There’s plenty to love about the Highland neighborhood of Central Austin, but for our money there’s no part of this region more interesting than the small district of mostly industrial properties located just south of the Red Line tracks directly east of North Lamar Boulevard. We think there’s a lot of potential in these few blocks for creative commercial and retail projects that embrace the architectural character of the many warehouse structures here, sort of like the emerging St. Elmo District down south.
There’s already a number of businesses operating here giving this small pocket of the city a funky “Old Austin” feel, including the vintage furniture store Corner Collector’s Market and the local artist-run Industry Print Shop — there’s even a 298-unit apartment building currently under construction at the edge of this small area, the Broadstone North Lamar project at 6709 North Lamar Boulevard, that will hopefully bring some fresh foot traffic to the region.
But the single most historically fascinating piece of design in this little district we’ve made up is Garden Seventeen. This gardening store at 604 Williams Street occupies a Quonset hut-style converted airplane hangar dating back to the 1920s, originally built at the nearby University Airport but relocated “brick by brick” to its current address in the 1940s. (University Airport, a little-known precursor to Mueller Airport, was located on North Lamar Boulevard just a few blocks north of here, with some of its hangars still visible as the headquarters of Alamo Glass and the Red Velvet event venue.)
Occupied by lab equipment manufacturer Rainhart from 1945 to 2016 and repurposed for the garden store in 2020, the structure retains a notable degree of character from its two former lives, with the iconic look of the original hangar complimented by preserved 1940s-era machinery and fixtures added by its previous manufacturing tenants. And we’re not the only ones to notice this building is a total gem — earlier this month, Preservation Austin recognized the Hangar and its tenants Garden Seventeen with a stewardship award for the brilliant adaptation of the building, as part of the organization’s 62nd annual Preservation Merit Awards.
This thoughtful adaptive reuse project utilized a light touch, allowing preserved 1940s era drill press machinery to serve as a reminder of the building’s productive past. Preservation efforts at the site included retaining the open floor plan, wide-spanning metal trusses, and expansive windows.
The Hangar’s transformation from its aviation and industrial origins into a welcoming retail garden center retains the structure’s historical and architectural integrity while serving as a model for the stewardship and revitalization of other unusual historic properties. The project is a testament to the power of adaptive reuse and the continued value of Austin’s industrial architecture.
With its history in mind, you might enjoy this recent video created by Preservation Austin as part of the award ceremony, celebrating the design of the Hangar structure and its creative reuse — a model, we think, for the kind of projects and businesses we’d like to see supporting the preservation of unsung structures all over Austin: