Buford Tower, a six-story masonry tower standing at West Cesar Chavez and Colorado Streets near the shores of Lady Bird Lake, was originally built in 1930 as a drill facility for the Austin Fire Department, repeatedly set aflame and doused as a training exercise for putting out fires in multi-story structures — which was highly effective, since few buildings in the area rose above this height at the time. (The fire department reportedly also used it for stunt shows, like an old-timey version of Universal Studios.)
Designed by well-known local architects Hugo Kuehne and J. Roy White, the tower features an Italianate style typical of many 1930s Austin buildings, and found its way onto the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.
The training tower finally got a break from the fires and hoses in 1978, when the city converted it to a bell tower containing an electronic carillon system, renaming the building for Captain James L. Buford, the first city firefighter to die in the line of duty — its preservation was only secured after a fundraising campaign against its unceremonious demolition by Effie Kitchens, the widow of the tower’s original builder Rex D. Kitchens. But the structure’s rough-and-tumble past didn’t make it impervious to flames, as we discovered last year — a fire, intentionally set at the tower’s base, caused visible damage to its exterior masonry and windows on April 1, 2021.
Fire at our Buford Tower is under control. Damage is mostly contained to the exterior and windows. pic.twitter.com/bjzF7l3RzT
— Austin Fire Info (@AustinFireInfo) April 2, 2021
More than a year later, a city repair project is set to bring Buford Tower back to its untoasted condition by the end of the summer, with fences currently raised around the project site and restoration work anticipated to start before the end of the month, according to the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department — and there aren’t many days left in the month, so that’s pretty soon.
The Buford Tower incurred fire damage in April 2021 and will be undergoing repairs. Damaged brick, windows, and concrete plinth will be repaired and replaced in accordance with historic preservation standards. The surrounding landscaping will also be restored along with updates to the interior electrical components and carillon chimes.
While the city hasn’t indicated a total cost of the construction work needed to restore Buford Tower, previous reports describe damage of more than $12,000 caused by last year’s unfortunate fire — we have a feeling this work might cost a bit more than that number, especially if the plans include updates to the interior carillon system, but it’s a small price to pay for bringing this historic downtown landmark back online. If all goes well, the project should be complete by September later this year.
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