Oldest working lodge in Austin Texas: Driskill Resort
- Land was bought to build the Driskill Hotel in 1884 for $ 7,500, then opened in 1886.
- The hotel opened with 60 rooms, including 12 corner rooms that were rarely found in hotels in the region at the time.
- The building was designed with separate entrances for men and women – nothing unusual at the time.
The Driskill was designed and built by Col. Jesse Driskill, a rancher who spent his fortune building “the best hotel south of St. Louis”. He was full of cash from his service in the Confederate Army, which he supplied beef to throughout the Civil War. In 1884, Driscoll bought land in downtown Austin for $ 7,500 and announced plans for a new hotel. Today the Driskill is one of the leading hotels in Austin, offering lavish bridal suites, two restaurants and a grand ballroom.
The cattle baron Jesse Driskill opened the hotel in 1886 in what was then a border town. He lost it two years later when his fortune went bad after his herd died during a severe drought and frost.
The Driskill consists of two connected buildings; The original four-story Romanesque revival building from 1886 and a 13-story annex from 1930.
The original building, designed by local Austin architect Jasper N. Preston, was constructed using over six million pressed bricks and white limestone accents. The building contains two porticos on the south and east facades that contain large Richardson-style arches that are believed to be the largest in Texas. The facade contains three limestone busts of Driskill and his sons; JW “Bud” Driskill overlooks Brazos Street, AW “Tobe” Driskill overlooks an alley on the west side, and Jesse Driskill overlooks Sixth Street, whose bust is surrounded by decorative carvings including longhorns on the gable ends.
The hotel opened with 60 rooms, including 12 corner rooms with attached bathrooms, which was rare in hotels in the region at the time. In the center of the hotel was a four-story open rotunda covered by a vaulted skylight that served as a fireplace to soak in the hot air and cool the building. The skylight was removed when air conditioning was installed on the roof in 1950. The building was designed with separate entrances for men and women. Two entrances, one on Sixth Street and one towards the alley on the west side of the building, were reserved for men and were flanked by a drawing room, a cigar shop in the pool room, a newspaper stand, and a barbershop with bathrooms. The women’s entrance on Brazos Street allowed female guests to go straight to their rooms, avoiding the cigar smoke and the harsh ranchers’ talk in the lobby. The second floor contained the main dining room and ballroom, separate salons for men and women, a children’s dining room, and bridal suites. Other adornments included an electric bell system, marble offices, steam heating, and gas lighting.
The 13-storey annex, designed by the architectural firm Trost & Trost in El Paso, opened in 1930. The annex with 180 rooms contains a bungalow penthouse that is only accessible from the roof of the building. The bungalow has two bedrooms with private bathrooms, a living room and a fully equipped kitchen. The bungalow was originally used as a private residence by superintendents of the Southern Pacific Railroad, but was later rented to high profile guests such as Jack Dempsey, Bob Hope and President Lyndon Johnson. In 1979 the hotel manager restored the bungalow as a private residence.
In 1934, a young Texas congressional assistant named Lyndon B. Johnson met Claudia Alta Taylor on her first date: breakfast in the Driskill Dining Room. He was so in love that he proposed marriage that same day. He and Lady Bird continued to have a close relationship with the hotel and even watched the election results for its vice-presidential and presidential campaigns. And today guests can spend the night in a room named after him.
The hotel was officially opened on December 20, 1886 and featured in a special edition of the Austin Daily Statesman. On January 1, 1887, Governor Sul Ross held his inaugural ball in his ballroom, and has since started a tradition for every Texas governor. In May 1887, less than a year after it opened, Driskill was forced to close the hotel because he could no longer afford to operate the hotel after a harsh winter and a drought that killed its livestock inventory. In addition, SE McIlhenny, the hotel’s general manager, and half of the staff at the Beach Hotel in Galveston were hired, which accelerated the closure. Driskill sold the hotel in 1888 to his brother-in-law Jim “Doc” Day, who reopened the hotel in late 1888.
