Larry Monroe Forever: A Bridge To Remember

Monroe's old car crosses his Forever Bridge. Photo by Ave Bonar.

Monroe’s old car crosses his Forever Bridge. Soon every inch will be covered in mosaic tiles. Photo by Ave Bonar.

There’s a nondescript creek overpass near Stacy Park in South Austin that’s soon to be transformed into a colorful, meaningful tribute to a radio man who created a bridge of music for listeners. Those who tuned to such shows as “Blue Monday” and “Phil Music” during Larry Monroe’s 29-year tenure at KUT and final run at KDRP (now Sun Radio), crossed into musical worlds they might not have otherwise discovered. Monroe gave Austin an education that went well with a joint and a $9 bottle of wine.

The organizing force behind the Larry Monroe Forever Bridge is Ave Bonar, the noted Austin photographer who was in a relationship with the iconic DJ at the time of his death from respiratory causes in January 2014 at age 71. Approached by interested party Jim Vest about creating a monument of some sort to the man who touched so many lives, Bonar’s first thought was “it has to be a work of art.”

She tapped mosaic artist Stefanie Distefano, perhaps best known locally for her stunning work on “Fish Bridge,” as her South Austin neighbors call the bejeweled memorial on El Paso Street she made for a beloved friend seven years ago. Bonar met Distefano a few years ago while the artist was working on the tiled mural outside the Phoenix House on Live Oak Street.


Stefanie Distefano's

Stefanie Distefano’s “Fish Bridge,” which she calls “As Above So Below”

But between the time she found the bridge in the 1500 block of Eastside Drive (coincidental cross street: Monroe), Bonar had to make sure her memorial plan was feasible through the city planning process. In May ’14 she met with Maggie Stenz of the Austin Cultural Arts Division, who filled her in on the regulations and parameters involved in such a project. Stenz organized a meeting with Art In Public Places and the Parks & Rec and Public Works Departments in September, which went well. Bonar also had to get 80% of the residents within 200 feet of the bridge, as well as the South River City Citizens neighborhood group, to sign off. The project cleared its final hurdle in December when the Larry Monroe Forever Bridge was approved by the Austin Arts Commission.

The bridge will be covered in a mosaic of hundreds of tiny memorial pieces, which are called tiles though they don’t resemble the smoothness and uniforminity of a bathroom floor. One side of the bridge will be dominated by a 22-foot tiled recreation of the words and musical notes of one of Monroe’s favorite songs, “To Live Is To Fly” by Townes Van Zandt.

“Musical notes will be scattered throughout the mosaic,” says Bonar. “We’ll include lyrics by other songwriters, including the late Blaze Foley, Butch Hancock, Joe Ely, Jennifer Warnes and Doyle Bramhall, to name a few.”

Most of the tiles are being created by friends and fans of Monroe, who meet at Distefano’s South Austin studio for regular  three-hour sessions. “Belly up to the bar,” Distefano called out on Saturday, and a group of about eight pulled stools up to a table containing mounds of clay and rolling pins. “Say something to Larry or about Larry,” the artist said in the way of guidance. “The only requirement is that one side has to be flat.”

Mosaic artist Stefanie Distefano holds a pie tile made by a friend of Monroe's.

Mosaic artist Stefanie Distefano holds a pie tile made by a friend of Monroe’s. Larry loved pies.

Some of the weekend tile-makers were close friends of the DJ, who moved to Austin in 1977 for a job at legendary “outlaw country” progenitator KOKE-FM (which then promptly changed to a commercial country format and Monroe quit). But others, such as furniture maker and sculptor David Amdur knew Monroe only through his broadcasts.

“Now that I’m 65, I decided to become more involved in community service projects that interest me,” said Amdur, who came armed with photos and drawings he found when he researched Monroe’s career. His skill is at the top of the spectrum, while some of the tile contributors have never worked with clay before. But Distefano said she’s thrilled with what the group has been coming up with. In a text Bonar shared on the group’s Larry Monroe Forever Bridge Facebook page, Stefanie wrote “Just loaded the kiln with last week’s tiles–they are so beautiful and soulful and rich – it’s got me in tears. Each one is so perfect and tells such a clear story. I cannot even begin to imagine how this bridge is going to feel when they’re all brought together.” Each piece is fired once, then glazed and fired again.

One friend, noting Monroe’s bakery affinity, made a pie. Another made a transistor radio and told Distefano Larry’s story about buying that handful of magic as a kid and jubilantly riding down the street on his bike with his hair flowing. During the tile-making sessions, much of the talk is about Monroe, which, Stefano said, gives her a better idea of how the overall work will go together.

Saturday afternoon tile party at Stef's. Artist Sam

Saturday afternoon tile party at Stef’s. Artist Sam “Eyebeam” Hurt on right.

“People are making extraordinary tiles,” enthused Bonar. “In addition to Gail Fisher’s excellent replica of the Sam Hurt logo that appears on Larry’s website, we’ve seen replicas of musical instruments, radios, a radio tower, cassette tapes, record label logos, and numerous fanciful portraits of Larry.”

Maybe someone will make a tile about David Letterman, Monroe’s friendly radio rival at Ball State in Indiana. Watching his former classmate’s career soar didn’t make Monroe jealous in the least. He was following the dream he had as a teenager making his radio debut as a high school basketball announcer. Larry Monroe lived to make a connection through music.

Monroe carefully chose his playlists to enforce the idea that music creates moods that should be sustained. After so many years of that, Monroe’s broadcasts have become a part of this town’s spiritual infrastructure. Distefano’s task is to similarly incorporate all those pieces of art into a narrative that flows and grows with meaning. Installation will take at least a week. When it’s done, perhaps in late March, Austin will have a memorial that we can all hold in our hearts.



The cost of the project, including materials, assembling and a stipend for the artist, is $20,000 which the group is raising on Crowdrise. The deadline to donate is March 1, which marks the 34th anniversary of Monroe getting his “dream job” at KUT. Anyone who gives money of any amount will get their name on a tile. Those wishing to get a seat at the tile-making table, email and she’ll tell you available times and the address.


Larry Monroe

Larry Monroe. Photo by Dave Pedley.