Before it became a monument to the memory of Lake Hughes founder and developer Clarence Austin, this stone marker at the southwest corner of Elizabeth Lake
Road and Trail K served to inform motorists that they had arrived. Undated photo.
Clarence Abner Austin was an early-1900s Pasadena homebuilder and 1920s Lake Hughes property owner who developed vacation homes around the lake and established a water company to serve them.
Austin was born Sept. 14, 1884, in New Haven, Conn., where he worked for a title insurance company as a young man. In 1905, when he was about 21, he came west with his parents, Frederick W. Austin and the former Julian Rebecca Barnes, and settled in Pasadena. There, in 1906, he formed the real estate firm of Grable & Austin with another new arrival, Frederick C. Grable, a traveling salesman originally from Ohio.
The partners started selling real estate and were soon building homes in Pasadena on consignment, including Austin's 1907 house at 629 S. Grand Ave. According to research conducted by the city of Pasadena, they built Swiss chalet-style Craftsman homes for high-end clients; their average permit cost was $7,500 at a time when construction costs were typically about $1,700.
In a 2007 paper, architectural writer Tim Gregory states that after the Craftsman style fell out of favor in 1912, Grable & Austin brought in a professional architect, Louis du Puget Millar, and started incorporating Mediterranean and Colonial influences.
Grable & Austin built more than 70 homes in the Pasadena area before Grable died at age 42 in 1917 from tonsillitis. Austin's marriage ended about the same time. Austin took on new partners, a father and son named Murphy, and formed a new real-estate company, Austin-Murphy Co., which lasted until 1922.
Austin, also a partner in a lumber company, maintained a Pasadena real-estate office until 1931 but moved to Lake Hughes in 1925 or 1926.
In 1926 he purchased 40 acres of land around the shore of the lake, then called West Lake Elizabeth, and built vacation cottages. Weekend or extended getaways in the "back country" were all the rage during the roaring '20s. Austin formed a private water company, the Austin Water Co., to serve his new resort.
In 1949, Austin, a full-time Lake Hughes resident, started the community's '49ers Day as a birthday party for Joel B. Hurd, founder of the local Trading Post, aka the Rock Inn.
Austin died in Lake Hughes at age 80 on June 19, 1965. Today he is remembered with a plaque on a tall stone monument at the southwest corner of Elizabeth Lake Road and Trail K, kitty-corner from the Rock Inn. The monument itself apparently predated Austin's death, once serving as a welcome sign for the community.
He is also remembered in the street name Austin Way, which meanders across a hillside south of the lake. At least one of the homes that burned to the ground in the Powerhouse Fire of June 2013 had an Austin Way address; the others were on an adjacent street.