Downtown Historical Buildings Walking Tour, Austin

Downtown Historical Buildings Walking Tour (Self Guided), Austin

Northwest downtown Austin boasts an impressive collection of historic residences of notable styles, ranging from classic Victorian to Georgian to Greek Revival. Carefully preserved and restored, these constructions – from nationally listed historic sites to the significant local elements of the built environment – form a major part of Austin’s cultural heritage and indelible chapter of its story.

Among the notable buildings found along Congress Avenue there are several true icons, like the Lundberg Bakery – one of the city’s largest and most successful bakeries (now housing an art gallery), established in 1876 by the Swedish immigrant Charles Lundberg, and the ornate Walter Tips Building of the same year – a three-story masterful blend of Venetian Gothic and Italianate Renaissance Revival styles.

Some other gems that the history and architecture buffs shouldn't miss, while in Austin, include:

Texas Governor's Mansion – the elegant edifice serving as the official residence of Texas governors and their families since 1856;

Paramount Theatre – a century-old performance venue and movie theater located in the heart of downtown Austin;

Driskill Hotel – built in 1886 by the cattle baron, Jesse Driskill, as a frontier showplace; recently restored;

O. Henry Museum – a former residence of the famed short story writer, William Sydney Porter, popularly known by his pen-name, O. Henry;

Susanna Dickinson Museum – home of the only Anglo adult survivor of the Battle of the Alamo.

If you're keen on having a quiet and more peaceful stroll, as opposed to that on the crowded Congress Avenue, and explore a number of historically important houses and mansions of Austin, take this self-guided walking tour and enjoy yourself.
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Downtown Historical Buildings Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Downtown Historical Buildings Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Austin (See other walking tours in Austin)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 14
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.4 Km or 2.1 Miles
Author: christine
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Cathedral of Saint Mary in Austin
  • Millett Opera House
  • Lundberg Bakery
  • Texas Governor's Mansion
  • Brizendine House
  • Robinson-Macken House
  • John Bremond House
  • Henry Hirshfeld House and Cottage
  • Paramount Theatre
  • Walter Tips Building
  • Driskill Hotel
  • Hannig Row Building
  • O. Henry Museum
  • Susanna Dickinson Museum
Cathedral of Saint Mary in Austin

1) Cathedral of Saint Mary in Austin (must see)

Saint Mary's is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin. The origins of this temple date back to the 1850s, when the Catholic community in Austin built a small stone church, named St. Patrick's, on the corner of 9th and Brazos streets. In 1866 the church was renamed Saint Mary's, and the parish decided they needed a new building and could afford masonry construction. In 1872, after Austin was made the permanent capital of Texas, the parish laid the cornerstone for a new church, choosing a location one block north of the original building.

The parish had laid out a basilica-shaped foundation and begun raising the walls, which were 5 feet (1.5 m) high when the architect Nicholas J. Clayton began to design their new church.

When the new Diocese of Austin was formed in 1948, this became the cathedral of the newly formed diocese. At that time, the church was remodeled, many of its neo-Gothic decorations were removed, the neo-Gothic altars and altar rail were replaced with 20th century marble and the baldachino with its cactus and bluebonnets, evocative of central Texas.

Why You Should Visit:
If you're an architecture buff, this comfortably welcoming and beautiful classic Cathedral boasts a great deal of historic artwork to observe in detail: gorgeous stained glass windows dedicated to saints from old Europe, and woodwork.
And if you're a devoted Catholic, they do Latin Rite masses here, too.

If you attend a Sunday mass, you'll feel like you are at a prayerful and inspiring concert.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Millett Opera House

2) Millett Opera House

The Millett Opera House is a historic building in downtown Austin, Texas. Built in 1878 by local lumber seller Charles Millett on one of his lots, the house was one of the largest performance spaces in Texas upon its completion. It featured 800 removable seats, 24-inch limestone walls, and the largest enclosed space in Texas. The Opera House was designed by Frederick Ruffini, a noted architect working throughout Texas.

