• Sarah O'Brien

And there shall be cake...Texas Main Street Cake

Updated: Mar 28, 2020

At this year's Texas Downtown Association (TDA) Board Meeting in downtown Seguin it was suggested that TDA submit an article to the Texas Main Street office for inclusion in an upcoming Main Street Matters, their monthly newsletter. I have always been surprised by the number of Main Street program participants that are not engaged with the non-profit that was created to support them, their communities and the main street profession. Eagerly

I volunteered to share the benefits of membership and involvement with the current manager network.

You can't discuss the only statewide non-profit dedicated to downtown revitalization in Texas without mentioning Anice Read. Anice was the visionary leader who brought Main Street to Texas and later founded TDA. I never had the opportunity to meet here prior to her death in 1999. I started my downtown revitalization career as a manager in 2008. At that time Anice's impact was still so strong, it was discussed often, and revered in the network. So much so, that I always felt inspired by who she was and what she did, just from the small amount of insight I was able to get.

When I began to think about the TDA story I wanted to share for Main Street Matters,

I realized I didn't know near enough about Anice's vision when she created the non-profit partner to Texas Main Street. Could I do justice to TDA, to Main Street, and to Anice Barber Read herself, one of Southern Living's most influential southerners (June 1990), without understanding the purpose and vision she had?

Enter legendary Texan Julian Read. In the decade I spent as a Texas Main Street Manager,

I've had the pleasure of meeting Julian multiple times. His tall statue pales in comparison to the gentleman's presence and charismatic energy he brings when he enters a room.

Julian and myself at the Waxahachie TDA conference in 2015.

I still remember calling my parents to tell them that I just had the privilege of introducing the public relations king, author and publicist to Governor John Connolly, Julian Read,in front of 200+ guests. During my time as President of the Texas Downtown Association, Julian released his book, JFK's Final Hours in Texas: An Eyewitness Remembers the Tragedy and its Aftermath. That year, Julian served as our 2012 Texas Downtown Association conference keynote speaker in Bastrop, Texas. (four years prior to my arrival as their third Main Street Manager).

Until recently, I had never had an opportunity to sit down and visit with Julian one on one for any great length. I can't say thank you enough to Anice's husband, Julian Read, for inviting me to join him at his residence for lunch last month. (Full disclosure, when the invite came through, I acted as if I had been asked to go to prom with a prince.) Once I regained my composure and accepted the invitation I knew almost immediately that it was time to bake another Texas Main Street cake. Julian reached out a few days after our visit, he needed the recipe to share with one of the staffers at his residence, they loved the cake he shared with everyone.

Don't worry y'all, he is now in possession of his beloved Anice's infamous cake recipe.

I also want to extend my appreciation to the staff at the Texas Main Street Program and the staff and Board of Directors at the Texas Downtown Association for allowing me to take this unexpected journey and sharing stories of Anice with me. What was meant to be just an article to encourage participation in TDA programs, has inspired me and others to do a better job of sharing Anice's impact on preservation, Texas downtowns, Main Street, and the great State of Texas. I am happy to share that we are committed to sharing her stories and legacy for many years to come.

You can view my original submission in its entirety below. You can also check out March's Main Street Matters here. I hope you will view both pieces. Extra shout out to Main Street staff for putting together this infographic that shows the power of Texas Main Street. This data does a tremendous job of reflecting something I believe Anice understood deeply, Downtown is the Mirror of Your Community, and it just also happens to be our 2019 Texas Downtown Association theme.


Anice B. Read, the first lady of the Texas Historical Commission, was a force to be reckoned with. Those that knew her and those that have since followed in her footsteps are better suited for success because of her tireless efforts and unwavering commitment to srvice to others. Millions of dollars in reinvestment, thousands of preserved buildings, and hundreds of transformed communities, are part of the legacy she left behind. Generations of Mainstreeters have seen what exemplary leadership looks like thanks to Anice. Legend has it that she turned into a revolutionist after accepting the challenge of bringing Main Street to Texas. Hers is a revolutionary tale so grand that justice nor victory can be served here alone. Perhaps this is just one entry along the way attempting to honor her legacy. Anice’s excitement and energy can still be felt if sought. Here’s to working collectively together to keep the passion ignited and her power of persuasion gifted any of us who are inspired to take the journey.

