Growing up in West Lake Hills
When my family moved to West Lake Hills in 1974 it was a much different place. We had just three schools, one grocery store, a cool toy store and a handful of restaurants. Austin and West Lake Hills were both much smaller communities. Kari, my wife, and I graduated from West Lake High School with a class size of less than 375 students. I look back at these early days of growing up here in 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, and I’m so appreciative of the charmed life I enjoyed in these natural surroundings. It’s hard to imagine a more idyllic backdrop for a kid to grow up.
Life on Nob Hill
I was a six year-old kid about to start the second grade at Eanes Elementary when my family arrived at 16 Nob Hill Circle in 1974. Little did I know this would mark a chapter of my life that would never end. The old house my family bought was situated on a tree-covered hilltop with complete privacy from neighbors, and it had an incredible view of downtown Austin with a real backyard bomb shelter. The house was originally designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but the original owner altered the design and built a slightly different home tucked away on this hilltop to capture the magnificent downtown views. At the time, the Texas Tower and the State Capital were the highest buildings downtown.
The Cow Path to the Bus Stop
To our delight, my sister and I were allowed to ride the bus as we entered the 1st and 2nd grade at Eanes Elementary. The bus would pick us up everyday at the end of this long rocky road where Skyline Drive and Redbud Trail intersected. Back then, we called it the “cow path”. It was a fifteen-minute walk down Nob Hill to get there, but we didn’t mind. Most of the time, we would scare up deer and other animals along the way.
The Gas Station
Growing up on a hilltop with very few kids in our neighborhood presented challenges for me and my little sister, especially during the summer months. My mother would suggest I ride my bike to the convenience store next to the gas station located at Redbud Trail and Westlake Drive. I loaded up with candy at the store and then proceeded to ride my bike in circles through the gas station bays running over this little black rubber tube that made the bell go off. Eventually, the gas station attendant would come out to see what was going on, and I’d have to stop the ruckus. But they were always friendly and let me eat popsicles and watch as two master mechanics performed their automotive work.
By the age of 10, my parents taught me that if I wanted something, I had to earn it. I decided skateboarding looked like a fun alternative to biking. But to get one, I had to earn the money. I struck out to ask my neighbors if they would hire me to do odd jobs for them. I met other neighbors by going door to door selling vegetable and flower seeds. Little did I know our neighbors were prominent figures who helped shape our country, Texas and West Lake Hills. Liz Carpenter, as the former press secretary to Lady Bird Johnson, was always throwing big parties at her house. She sent me to go talk to people like Emmett Shelton and George Putnam who also lived nearby. At the time, I had no idea that they were the founders of West Lake Hills.
Willie Nelson’s First 4th of July Picnic
My parents loved the outdoors and live music events. On one such outing, our family attended the very first Willie Nelson Fourth of July picnic held just outside of Austin in Dripping Springs. I had never seen so many people. We got there in the morning to find a spot along a hillside to watch the concert far off in the distance. From where we sat, the stage was tiny. As dusk set in, I began following this man walking around with a leather glove holding a big hawk. Before long, I realized I had wondered far off from my parents and I was in this sea of people lost. Close to dark, a lady finally took me by the hand and walked me close to the stage. The next thing I knew, a concert worker brought me up on stage with Willie where he announced, “We have a lost child up here. Would the parents of Darin Walker please come get him?” In astonishment, my mother walked several hundred yards to the stage where she claims that sure enough, there I was, thoroughly enjoying the show.
For my 13th birthday, my mother surprised me with a new type of bike that would allow me to get through the hills much quicker than my bicycle, the Moped. Riding up and down these steep hills by bicycle was a killer. The moped gave me access to exploring every nook and cranny of west Lake Hills and my friends were envious. My good friend also had a moped so together we struck out fishing the coves along Lake Austin for big bass. Westlake Beach became a weekly excursion where we met up with friends to swim, fish, water ski, and enjoyed family 4th of July cook outs. It was a thrill to explore the natural beauty of West Lake Hills and discover where all the roads led.