True condo conversions of older buildings are surprisingly hard to find in downtown Austin, with standout examples including the Brown Building and Avenue Lofts — both originally office structures adapted much later for residential use. But a more underrated transformation holds down the corner at East Eighth and Brazos Streets, the 14-floor, 72-unit condo community now known as Brazos Place.
Though the interior design of its units, with exposed ductwork and polished concrete, betrays some evidence of a past life, you might not guess its original use — this structure, now fairly modest in size compared to the ever-taller buildings around it, was once home to downtown Austin’s Commodore Perry Hotel, famously described as the city’s “Hotel of Distinction.”
Completed in 1950 with an impressive price tag for the time of over $2 million, the hotel provided such ultramodern luxuries as central air conditioning, an indoor pool, and televisions in every room — not to mention other amenities expected at even lower-end hotels at the time, including a private club, dining room, and barbershop.
Named for its developer, famed Austin cotton mogul Edgar H. “Commodore” Perry, the hotel’s proximity to the State Capitol made its exclusive third-floor Austin Club a favorite of the Texan political set — had President John F. Kennedy made it out of Dallas and continued to Austin as planned on November 22, 1963, his schedule included a stop at the Perry.
The building’s design from well-known Austin firm Giesecke, Kuehne and Brooks placed it alongside some of the city’s most celebrated early 20th century architecture — Hugo Franz Kuehne has work all over town, but he’s best remembered as the founder of the University of Texas’ School of Architecture.
But the hotel wasn’t this building’s last act. After 30 years of service, local developer J.J. Hinterreiter began a conversion project for the aging structure — not to the condos we know today, but rather office space, renaming the building to One Commodore Plaza. Along with its office floors, the renovated building contained a four-level indoor space with shops and restaurants. (You should know there’s a new Commodore Perry Hotel kicking around Austin — it’s just located in Perry’s former estate in the Hancock neighborhood these days.)
But the office conversion retained one living memory of the Perry Hotel’s past, by preserving the apartment of Vinita Tatum, a widow now in her 90s who had lived at the hotel since the 1950s — it wasn’t unusual in that era for hotels to rent rooms for long-term tenants — and served as a companion to the retired Edgar Perry, who reportedly lived in a combined “15 or so” rooms at the top floor of the building.
Even after Perry’s death in 1961, Tatum continued to live at the hotel, her apartment staying put through several ownership changes. Its developers unwilling to even consider the possibility of evicting the building’s most beloved long-term resident, the One Commodore Plaza project preserved Tatum’s apartment alongside its new office space — and in 1985 she actually cut the ribbon to open the renovated building, remaining there rent-free until her death in 1988.
In the early 2000s, the increasing popularity of downtown living brought us a wave of condo conversion projects including the Brown Building, Sabine on Fifth, and the transformation of the One Commodore Plaza offices to the Brazos Place condos we know today by developer Pomeroy Investment Corporation in 2008 — making it the only building in downtown we’re aware of to live a long life as both a hotel and an office before finally settling down as a residential community. You won’t find a longer history for nearly any downtown condo tower.