A cause for celebration…because that’s what the Main Street Manager does"

Anice B. Read believed that successes of every size were to be celebrated. In that spirit of celebration, we invite you, Texas Main Street Program (TMSP) Managers, to join the Texas Downtown Association (TDA) Board of Directors and staff in a new commitment to celebration. Imagine the possibilities if collectively we embarked on a lifelong revolutionary rally in support of TDA and TMSP. A celebration of this magnitude would consistently shine a spotlight on Texas downtowns and the inspiring stories they have to tell. Perhaps such an event will invoke memories that veteran managers may have forgotten, or inspire stories yet to be shared, and instill a dedication for decisive action in downtown revitalization. We envision a celebration of all Texas Main Street managers that would provide a glimpse into the future and honors our tremendous past. Celebrate. Because that’s what Texas Main Street Managers do. In fact, this November in Georgetown TDA will be bringing together the President’s Award Gala, Anice Read Auction event, highlight current grant fund projects and announce new grants into one evening celebration in an effort to better celebrate Anice’s legacy.

The woman responsible for bringing Main Street to Texas understood that transformational and cultural change doesn’t happen in a silo. Alongside the state agency and national program, the Texas Downtown Association grew from a need. Originally, communities were only required to participate in the TMSP for three years, resulting in many exiting after their initial commitment was over. By 1984, three years after the program’s inception Anice realized both the agency and local towns who exited the program would need services such as ongoing technical expertise and education.

Make plans to celebrate Anice, Main Street, and Texas Downtowns this fall!

in order to ensure TXMS remained relevant, downtown champions and advocates outside of the framework of state government were critically important. TMSP needed a lifelong partner for the “seemingly impossible task” of downtown revitalization present at every level. So, in 1985 a non-profit organization designed to meet those needs was born that brought together the smallest rural communities, the largest cities, and everyone in between. We like to imagine that this achievement must have been cause for an immediate celebration of success.

Education & Training: From the onset training and education were ingrained into the movement. After attending the National Trust’s initial manager training in 1981 Anice returned home insistent on providing a much more rigorous training opportunity for her Texas managers.

The original “Doctor Downtown,” infamous for donning scrubs at National Town Meetings, was adamant that managers become experts. From grant writing and public speaking, to gorilla retail recruitment and memorization requirements of the Secretary of the Interior’s standards (because according to Anice that’s just what you had to do), Texas Main Street managers under Anice Read became experts. That spirit of training, while perhaps a bit less strenuous, is still being emulated today. Summer training and THC’s Real Places conference are great opportunities for new managers and seasoned professionals to expand their skillsets. Anice’s training ground for experts also lives on through the annual Texas Downtown Conference and regional roundtables. Nationally recognized speakers, award winning programs, and advanced technical know-how provide downtowners, tourism, chamber and economic development professionals with much needed expertise. If you haven’t attended the conference or a roundtable yet, or maybe it’s been a few years since you had the budget or capacity to attend, consider this Anice’s whisper to inspire action, even if you have to raise the budget funds yourself. (which was commonplace up until the mid-90’s).

This past summer in Athens I sat on top of this perch and started some soul searching

And be reminded of the old adage for managers to get out of town on a regular basis. So, here’s your cause and a mission to celebrate education and successes of downtowns that aren’t your own every year at one of TDA’s educational programs.