Austin magnate George Littlefield, who is responsible for other Austin landmarks, opened the Austin National Bank on the southeast corner of the building. The old bank vault is still there. Littlefield later bought the hotel for $ 106,000 in 1895, vowing it would never close again. Littlefield invested over $ 60,000 in renovations, including frescoed ceilings, electric lighting, steam heating, and 28 additional toilets, but sold the hotel to banking competitor Wilmot in 1903 at a loss of $ 25,000. Wilmot added a barber shop and a women’s spa with Turkish baths, oversaw the construction of the outbuilding, and decorated the former smoking room with eight antique Austrian mirrors with gold leaf frames that previously belonged to Maximilian and Carlota from Mexico.
In 1950 the hotel began a renovation that closed off the entrance on Sixth Street and removed the rotunda skylight to make room for air conditioning on the roof. In 1952, the former Austin National Bank was converted into a television studio for KTBC, the very first television station in central Texas.
In 1969, the Driskill closed its guest rooms in anticipation of a renovation and a new tower with a modern glass facade, which never came into being. Most of the furniture has been sold, and an article by an American statesman reads: “The fate of the Driskill Hotel is” sealed “.” However, the hotel was saved from the wrecking ball almost at the last minute when a nonprofit called Driskill Hotel Corporation raised $ 900,000.
In 1908, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas met at the Driskill Hotel to discuss the fate of the Alamo Mission in San Antonio. During the meeting, a rift emerged between two factions in the group as to whether the structure should be demolished or preserved.
Braniff International Hotels, Inc., a division of Braniff Airways, Inc. of Dallas, Texas, bought the hotel in 1972 and began restoring the historic facility’s grand lobby, valued at $ 350,000. Braniff reopened the hotel to customers on January 15, 1973 to enable a very strong booking and conference business. Braniff held an official reopening ceremony on February 10, 1973. Over 1,000 guests attended the gala event, which since 1886 has included a parade of all Texas governors and / or their descendants. All proceeds from the event went to the Austin Heritage Society, which was strategically instrumental in the resurrection of the Driskill Hotel.
In 1995, the Driskill was bought by Great American Life Insurance, which began a $ 30 million renovation to restore the hotel to its original appearance, which had changed dramatically over the years. The hotel was closed for renovations for four years and reopened on December 31, 1999 as part of a Millennium Celebration.
In 2013, the Driskill was purchased by Hyatt Hotels Corporation for $ 85 million. The hotel was renovated for $ 8 million on November 25, 1969 on the National Register of Historic Places.
Stanley Turkel was named Historian of the Year 2020 by Historic Hotels of America, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s official program, for which he was previously named in 2015 and 2014. Turkel is the most widely used hotel consultancy in the United States states. He runs his hotel consulting practice as an expert in hotel-related cases, offers asset management and hotel franchising advice. He is certified as a Master Hotel Supplier Emeritus by the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. [email protected] 917-628-8549
His new book “Great American Hotel Architects Volume 2” has just been published.
Other published hotel books:
- Great American Hoteliers: Hotel Industry Pioneers (2009)
- Built to last: Hotels in New York that are over 100 years old (2011)
- Built to last: Over 100-year-old hotels east of the Mississippi (2013)
- Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt, Oscar des Waldorfs (2014)
- Great American Hoteliers Volume 2: Hotel Industry Pioneers (2016)
- Built to last: over 100-year-old hotels west of the Mississippi (2017)
- Hotel Mavens Volume 2: Henry Morrison Flagler, Henry Bradley Plant, Carl Graham Fisher (2018)
- Great American Hotel Architects Volume I (2019)
- Hotel Mavens: Volume 3: Bob and Larry Tisch, Ralph Hitz, Cesar Ritz, Curt Strand
All of these books can be ordered from AuthorHouse by visiting www.stanleyturkel.com and clicking on the title of the book.