Now skyscrapers are an everyday sight in Austin Texas, but it was not always so. Construction of Austin's first Austin skyscraper began in early 1910. The building was built by E.M. Scarbourough at the southwest corner of Congress Avenue and 6th Street. The building had eight stories, which seems minuscule by today's standards. This type of construction was so new, that they felt the need to have the Austin American Statesman write an article to explain how it could be so tall and not cave in.
The new Littlefield building claimed the title of tallest downtown building the very next year in 1911. The Littlefield building was constructed on the northeast corner of Congress and Sixth Street as a business and personal residence for Mr. Littlefield. The construction was truly custom as everything was made to order in the structure. It should be noted there was not a single stick of wood used in the buildings framework or walls, it was all steel. The building even had a sub cellar for storage and a rooftop garden! The building was considered cutting edge at the time it was built.
There were more tall buildings built between the 1930-1980's but none of them were history making buildings. After the building boom and bust of the 1980's the next serious round of skyscrapers started in the 1990's and has not stopped yet.
The most controversial of those newer buildings was the Frost Bank Tower. Frost Bank's new tower caused a lot of protest and conversation before they even began construction in November 2001. People said it would alter our skyline and be an eyesore. Personally I like the Frost Bank Tower and feel that it adds something special to our night skyline. All the glass and steel crystal points look impressive. It looks like a building from the set of a Superman movie. It was the very first high rise to start construction after the Sept 11th attack. It was planned to be 352 feet tall, but it ended up being 315'9" tall with 33 floors. It won the Emporis Award for best skyscraper of the year in 2004 and the Austin Chronicle Award for best Building in 2004. Many claim it appears to resemble an owl (the Rice University mascot and UT rival) from the corners, which may or may not annoy some UT alumni. My dad graduated from Rice, while I went to UofH and UT so I guess you could say I have mixed feelings.
There used to be an ordinance or building restriction to prevent anyone from building anything tall enough to obstruct an existing home owner's view of the State Capital. Somehow in the drive to bring condos downtown that rule was cast aside in the name of progress. I was sorry to see it go and still mourn its passing. I used to enjoy sitting on the back deck and seeing the orange glow of the UT tower next to the Capital, but those days are long gone unless you live in one of the new high-rise condos.
There are more and more buildings reaching for the Austin skyline these days. Some of the newcomers to forever alter our skyline are: The Monarch, The Spring, The Austonian, The W, and the 360 Condos, just to name a few. The Frost Bank Building is now virtually dwarfed in comparison to the newest additions to downtown. See this rendering of downtown to see the radical changes in our skyline. I am ready for this condo construction to stop, personally I would like to be able to recognize my hometown next year. I am sure next year I can add to this blog with a few more buildings that will be even taller than these. So keep your eyes open!
If you are in the market for a home in Austin and are not presently working with a Realtor, please call me. I would be happy to assist you with the process of buying a house or condo. I specialize in Relocation and I have a network of experts to make the process easy to navigate. I look forward to the opportunity to earn your business.
Betina Foreman, Realtor
Member: Austin Board of Realtors, Texas Association of Realtors, National Association of Realtors, ActiveRain, Trulia-Top Voices, and Zillow-Neighborhood Pros.