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A History of Some of Austin's Oldest Hotels

Apr 6, 2008
Many of the historic buildings in Austin are either privately owned, have been turned into modern-day businesses, or are open to the public in the form of museums. Luckily for those looking to actually live in such a building, even if for just one night, both the Driskill hotel and the Stephen F. Austin hotel are waiting downtown.

In 1886, cattle baron Jesse Driskill purchased the land, and built the Romanesque Driskill hotel in the heart of downtown Austin. Driskill, who had provided beef to the confederate army throughout the civil war, found himself fairly wealthy, and spent $350,000 on the building, and an additional $50,000 on furnishing his upscale hotel. Unfortunately for Driskill, the $2.50 to $5.00 per night charge was out of reach for most staying in town, and well over the 50 cents per night fee that most other hotels were charging at the time.

A year after opening the hotel, Driskill had a cattle-killing drought which wiped out most of his savings, and he sold the hotel to his brother-in-law Doc Day in 1888 (though rumor has it the hotel was lost in a poker match).

The hotel went through a variety of owners throughout the 20th century, and in 1969 when a large renovation fell through, most of the hotel's furnishings were sold, and the hotel was scheduled for demolition. Austin, being a city to stand behind a good cause, ended up raising $2 million dollars to save the historic hotel, and Braniff International Hotels purchased the building in 1973. In 2005, Lowe Enterprises purchased the Driskill for a reported $55 million dollars, and currently runs the hotel.

For Austinites, and those visiting Austin, staying at the Driskill is a treat, with many old furnishings, and its original upscale opulence still intact. With suite rates hovering around $2500, some might opt to take in the Driskill's beauty while sipping on a cocktail in the lounge or with a nice dinner at the Driskill Grill.

The Driskill is also considered one of Austin's most haunted places. Though the current owners don't like to advertise this fact, a quick check in with the concierge will get the curious a list of supernatural tales about the old building.

Just a few blocks from the Driskill lies another of Austin's grand hotels, the Stephen F. Austin, at the corner of East 7th Street and Congress Avenue. This landmark hotel opened in 1924 to bring more lodging to town.

What started as an 11 story hotel quickly grew to 16 stories on the site of the old G.A. Bahn Optical and Diamond Co. and the Keystone Hotel. Much like the Driskill's elegance, the Stephen F. Austin was decked out in granite floors and marble staircases, oriental rugs and Italian chairs.

Though the hotel has had its share of owners over the years, the hotel still holds many of its original features, though each owner has added their own flair. In 1997, the hotel's owners Highgate Holdings, brought the Stephen F. Austin back to its original opulent state by following the original architectural plans of the building. Now the hotel is a mix of turn-of-the-century charm, and state of the art amenities, drawing a similar elite crowd as the Driskill.

Today, a table at the second floor veranda overlooking Congress Avenue is hard to come by, and was once the area where oil and cattle deals were made. Also the hotel's restaurant directly below the veranda, the Roaring Fork, adds their own Texan twist to many upscale menu items, such as grilled jalapeno shrimp and green chile macaroni.

Both the Driskill and the Stephen F. Austin provide a chance to relive the ritzy past of the city, whether staying in a room or just stopping in for a drink or a bite to eat.
About the Author
Escapeso Realty works in Austin and helps buyers interested in the Austin real estate market. Their site has a free search of the Austin MLS along for a tool that provides current mortgage interest rates
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