Saturday, September 10, 2011

Armadillo World Headquarters, 5251/2 Barton Springs Road (rear), Austin, TX

Capacity 1500

Eddie Wilson, manager of the psychedelic rock band Shiva's Headband, wanted a new musical outlet for the city, but he didn't really choose the former National Guard armory in South Austin that was obscured by a skating rink. "It chose me while I was taking a leak," Wilson remembers. "I was behind George's Cactus Club, standing between John Reed and Jimmie Dale Gilmore [then a member of the Hub City Movers]. We were out back in a parking lot, and saw broken metal framed windows at least twenty feet off the ground. I thought, "My Lord, there's a giant building there." We were looking at the east side of the National Guard armory. I went around to the west side and discovered a garage door. I raised the garage door, drove my car in it, shut the doors behind me and turned on my lights. I had a real hallucinogenic moment there as I, first time, gazed on the inside of Armadillo World Headquarters. I knew immediately that I'd found the place."
Grand Opening August 7 and 8, 1970

Opened the place on August 7, 1970.

The building already had quite a musical history. After being a National Guard armory, it had been The Sports Center, hosting wrestling and boxing matches, with occasional package tours coming through. Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis had played there, and one show in 1953 had included Faron Young, Johnny Horton, and a kid named Elvis Presley.

In choosing the mascot for the new venture, Wilson and his partners wanted an "armored" animal since the building was an old armory. The nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) was chosen because of its hard shell that looks like armor, its history as a survivor (virtually unchanged for 50 million years), and its near-ubiquity in central Texas. Wilson also believed the building looked like it had been some type of headquarters at one time. He initially proposed "International Headquarters" but in the end it became "World Headquarters."

The Armadillo World Headquarters officially opened on August 7, 1970 with Shiva's Headband, the Hub City Movers, and Whistler performing. The hall held about 1,500 patrons, but chairs were limited, so most patrons sat on the floor on sections of carpet that had been pieced together.

There was a beer garden outside, and inside it was a huge cavernous place, where you had to sit on the carpeted floor with the smell of beer and ashes from previous performances.

Who are you people?

The room held about 1,500 people, most of whom would just sit on the big floor in front of the stage covered with sections of carpet pieced together. The place caught on fairly quickly as the little haven where the anti-establishment types could feel at home, and develop what was becoming their hedonistic music/ pot/beer-based lifestyle. "The lifestyle itself was an accepted art form in Austin and people set out to outdo everyone else with their own maximizing of daily pleasure," says Wilson.

 There was a room on top of the stage where some of us would gather before a show and tune our string instruments while we watched the room fill up below.

The club finally had to lay off staff members in late 1976 and file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1977.
Another factor in the club's demise was that it sat on 5.62 acres (22,700 m2) of prime real estate in what soon became a prime development area in the rapidly growing city. The Armadillo's landlord sold the property for an amount estimated between $4 million and $8 million.

The final concert at the Armadillo took place on December 31, 1980. The sold-out New Year's Eve show featured Asleep at the Wheel and Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, Maria Muldaur, Austin magician Turk Pipkin, and the Austin legend, Kenneth Threadgill bringing it all home. Some reports say the show ended at 4 a.m., while others claim that the bands played until dawn.

December 31, 1980
Thanks to Steve Hopson for the great photos
Closed and gone forever January 1, 1981. The contents of the Armadillo were sold at auction in January 1981, and the old armory was razed for a high-rise office building. The beloved old hall was demolished in early 1981.

Kentucky New Era, September 13, 2002, page 9

On August 19, 2006, the City of Austin dedicated a commemorative plaque at the site where the Armadillo once stood.
Co-founder Eddie Wilson was on hand and stated:
"It is still on the lips and minds of a lot of people 26 years after it closed. This is noteworthy for me because of the zero-tolerance mentality, and now the city erected a memorial that glorifies the things of the past that are not accepted today."
Briscoe Center For American History has Contracts and Sound Archives of Garcia/Saunders from the Armadillo.
One Texas Center now stands on the site, just south of Threadgills World Headquarters.
To promote its concerts the Armadillo maintained a staff of poster and mural artists, including Jim Franklin, Micael Priest, Guy Juke, and Danny Garrett. Given free reign for their creative impulses these and other artists explored many new images and techniques in poster making. The hundreds of Armadillo concert posters they made during the 1970s contributed to the flowering of poster art in Austin. The Armadillo operated on a shoestring budget and much volunteer labor on a month-to-month basis in an atmosphere of perpetual financial crisis. By 1980 the demands of downtown real estate signaled the end of an era. (John Wheat, handbook of texas)

Jerry performed here on
11/23/72 Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, Leon Russell, Mary Egan and Doug Sahm
12/21/74 Merl Saunders 
12/22/74 Merl Saunders
5/17/75 Legion of Mary
5/18/75 Legion of Mary
3/20/76 Jerry Garcia Band
3/21/76 Jerry Garcia Band

1.)^Wheat, John, "ARMADILLO WORLD HEADQUARTERS," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed September 27, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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