The Driskill in 2013
604 Brazos Street|
Austin, Travis County, Texas, United States
|Architect||Jasper N. Preston and Son|
|Architectural style||Romanesque Revival|
|NRHP reference #||69000212|
|Added to NRHP||November 25, 1969|
The Driskill, a Romanesque-style building completed in 1886, is the oldest operating hotel in Austin, Texas, United States, 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 18-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 was 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 was 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 20th century, and went through boom and bust cycles along with the city of Austin. Local magnate George Littlefield, responsible for other Austin landmarks such as 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 13-story tower designed by the El Paso architecture firm, 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 during 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 nonprofit organization called the Driskill Hotel Corporation raised $900,000.
Braniff International Hotels purchases Driskill
Braniff International Hotels, Inc., a division of Braniff Airways, Inc., of Dallas, Texas, bought the hotel in 1972, and began a $350,000 USD restoration of the grand lobby of the historic facility. Braniff reopened the hotel to customers on January 15, 1973, to very strong bookings and conference business.
Braniff threw a party to celebrate the grand reopening of the Hotel Driskill on February 10, 1973. Over 1000 guests attended the gala event that was hosted by Braniff President C. Edward Acker, Robert H. Burck, Vice President of Public Affairs, and Braniff Hotels President John W. Leer. Guests arrived at the event in beautifully restored antique cars that were reminiscent of the grandeur of the early Hotel Driskill. The highlight of the evening was a Parade of Texas Governors, and/or their descendants, since 1886, when the hotel first opened 87 years earlier.
Texas legendary humorist and KLBJ Radio personality, Cactus Jack Pryor, who served as Master of Ceremonies for the special event, introduced the living Texas Governors. Governors Allan Shivers, Price Daniel, Sr., and Preston Smith represented the former Texas Governors who attended the event along with then Governor Dolph Briscoe and Mrs. Briscoe. Each Governor descended the beautiful Driskill stairway with their wife or guest as Cactus Jack announced their arrival.
Braniff Executive Chef Willy Rossel and Marriott's Chef Michele created a brilliantly beautiful and sumptuously delicious buffet that was enjoyed by the Who's Who of the State of Texas. The grand reopening ceremonies continued on Sunday, February 11, with a Tea Dance that began at 430PM, and included the music of the Jack Melick Orchestra. The two day event was chaired by Mrs. Bob C. Armstrong, Mrs. Jack Neff, and Mrs. Elaine Mayo. All proceeds from the event went to the Austin Heritage Society who was strategically instrumental in the resurrection of the Hotel Driskill.
Noteworthy events at the Driskill Hotel
August 31, 1934 - Lyndon Baines Johnson and Lady Bird Claudia Alta Taylor went on their first date at Hotel Driskill, meeting for breakfast in the Driskill Dining Room. The future Mrs. Johnson made Mr. Johnson wait while she pondered outside the hotel whether she wanted to go on the date.
November 3, 1964 - President Lyndon Baines Johnson watched the returns of the 1964 Presidential Election in the Jim Hogg Suite. The event was televised nationwide and the hotel later served as the White House Press Center when the President and First Lady were in Texas.
March 1991 - The rock band Concrete Blonde penned their hit Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man about the rumored ghosts that haunted Hotel Driskill.
November 1997 - The Cattle Baron's Suite opens with a nightly rate of $2500 USD.
President Clinton stayed in the 4 room suite when he visited Austin in 1999.
September 11, 2001 - Jenna Bush, daughter of President George W. Bush, is relocated to the hotel by the Secret Service in the wake of the terrorist attacks earlier that day.
In 1980, Braniff International leased the management of the Hotel Driskill to Laral Hotels. In May 1982, Braniff International Corporation filed for Chapter 11 Federal Bankruptcy Protection and its subsidiaries including Braniff International Hotels. However, the Driskill, along with Braniff's other subsidiaries Braniff Education Systems, Inc., and Braniff Realty continued to operate during Braniff's bankruptcy proceedings. In 1983, the hotel was spun off by the court into The Driskill Partnership, Inc., and was sold.
Braniff emerged from bankruptcy on December 15, 1983, and The Driskill Partnership, Inc. was sold to Lincoln Hotel Corporation. A number of owners have had the privilege of caring for the Driskill. A grand restoration and remodeling was commenced in 1997, and was completed in time for a Millennium Celebration on December 31, 1999. As of 2016, The Driskill Hotel is owned by Hyatt Hotels Group, the former owner of [Braniff], Inc., also known as Braniff II. The Hyatt Hotels Group, announced it had purchased the hotel on August 8, 2013.
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. On March 8, 2013, the Hyatt Hotels Corporation confirmed that they had purchased the Driskill Hotel. The hotel will be owned and operated by Hyatt, and will remain known as the Driskill .
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- Recorded Texas Historic Landmarks in Travis County
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- "The Driskill, a Historic Hotels of America member". Historic Hotels of America. Retrieved January 28, 2014.
- Williamson, Roxanne. ""DRISKILL HOTEL," Handbook of Texas Online". Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
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- "Historic Timeline" Driskill Hotel. 1903 Archived 2016-04-29 at the Wayback Machine.
- "Historic Timeline" Driskill Hotel. 1934 Archived 2016-04-29 at the Wayback Machine.
- Martha L., Zahrt (January 1973). "Braniff Opens Driskill Hotel". B-Liner Employee Newsletter. 16 (1): 6.
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- Staff Writer. "Texas – Travis County." National Register of Historic Places. Accessed January 27, 2006. Retrieved on 2006-01-27.