heyday Aqua Fest attracted over 200,000 people and the popularity of the event caused tension in the East Austin residential neighborhood where Festival Beach was located. The motorboat races (boat drag races) garnered national attention and the thousands of fans that turned out to watch overwhelmed the Mexican American community and beginning in the early 1970s the neighborhood citizens began actively protesting the noise pollution and traffic generated by the event. The protests turned violent in April of 1978 and later that year City Council voted to ban the boats from Town Lake (ORDINANCE NO. 780907-B). Soon after Aqua Fest was moved to Auditorium Shores which allowed for a new format with multiple stages for music performances. Citizens in the surrounding neighborhoods of the new venue also complained about the traffic and the noise. In 1980 the City of Austin stopped providing money and free services to the festival. Through the mid-1980s attendance numbers continued to grow with the peak being 252,000 in 1985.
In the later years the festival shifted away from being a family event and spent more money on big name musical acts and this strategy did not prove to be successful in the long run. Ticket prices went up and attendance began to fall. In 1993 there were only 60,000 attendees. An attempt in 1994 to scale down the event and bring back some of the original programing that made Aqua Fest popular failed to revive the event. After several more years of losing money the Aqua Festival Executive Board announced in June of 1998 that festival scheduled for July 23rd through August 1st was cancelled. The promise that Aqua Fest would be resurrected in 2000 at Lake Walter E. Longer was never fulfilled.
The collection is arranged into five series: I. History II. Press Clips, III. Programs and Brochures, IV. Photographic Materials, V. Aqua Festival Scrapbook and Memorabilia, and VI Publicity. The History series (1986) includes an interview with Vic Mathias, Ed St. John, John Simpson and Beverly Sheffield conducted in 1986 about the history of the Austin Aqua Festival. The Press Clips series (1982-1985) contains scrapbooks and loose newspaper and magazine articles provided to the Austin Chamber of Commerce by the Texas Press Association press clips service. The press clips are organized by type or event, for example ads, bowling, art, beauty pageant, children events, culture events, senior events, skiing, sports events, skipper pins, and water events. The Programs and Brochures series (1962-88) consists of a limited amount of programs for Aqua Fest itself, and specific events that were part of Aqua Fest. See the related and separated materials sections for access to additional program materials. The Photographic Materials series (1962-1985, undated) includes photographs and negatives of events including the last boat drag races in 1978; Austin Aqua Festival presidents, commodores, board of directors and staff; Aqua Festival Royal Court and Aqua Festival Beauty Queen; and press kit photos of the Aqua Fest talent. Lastly, a 1973 Children's Pet Parade scrapbook, Skipper pins and a Competitor badge make up the Aqua Festival Scrapbook and Memorabilia series (1965-1988, undated). The Pet Parade scrapbook contains newspaper clippings, photographs, programs, correspondence from children and sponsors and judge's tally sheets. The Publicity series (1993-1996) includes two audio reels with publicity spots played on KASW 101 for Aqua Fest events like the boat races, skipper pin, pet parade, family fun, drag races, and many others.
Restrictions on Access
Open to all users.
Restrictions on Use
Austin Aqua Festival Records (AR.Z.021). Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas.
Donor #: DO/1988/064
Donation Date: 1988
Donor #: DO/2000/140 (KASE 101 Recordings)
Donation Date: 1999
The Deed of Gift indicated that photographic slides were part of the donation but the processor was unable to locate the material.
Finding aid created and encoded by Molly Hults in 2013. Updated 2014.
Detailed Description of the Collection