Moonlight Towers (Austin, Texas)

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Moonlight Towers
Austin Moontower at Night.jpg
A moonlight tower at night
Location Austin and vicinity
Nearest city Austin, Texas
Architect Fort Wayne Electric Co.
NRHP Reference # 76002071
Added to NRHP July 12, 1976

The Moonlight towers in Austin, Texas are the only known surviving light towers in the world. They are 165 feet (50 m) tall and have a 15-foot (4.6 m) foundation. This type of tower was manufactured in Indiana by Fort Wayne Electric Company and assembled onsite.[1] In 1894, the City of Austin purchased 31 used towers from Detroit. A single tower cast light from six carbon arc lamps, illuminating a 1,500-foot-radius (460 m) circle brightly enough to read a watch.[2]

Some have claimed that Austin put up moonlight towers partially in response to the actions of the Servant Girl Annihilator, but in fact the towers were not erected until 1894 and 1895, ten years after the murders took place.[3]

When first erected, the towers were connected to electric generators at the Austin Dam, completed in 1893 on the site of present-day Tom Miller Dam. In the 1920s their original carbon-arc lamps, which were exceedingly bright but time-consuming to maintain, were replaced by incandescent lamps, which gave way in turn to mercury vapor lamps in the 1930s. The mercury vapor lamps were controlled by a switch at each tower's base. During World War II, a central switch was installed, allowing citywide blackouts in case of air raids.

In 1970 the towers were recognized as Texas State Landmarks, followed by the 17 remaining towers being listed in the National Register of Historic Places on July 12, 1976. Only 6 are in their original locations as established by the Board of Public Works and City Council in 1895. In 1986 they were designated as State Archeological Landmarks.

In 1993 the city of Austin dismantled the towers and restored every bolt, turnbuckle and guy-wire as part of a $1.3 million project, the completion of which was celebrated in 1995 with a city-wide festival.

The City of Austin has ordinances in place to protect the towers from demolition. However, since 2004 the towers at 4th & Nueces and 1st & Trinity have been removed due to new construction. It is unclear whether they will be replaced, or erected elsewhere.

In popular culture[edit]

The Zilker Park tower was prominently featured in the film Dazed and Confused (1993) as the site of a high-school keg party, in which the character David Wooderson played by Matthew McConaughey exclaims, "Party at the moon tower."[4]

This place used to be off limits, man, ‘cause some drunk freshman fell off. He went right down the middle, smacking his head on every beam, man. I hear it doesn’t hurt after the first couple though. Autopsy said he had one beer, how many did you have?[5]

—Ron Slater, Dazed and Confused

The scenes were actually filmed at mock-up of a tower, which was erected at Walter E. Long Park east of Austin. Both the base and top of the tower shown in the movie differed greatly from those of the real towers.

There is a band called Moonlight Towers from Austin.[6]

An episode of the podcast 99% Invisible titled "Under the Moonlight" explores the history of the moonlight towers.

Tower locations[edit]

Surviving towers[edit]

The moonlight tower in Zilker Park

There are 17 surviving towers kept in original condition except for a historic plaque on each tower. [7]

  • Leland St. and Eastside Dr (NE corner)
  • Monroe St. and S. 1st S (SW corner)
  • West 4th and Nueces (SW corner)
  • West 9th and Guadalupe St (SE corner)
  • W. 12th St. and Blanco St (SE corner)
  • W. 12th St. and Rio Grande St (NW corner)
  • W. 15th St. and San Antonio St (SW corner)
  • W. 22nd St. and Nueces St (SW corner)
  • W. 41st St. and Speedway St (SW corner)
  • Zilker Park (used for Zilker Park Christmas Tree) (moved from Emma Long Metropolitan Park)
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and Chicon St (SE corner)
  • E. 13th St. and Coleto St (NE corner)
  • Pennsylvania Ave. and Leona St (NE corner)
  • E. 11th St. and Trinity St (SE corner)
  • E. 11th St. and Lydia St (SW corner)
  • E. Cesar Chavez and Trinity St. (SW corner)
  • Canterbury St. and Lynn St. (NE corner)[8]

Dismantled towers[edit]

  • East 1st St. and Waller St.
  • East 6th St. and Medina St.
  • E. 14th St. and Sabine St
  • E. 14th St. and Sabine St (SW corner)
  • Hawthorne (which later became either E. 20th or E. 21st) and Longfellow.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (was 19th St.) and Lavaca St.
  • E. 16th St. and Brazos St.
  • E. 2nd St. and Neches St. (Convention Center)
  • W. 6th St. and Westlynn St
  • Dean Keeton St. (was 26th St.) and Whitis Ave.
  • E. 5th St. and Brazos St. (moved to Leland St. and East Side Dr.)
  • 29th St. and Lamar Blvd.
  • W. 6th St. and Lamar Blvd.
  • City Park renamed to Emma Long Metropolitan Park (moved to Zilker Park)
  • North end of Granite Dam (near power station and Ben Hur dock) [8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Texas Historical Commission Atlas
  2. ^ "Progress Report Austin: Legends of Austin k2". Texas Archive of the Moving Image. 1962. Retrieved August 4, 2011. 
  3. ^ Neinast, Roy. "Serial Killers and Stoners: 10 Facts about Austin’s Moonlight Towers". Glasstire. Retrieved March 25, 2014. 
  4. ^ New York Times: "Austin’s Moon Towers, Beyond ‘Dazed and Confused’" by MARK OPPENHEIMER February 13, 2014
  5. ^ "Quotes for Mitch Kramer (Character)". IMDB. Retrieved March 25, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Moonlight Towers album review". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved March 25, 2014. 
  7. ^ Powell, William Dylan (2006). Austin then & now. San Diego, Calif.: Thunder Bay Press. pp. 74, 75. ISBN 1-59223-658-8. 
  8. ^ a b "Moonlight Towers". Austin Postcard. Retrieved March 20, 2014. 

External links[edit]