Technical Expertise: The resource team, professional staff, and the network that the Texas Main Street Program provides to participating communities set them apart from other cities that are trying to bring their downtowns back to life without an established framework. New cities are always given a roadmap at the onset of their journey. Known as a resource team visit, this practice continues to this day. During a recent visit with Julian Read he said of his late wife “Anice chartered her own course. She was focused. Once she set her mind to something, that was that. It was going to happen.” No truer statement reflects the persistent and unyielding mannerisms in which the fearless leader secured the support of the Rouse Company to serve during the early years of the resource visits because she believed they were essential. Anice didn’t accept “no” the first or second visit when seeing their support. Yet eventually, like so many others before them, a hesitant yes was finally given to Anice Read on her third visit. The shopping mall giants donated 15 days of corporate time annually as they sent professional retail staff on every Texas resource team, year after year. Similar to today’s teams’ architects, retailers, and tourism professionals were sent in as experts. One does have to chuckle when understanding that some of those experts were unknowingly being trained by Anice themselves. She routinely secured architects with no preservation training because that’s all she could find. Later she would marvel when something like a transom window removal would appear in their work for the first time.

Experts learn from people in the field, just like today’s managers learn from one another. The never-ending duty of a Main Street manager is seemingly impossible. It is affected by economic and political conditions outside of one’s control. It tends to be cyclical, full of extreme highs and incredible lows. Thankfully TDA’s Downtown Assessment program is available to provide expertise tailored to a community and their current needs. An assessment should be considered an update to an existing resource team road map. Who doesn’t need an injection of renewed purpose, passion, inspiration, and know- how to address their challenges? That’s exactly what an assessment does. Thankfully today’s team members are experts in their own right. And the honor of serving on a team is so revered in the industry that often there is a waiting list to donate your time. So, let us join you to celebrate and provide a fresh perspective on your community through our assessment program, we are sure to learn from you as well. Anice celebrated the power that outside experts had on a community’s toughest critics, and so do we.

Advocacy: Lastly, no good celebration should occur without support, advocacy and chocolate cake. Financial support, political capital, and downtown advocacy were critical components to the success of Texas Main Street in the early years and remain essential today. Quite honestly the legendary cake became a proven method to secure funding from the legislature, a constant reminder to always say thank you in some way, an example of what it means to be a servant leader, and Anice B. Reads avenue to ignite a revolution in rural communities and urban cores across the State. The first Main Street Cake appeared at the Capital after the House appropriations committee slashed the programs funding. Anice placed a note on the cake that said, “This is Main Street Cake. This is the quality that you’ll see from the Main Street Program by funding it this afternoon,” and the rest is history. With the 86th Texas Legislature in full swing, the Texas Downtown Association has already begun pounding the pavement in support of TMSP through its legislative agenda advocating on behalf of downtown and the issues that impact the work main street managers do. We know at least one Texas Main Street Cake has already made its way to Austin this year, and we hope to have cause for more chocolate cakes this session.

Alongside the TMSP the TDA Board of Directors continuously strives to foster professional excellence in downtown revitalization for our members. Our growing network of experts are armed and ready to support Main Street communities and rally behind the issues that affect the difficult work that you all do. Engagement in the Texas Downtown Association programs and services designed specifically to enrich Texas Main Street should be a no brainer for today’s managers. TDA is excited to rally the troops and champion the causes for celebrations happening in downtowns across the state every day. We hope that chocolate cake, Anice Read’s legacy, and the Texas Downtown Association become a part of all that your Main Street does to achieve success.

Sarah E. O’Brien

Special thanks to Julian Read for taking the time to meet with me to further discover the impact that his beloved wife had on Main Streets, preservation, downtowns, and the great State of Texas.


Sarah served as a Texas Main Street manager for over a decade and is a proud two-time Past President of the Texas Downtown Association. She lives in Smithville Texas and has worked in local government. community development, destination management and downtown revitalization across the State of Texas. She is a motivational speaker, consensus builder, and visionary problem solver who helps organizations and communities understand their purpose and achieve collective impact.

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