The Austin Public Free Schools purchased the opera house in 1940. In the 1950s, it was threatened with demolition, but preserved by a local group of concerned citizens. It housed a printing company until 1979.

The Austin Club renovated the building and continues to hold social events here today. The building has been divided into three stories, removing the performance space, but a portion of the original hand-painted ceiling is still installed in one of the meeting rooms.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Lundberg Bakery

3) Lundberg Bakery

The Lundberg Bakery, also known as the Old Bakery and Emporium, is a historic sight currently serving as a gift shop in downtown Austin, Texas. The building was completed in 1876. At the time the bakery began operations, bread was not sold wrapped or packaged. People would wait in line with cloth lined baskets to place the bread in after buying it.

The building served as a bakery until its owner, Swedish immigrant Charles Lundberg, died in 1895. It changed hands frequently until being bought and refurbished by the Austin Heritage Society in 1962. It was threatened with demolition in 1970, when a new building was planned for the Texas Department of Transportation, but was saved when excavations next door uncovered the foundations of the previous state capitol building. Following the discovery, the foundations were converted to a historical plaza, and the bakery was spared.

The building is constructed of limestone with a brick facade, and features a large cast-iron eagle at the peak of the gabled roof overlooking Congress Avenue. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December 17, 1969.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Texas Governor's Mansion

4) Texas Governor's Mansion

The Texas Governor's Mansion, also known simply as Governor's Mansion, is a historic home for the Governor of Texas in downtown Austin. It was built during 1854 and has been the home of every governor since 1856.

On June 8, 2008, while midway through a major renovation, the mansion was damaged badly by an arson fire started with a Molotov cocktail.

Built by Abner Cook in a Greek Revival style and completed during 1856, the building occupies the center of a block and is surrounded by trees and gardens. The original mansion was 6,000 square feet (560 m2). Remodeling during 1914 increased the size of it to 8,920 square feet (829 m2). The original mansion had 11 rooms but no bathrooms. The remodeling brought the room count to 25 rooms and 7 bathrooms. In 1931, at the recommendation of former Texas First Lady Mildred Paxton Moody, the 42nd Texas Legislature established the Board of Mansion Supervisors to oversee all interior and exterior upkeep and enhancements to the mansion.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Brizendine House

5) Brizendine House

The Brizendine House is a historic home in downtown Austin, constructed circa 1870. The building is located on 11th Street and is today surrounded by an annex to the Travis County Courthouse and the Blackwell/Thurman Criminal Justice Center. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

This simple vernacular rough ashlar house represents the life style of the late 19th century working middle class family in Austin. The exterior proportions of the structure reflect Victorian influence. It was built of limestone about 1870 by John R. Brizendine (1829–1914), an Austin carpenter, machinist and miller, a native of Kentucky, who lived here until his death. Mrs. Elizabeth Gordon bought the home in 1928, and members of her family lived here until 1972.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Robinson-Macken House

6) Robinson-Macken House

The Robinson-Macken House is a historic home in west downtown Austin, located at 702 Rio Grande.

Built in 1876 for the family of Elizabeth and John Robinson Sr., this two-and-half-story farm house is a fine example of the Second Empire style of architecture coupled with Italianate detailing.

Located within the original 1839 Austin town plan drawn by Edwin Waller, it is in close proximity to the house built by the locally prominent Bremond family. It shares stylistic similarities with the Bremond house, now preserved as the Bremond Block Historic District. The Robinson's son, Eugene, purchased the house from the other Robinson heirs in 1902. The house was then bought in 1928 by Joe and Bridget Macken, in whose family it remained until 1983. Both John Robinson and Joe Macken were Austin community leaders, serving at different times as chief of the volunteer fire department and city alderman. Prominent features of the l-plan Robinson-Macken house include projecting bay windows with classical detailing, fine milled wood elements, dormer windows, and a mansard roof.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
John Bremond House

7) John Bremond House

The John Bremond House is part of Bremond Block Historic District - a collection of eleven historic homes in downtown Austin, constructed from the 1850s to 1910.

