Crafting new hotels from old spaces is a growing trend, thanks in part to environmental factors and travelers increasingly looking for unique experiences. Here in Austin, visitors (and locals) have no shortage of unique accommodation options, ranging from a boot store to a former military base.
Outside the city limits, the lodging options get even funkier and include a jail, an old dance hall, and treehouses high in the sky. This year, when you make summer travel plans, bypass the Holiday Inn and make new memories in historic spaces.
Allens Boots Loft
This unique Airbnb at 1522 South Congress Ave. is housed above the iconic Allens Boots store. Although the store opened in 1977, the building was originally built in the 19th century. Loft guests are treated to a hip, rustic Texan stay steps away from popular boutiques, restaurants, and shops on SoCo. For details, contact Airbnb hosts (and natives) Sean and Lauren Greenberg.
Opened in late 2018, this boutique hotel at 400 Josephine St. is retrofitted from the Carpenters Union Hall, originally built in 1948. The 93 guest rooms are individually designed, staying true to the union motif, and each room features an outdoor terrace. The hotel also features a coffee shop and restaurant serving Central Texas cuisine and other specialty dishes.
Located at 605 Brazos St., across from the Driskill Hotel and around the corner from Sixth Street, the Firehouse Hostel makes its home in the Washington Fire Hall No. 1, the fire station for volunteer firefighters and downtown Austin's oldest standing fire station. Built in 1885, the building once served as an office but then remained vacant for years before becoming the Firehouse Hostel in 2012. The hostel has rooms with private baths, and the unique lounge is open to the public.
Hilton Austin Airport Hotel
While an airport Hilton may not scream history, this hotel was repurposed from the Bergstrom Air Force Case headquarters and even kept the unique 'donut' design. The original structure served as one of only three bunkers in the U.S. for the president to seek safety in the event of a nuclear attack. Not only is the hotel convenient for airport passengers and guests, it is also close to the Circuit of The Americas, which host F1, motocross, and numerous other events. The hotel also provides 24-hour complimentary shuttle service to the Barbara Jordan Terminal.
Since it opened in 2013 at 1900 Rio Grande St., on the southern edge of the University of Texas campus, this hotel has become a chic hot spot. The Greek Revival-style mansion was built in 1900 for Goodall Wooten, his wife, Ella, and their family. The mansion later served as student housing and as a treatment center. After an extensive remodel, the boutique hotel opened with 47 guest rooms, a cabana-lined pool, and a wraparound veranda. The hotel and restaurant also host social and corporate events.
Located at 1001 King Ct. in Kingsland, Texas (part of the Highland Lakes area, 64 miles from Austin), it was built in 1901 as a resort for passengers on the Austin and Northwestern Railroad. The resort includes a fishing pier, picnic tables, and an area to launch boats and jet-skis (rentals are available in town). Overnight accommodations include the main house with a wraparound porch, cabins, and even train cars remodeled from the original rail line that served the area. After a day at the lake or just relaxing, guests can visit the Grand Central Cafe or catch live music at the Club Car Bar.
The Cell Block
This inn at 120 Clifton Art Alley, about a two-hour drive from Austin, is repurposed from a two-cell jailhouse built in the 1930s. Local legend is that drunks used to sleep it off in the jail (make sure to ask around town for details). The repurposed property features one room, minimalist in design, a retrofitted restroom, and upstairs, a patio — the former prison yard — to view the stars at night. Make a note: there is no television. Instead, there is a phonograph with a selection of jail tunes to play. The inn is part of Clifton Art Alley, and restaurants, shopping, and a movie theater are downtown in this small community.
Cypress Valley Tree Houses
Get a bird's-eye view of the Texas Hill Country at this unique spot. Stay in a tree house and take a canopy tour at 1223 S. Paleface RR in Spicewood, Texas, about 45 minutes from Austin. Fill your bucket list by sleeping in the ancient and majestic cypress trees (the trees are at least 400 years old) in one of four tree houses. Each tree house has electricity, making the experience closer to glamping than camping. Larger groups can stick closer to the ground in the Ranch House — ideal for groups.
This repurposed brewery at 136 E. Grayson in San Antonio has become one of Texas' finest hotels. Located in the former Pearl Brewery, built in 1894, the Emma is named after Emma Koehler, who ran the brewery after her husband's death. She faced challenging times during Prohibition but managed to creatively keep the business profitable. Although she handed over the management to her nephew, Emma remained a towering presence until her death in 1943. There is even a special suite named for her, in addition to 145 other tastefully furnished rooms. The hotel includes a two-story library, a spa, a celebrated bar and restaurant, and even a sundries store.
Old Coupland Inn & Dancehall
The Old Coupland Inn & Dancehall, located at 101 Hoxie St. in Coupland, is a half-hour drive from Austin. Pull on your Luccheses and prepare for boot-scootin' fun. The inn has seven rooms above the dance hall, with a shared bathroom and kitchen. Each room is decorated in brothel style and guests are treated to a continental breakfast. The historic building was built in 1904 and has served as a pharmacy company and store, a doctor's office, and more. Once upon a time in Texas, there were about a 1,000 active dance halls — a number that has dwindled to around 400. The dance hall is only open on weekends, so check the calendar for music listings.