In the early 1950s, Maestro Ezra Rachlin suggested the formation of an organization that would support the Austin Symphony to a group of influential and civic-minded women who were already promoting music and the arts in Austin. His dream of fostering an appreciation for fine music was advanced with the formation of the Women’s Symphony League of Austin (WSL) on June 18, 1953. Over the years, the WSL has grown into a group of more than 600 dedicated supporters who contribute thousands of hours and dollars to make Maestro Ezra Rachlin’s dream a reality.
Fundraising and education are the heart and spirit of the Women’s Symphony League of Austin. Since 2000, the WSL has donated over approximately six million dollars to the Austin Symphony Orchestra, and members give more than 15,000 volunteer hours annually to educational and fundraising projects. In 1986, the Doyle House at Symphony Square became the new headquarters of the WSL. The League has won twenty-four national awards for fundraising, education and membership from the League of American Orchestras Volunteer Council. The Texas Association of Symphony Orchestras has presented eleven first-place awards to the WSL for excellence in education and fundraising.
The Symphony Square Project, begun in 1971, was conceived and directed by Jane Sibley and Peggy Brown, prominent citizens on a wave of civic awareness. It was sponsored jointly by the Austin Urban Renewal Agency, the City of Austin, and the Austin Symphony Orchestra.
The property includes the Jeremiah Hamilton Building, the Michael Doyle House, the Hardeman House and the New Orleans Club Mercantile, as well as a 350-seat stone amphitheater where the Austin Symphony hosts Children’s Day Art Park every Wednesday morning in June and July. Children’s Day features performances by local entertainers, an instrument petting zoo, storytelling and arts activities under a large tent next to the Doyle House.
In 1971, a limestone building at the corner of 11th and Red River painted green and known as “The Eleventh Door,” was condemned by Austin Urban Renewal. The Austin Symphony needed a home and Peggy Brown, a member of the Women’s Symphony League of Austin, seeing definite restoration possibilities in this ugly green building went to the Symphony Board and proposed the ASO restore this building and house their administration offices there. She and Jane Sibley went to work to secure funds from the Urban Renewal, individuals and foundations. The building was brought back to life emphasizing “adaptive restoration”. One building project led to another and it was anticipated that soon the Square could soon become self-supporting and eventually be a money-making venture for the ASO.
THE DOYLE HOUSE
The center of the Square is the Michael Doyle House. Built after the Civil War, it appears on an 1872 map of Austin, by the Dorsey’s of Canada. Originally sited at 306 E. 14th Street, it was offered to Symphony Square by Urban Renewal in 1970 and moved to its present location on June 3, 1975. The current picket fence copies one that was specially constructed from a photograph of a fence of the time of the other side of the creek. The sundial is a replica of a sundial typical of the period, given as the Junior Women’s Club Bicentennial gift. The flagpole in the circular drive was given as a gift by the Texas Sesquicentennial Commission. The first recorded owner of the house was Michael Doyle, whose family lived there until 1895. There followed a variety of owners and uses, such as a beauty salon and officers. It is currently the headquarters for the Women’s Symphony League of Austin.