The block was added to National Register of Historic Places in 1970, and is considered one of the few remaining upper-class Victorian neighborhoods of the middle to late nineteenth century in Texas. Six of these houses were built or expanded for members of the families of brothers Eugene and John Bremond, who were prominent in late-nineteenth-century Austin social, merchandising, and banking circles. They are located within the square block bordered by West Seventh, West Eighth, Guadalupe, and San Antonio streets. The district also includes several houses on the west side of San Antonio and the south side of West Seventh, at least three of which were built or altered by the North family.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Henry Hirshfeld House and Cottage

8) Henry Hirshfeld House and Cottage

The Henry Hirshfeld House and Cottage are two historic homes in downtown Austin, Texas originally inhabited by the prominent Hirshfeld family. The cottage, built in 1873, housed Henry and his wife Jennie until the larger house was built in 1885. The homes have been well-preserved and today house the Office of Governmental Relations for the Texas A&M University System. The buildings were added together to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Designed and built by architect John Andrewartha, Henry Hirshfeld House features characteristics of Victorian and Eastlake styling. Exterior ornamentation includes a double gallery, a bay, strained glass, ornate woodwork, and intricate limestone detailing. The two-story stick style carriage house was built soon after completion of the main residence.

Hirshfeld had one-story stone cottage built for his family in 1873. It features a widow's walk on the roof and jigsaw detailing on the porch. After the family moved to their new residence on the adjacent east lot in 1888, the cottage was maintained as rental property.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Paramount Theatre

9) Paramount Theatre

The Paramount Theatre is a live theater and cinema located in downtown Austin. The Classical Revival style edifice was built in 1915. Throughout its more than a century-long history, the Paramount has played host to a wide variety of acts, ranging from vaudeville to the premieres of numerous films, both silent and "talkies," including 1966's Batman and 2005's Sin City, plus a number of music, dance, and Broadway shows.

Over the course of decades, a cast of superstars has graced the theater's stage, such as Houdini, the Marx Brothers, Helen Hayes, Orson Welles, Sarah Bernhardt, the Ziegfeld Follies, the Metropolitan Opera, Lillian Russell, and George M. Cohan. Among the modern-day favorites have been Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Sarah Vaughan, and Mandy Patinkin.

The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on June 23, 1976.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Walter Tips Building

10) Walter Tips Building

The Walter Tips Building is one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture to be found on Austin's Congress Avenue. Built in 1876, this three-story stone building masterfully blends Venetian Gothic and Italianate Renaissance Revival styles, and is one of several properties constructed by architect Jasper Newton Preston for the Tips Foundry & Machine Company. The eastern facade on the second and third floors bear prominent Venetian Gothic features, with a row of five richly decorated bay windows framed by fluted and banded pilasters with Corinthian and foliated capitals.

On the inside, large open spaces have been maintained by means of a cast-iron colonnade spanned by cast-iron arches running the length of the building down the center at the first level and by a similar colonnade of wood members at the second level. The construction has two skylights. The Tips Building is a City of Austin Landmark and a contributing building to the National Register-listed Congress Avenue Historic District.

Today, it is still used as a commercial space.
Driskill Hotel

11) Driskill Hotel (must see)

The Driskill Hotel, a Romanesque style building completed in 1886, is the oldest operating hotel in Austin, 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.

