- Driskill Hotel
Driskill HotelThe Driskill in 2006
Location: 117 E. 7th St
Austin, Travis County, Texas, USA
Coordinates: Coordinates: Built: 1886 Architect: Jasper N. Preston and Son Architectural style: Romanesque Revival Governing body: Destination Hotels & Resorts, Inc. NRHP Reference#: 69000212 Added to NRHP: November 25, 1969
The Driskill Hotel, a Romanesque style building completed in 1886, is the oldest operating hotel in Austin, Texas, USA, and one of the best-known hotels in Texas generally. The Driskill was conceived and built by Col. Jesse Driskill, a cattleman who spent his fortune constructing "the finest hotel south of St. Louis".
The hotel was completed at a cost of $400,000. Its four stories occupied almost half a block, with three arched entryways on the south, east, and north sides. Carved limestone busts of Driskill and his two sons, Bud and Tobe, crowned the hotel on each of these sides. Six million bricks went into the structure, along with limestone features.
The hotel's 60 rooms included 12 corner rooms with attached baths, an almost unheard-of feature in any hotel of the region at that time.
The hotel included an open design to encourage airflow throughout the building and keep it cool; its primary feature was an open rotunda at the center that extended from the first to the fourth floors and culminated in a domed skylight.
Other embellishments included an electric bell system, marble bureaus and washstands, steam heating, and gas lighting. The gas pipes throughout the building particularly led Driskill to make the hotel as fireproof as possible, with eighteen-inch-thick walls between the rooms and two layers of iron between each floor. The steam boilers, kitchen, and laundry facilities were relegated to the back (north) side of the hotel to prevent their odors from permeating the hotel.
The building is also said to have been built with a special ladies' entrance that allowed female guests to proceed directly to their rooms, thereby avoiding the rough talk of the cattlemen in the lobby.
Jesse Driskill, a successful cattle baron, had moved to Texas from Missouri in 1849. Flush with cash from his service to the Confederate Army, to which he supplied beef throughout the Civil War, he decided to diversify by constructing a grand hotel in Austin, his adopted hometown. In 1884, Driskill purchased land at the corner of 6th and Brazos for $7,500 and announced his plans. He hired the architectural firm of Jasper N. Preston & Son to design the structure.
The hotel enjoyed a grand opening on December 20, 1886, and was featured in a special edition of the Austin Daily Statesman. On January 1, 1887, Governor Sul Ross held his inaugural ball in its ballroom, beginning a tradition for every Texas governor since.
Driskill unfortunately did not have the clientele to match the splendor of his four-star hotel. At a time when other hotels were 50 cents to one dollar per night, Driskill charged $2.50 to $5.00 (including meals), an exorbitant sum at what was then still relatively a Wild West town. Following the loss of a great fortune in cattle drives, Driskill was forced to close the hotel in May 1887, less than a year after it opened, when half his staff were poached by the Beach Hotel in Galveston.
According to legend, he finally lost the hotel in a game of poker in 1888 to his brother-in-law, Jim "Doc" Day, who became its second owner. Driskill died of a stroke in 1890.
The hotel changed hands several times through the turn of the century, and went through boom and bust cycles along with the city of Austin. Local magnate George Littlefield, responsible for other Austin landmarks like the Littlefield House, obtained the hotel for $106,000 in 1895 and vowed that it would never close again. Littlefield invested over $60,000 in renovations, including ceiling frescoes and 28 additional lavatories, but still sold the hotel at a loss of $25,000 in 1903.
The original building was expanded in 1930 with a thirteen-story tower designed by Trost & Trost. During the same renovation, each of the original 60 rooms was converted to include a private bathroom.
In 1934, future President Lyndon Johnson met his future wife, Claudia Taylor, for their first date at the Driskill dining room. The Johnsons continued a lifelong love of the Driskill, and stayed there dozens of times for the rest of their lives. It became his campaign headquarters during his congressional career especially during his famous 1948 Senate race, and became a favorite place on return trips to Austin during his presidency. He watched the results of the 1964 Presidential Election from its presidential suite and addressed supporters from its ballroom after his victory.
In a 1950 renovation, air conditioning was added to the building, and the dramatic skylit rotunda was permanently removed.
The Driskill was threatened with demolition in 1969, after a planned renovation fell through. Most of its furnishings were sold, and an American-Statesman article declared, "Driskill Hotel's Fate 'Sealed'." The hotel was saved from the wrecking ball at almost the last minute, however, when a non-profit organization called the Driskill Hotel Corporation raised $900,000. The hotel re-opened in 1972 and has remained successful since.
The most recent renovation began in 1996 and reached a symbolic conclusion on December 31, 1999 with a grand reopening millennium celebration, though renovation efforts of individual areas have continued since then.
Today the Driskill remains one of the premier hotels in Texas, featuring lavish bridal suites, two restaurants, and a grand ballroom. It is also well-known as one of the most haunted hotels in the United States, featuring a variety of alleged supernatural activity throughout the building including the spirit of Colonel Driskill himself.
- ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2006-03-15. http://nrhp.focus.nps.gov/natreg/docs/All_Data.html.
- ^ a b "Driskill Hotel" Texas Historic Sites Atlas Retrieved Dec 28, 2008.
- ^ a b c d Carmack, Liz. Historic Hotels of Texas, Texas A&M University Press: College Station, Texas, 2007. pp 76-80.
- ^ "Historic Timeline" Driskill Hotel. 1884
- ^ "Historic Timeline" Driskill Hotel. 1903
- ^ "Historic Timeline" Driskill Hotel. 1934
- ^ "Historic Timeline" Driskill Hotel. 1999
- ^ Staff Writer. "Texas – Travis County." National Register of Historic Places. Accessed January 27, 2006. Retrieved on 2006-01-27.
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