History of Austin

These historical old Austin buildings are being repurposed for new projects

These historical old Austin buildings are repurposed for new projects

Commodore Perry Estate
The Commodore Perry Estate has been renovated into a luxury hotel.  Photo by Nick Simonite

There is little doubt that a dedicated group of residents like to reminisce, and occasionally complain, about Austin. After all, it wasn't that long ago that Austin was a sleepy Central Texas town. This year, it will welcome its 1 millionth resident.

Users on one Facebook page called Dazed and Confused/Keeping Our Austin Memories Alive for its Rich History, which has 12,000 followers and counting, frequently post about what they miss most about our fair city. In one particularly evocative thread, users talked about the annual tug-of-war over Town Lake between North and South Austin. (South won every year.)

There are also posts about Mr. Threadgill, proprietor of his eponymous restaurant; a greased pig contest in Capital Plaza; the train at the Chief Drive-In Theater; and buying donuts from Mrs. Johnson's Bakery and eating them while watching planes land at Mueller Airport. 

And of course there are the posts about traffic and parking.

Amidst all of this change, there are still bits of "old Austin," and some ambitious new projects are trying bridge the gap between the old and new eras. 

Highland ACC
When Highland Mall first opened on Airport Boulevard in 1971, it was Austin's first enclosed mall and was very popular with shoppers. Local teens would hang out and the mall became an indoor destination for all residents during the hot summer months. In the 1800s, the land belonged to the St. John's Home for Negro Orphans until the home was lost to a fire in the 1840s.

Alas, the mall closed for good in April 2015 after more than 40 years and later became Austin Community College Highland campus. Today, ACC Highland incorporates much of the mall exterior and indoor fountains. The campus has also become a national model for sustainability and adaptive reuse. Eventual plans for the mixed-use development include affordable housing, apartments, parks, retail and office space, and hotels.

The building at 1504 E. Fifth St., was originally home to the Old Depot Hotel, built in 1871-1872. The beloved downtown Italian restaurant opened in 1985 and served food for 32 years, achieving status as a historic Texas landmark along the way.

The land value in 2014 was $3 million and jumped to $5 million just one year later. Due to rising property taxes, the restaurant was sold in 2017, and the property is currently being developed into apartments, with developers enhancing the courtyard as a connection between old and new Austin.

Sixth and Lavaca Historic Sixth District 
The 36-story Indeed Tower, formerly known as Block 71, is currently under construction in the 200 block of West Sixth Street. In addition to being the city's highest office tower, it's unique in that is being built atop Claudia Taylor-Johnson Hall, a former post office.

"From the first time we toured the property, we knew the Claudia Taylor Johnson Hall was not only as important asset that needed to be preserved, but that it had the potential to be the downtown jewel of our large development," says Kevin Brooke, associate with Trammel Crow Company. "We like to think that the building had two lives, first as a post office from 1914 until 1965, when it transitioned into its second life with the offices of the UT System."

When it opens in 2021, the tower will host both UT System offices and serve as headquarters for the Austin-based Indeed, which is indeed how it got its new name. As for the Claudia Taylor-Johnson Hall, that will transform into downtown's newest food hall

Commodore Perry Hotel
Located at 4100 Red River St. in the Hancock neighborhood, just north of the University of Texas, is the soon-to-reopen Commodore Perry Estate. Later this year, the property will relaunch as a luxury hotel. (Sneak a peek here.) The new resort is part of the Auberge collection, and will feature 53 rooms inside the original 10,800-square-foot home. The house, built in 1928, will also feature a new event space in the estate chapel and gardens, a restaurant, and an organic garden.

Austin's growth has always been a source of ire for locals (in fact, Austinites complained when The Driskill hotel was under construction 1886). And while there is no question our skyline has soared upwards and traffic is horrendous, with that growth has come a growing economy.

Just as certain a fact that heat will be here soon (next month?), Austinites will continue to complain about the changing city. Hopefully, there will still be citizens using old Austin roots to help build the city's future.