Why You Should Visit:
Iconic landmark of Southern hospitality rich in historic architecture. One of the joys of visiting Austin, TX, outside its music culture, is a chance to stay at the Driskill Hotel. The historic architectural design of the structure and its interiors provide even more fuel for enthusiasm to return to Austin again and again.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Hannig Row Building

12) Hannig Row Building

The Hannig Row Building is the second most notable edifice on 6th Street, after the Driskill Hotel. It was built in 1876 to the design by Jasper Newton Preston, and predominantly reflects Renaissance Revival style which was one of the two trends prevalent in Austin throughout the 1870s. The other trend, manifested in a simple commercial storefront seen in the neighboring Jacoby-Pope Building, constructed around the same time, was being fairly typical of what was built on East 6th Street and Congress Avenue during that period.

Contrary to it, the Hannig Building is highly decorative, designed by a trained architect, and was built at a greater cost than most Austin businesses of the era. The building received acclaim by the local press as an elegant contribution to the city, comparable to the Walter Tips Building on Congress Avenue. It is still considered to be one of Austin’s finest late 19th century Victorian commercial sites.

Its original owner, Joseph W. Hannig, was a German immigrant cabinetmaker, famous for his wine parties. He was also the fifth husband of Susanna Dickinson, the “Messenger of the Alamo”, who was one of the most noted women in Austin’s history. Their former home is located nearby at 411 E. 5th St., and is currently known as the Joseph and Susanna Dickinson Hannig Museum. The Hannig Building is a City of Austin Landmark and contributes to the National Register-listed 6th Street Historic District.
O. Henry Museum

13) O. Henry Museum

This historic, little Victorian cottage in Downtown Austin is the former home of famous American writer William Sydney Porter, better known by his pen-name O. Henry. The cottage is a simplified version of the Eastlake Style of architecture and was built in 1886. Porter rented it between 1893 and 1895 together with his wife, Athol, and daughter, Margaret, before they moved to Houston, where Porter began writing full-time for the Houston Post. Though primarily associated with his home state of North Carolina, O. Henry set 42 of his stories in Texas.

The residence remained a rental property until 1930 when it was to be demolished to construct a warehouse. In January 1934, a committee representing the Colonial Dames, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Daughters of 1812, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and the Daughters of the Confederacy submitted a proposal to the Austin City Council, that if the city would accept the house as a donation from the Austin Rotary Club and relocate it, the women's organizations would work to restore the house and open it as a "shrine."

The City of Austin had the house moved from its original location at 308 East 4th Street to its current address at Brush Square, 409 East 5th Street, following which it was restored and opened as a museum in 1934. The many period pieces on display here include some of the Porter's furniture and personal belongings, books, manuscripts and photographs of his life in Austin. The structure underwent further restoration in 1994–95 with a renewed roof and the replacement of four brick chimneys lost in 1934.

The Porter house was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 18, 1973. Presently known as the O. Henry Museum, it houses the annual O. Henry Pun-Off, a spoken pun competition, traditionally held the first weekend in May.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Susanna Dickinson Museum

14) Susanna Dickinson Museum

Built in the “rubble-rock” style of architecture, brought to the Texas Hill Country by German immigrants, this 19th century home is a historic landmark and the only remaining residence of Susanna Dickinson who's gone down in history as the "Messenger of the Alamo." Having survived the Battle of the Alamo, she carried the news of its fall to Sam Houston, which ultimately led to Houston's defeat of Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto and won independence for the Republic of Texas.

The house was constructed in 1869 by Joseph Hannig, Susanna's husband. In appreciation for her exploit, Joseph and Susanna Dickinson Hannig's home – deeded to the City of Austin in 2003 – was saved, restored and opened as a museum on March 2, 2010, Texas Independence Day.

Inside the museum there are rare Dickinson family artifacts, as well as furniture produced by Hannig. The couple had lived in this house for six years, until 1875, upon which they moved into the part of town known as Hyde Park.

The museum forms part of Brush Square Museums, along with the O. Henry Museum and the Austin Fire Museum. If you are a history buff, you may want to stop by this lovely museum to let yourself showed around the property and recount the vivid stories of the survivors of the Battle of the Alamo.

Walking Tours in Austin, Texas

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