A former public school building in the heart of Austin’s historic Hyde Park neighborhood is now seeking inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, with an application for the Baker School site at 3908 Avenue B on the agenda of the Texas Historical Commission’s next State Board of Review meeting on May 13.
Dating back to 1911 with additions in 1924 and 1938, the Baker School is a well-preserved example of the sort of municipal architecture considered budget-conscious and materially utilitarian more than a century ago — but like many of Austin’s historic structures, what was once relatively mundane is now beloved thanks to the passage of time and changing design standards.
Ironically, the Baker School’s design by local architecture firm Endress & Walsh wasn’t even site-specific, with a virtually identical structure still standing as part of Lively Middle School in South Austin, originally constructed as Fulmore Middle School in 1911 and now overwhelmed by modern additions to the point of obscurity:
Austin voters, in 1910, approved the city’s first school bond that included funding for purchasing property and construction of new building for Hyde Park’s Baker School. The school board bought the city block where the Hyde Park Pavilion stood and sold the sixteen-year-old structure to the Hyde Park Baptist Church. Austin architectural firm Endress & Walsh were retained by the school board to prepare plans for two identical buildings that became Baker School and Fulmore School in South Austin. The resulting design considered the board’s budget as it showed, “merely simple square [brick] structures, classically outlined and not ornately beautiful but with pleasing dignity.”
— Baker School NRHP Application
Used as office space by AISD since the 1990s, the Baker School’s purchase in 2018 by the Alamo Drafthouse for use as its corporate headquarters attracted controversy after plans for the site to also host affordable housing never materialized. Although there seems to be plenty of blame to go around as the school district finally gets serious about the possibility of workforce housing on its own land five years later, the stewardship of the historic Baker structure itself by the new owners is undeniable — a restoration completed in 2019 by local studio Weiss Architecture revealed many formerly concealed elements of the original building, and the current application to the National Register has also been prepared by the firm’s principal Richard Weiss.
National historic status would provide the owners with tax credits for compliant rehabilitation work, but beyond this the designation is largely honorary. Still, in a neighborhood with more than its fair share of legacy structures, the Baker School is a standout source of character — there’s virtually no chance its application for federal historic recognition won’t move forward.