In 1984, designer and lifelong Austinite Travis Klein worked the second shift at the former Whitley Printing Company building at East Third and Brazos Streets in downtown, riding his bike from West Austin with the sunset behind him. Outside of a few familiar buildings, the skyline looked almost nothing like the city we know now — but one building in particular, the former golden glass exterior of what’s now known as Chase Tower at West Sixth and Lavaca Streets, caught the fading light so well Klein decided to bring along his Nikon and telephoto lens to capture the moment in time:
38 years later, Klein has scanned a few of the slides containing these memories of ’80s Austin and given us permission to post the high-res copies so we can pore over every last detail. As we’ve mentioned many times in the past, the golden exterior of the downtown bank tower, replaced with its current look in the early 1990s, made for an iconic presence on the vintage skyline — even if the images seen above and below reinforce the idea that glare off the tower had a bit of a blinding effect on drivers and pedestrians when the building caught the light just right.
The gold glow of the building at sunset — that’s real gold, mind you — provides the appropriate warm tone for photos dating back to Austin’s analog era, but once you’re done admiring the buildings you might notice the foreground. All three of these photos are taken looking east down West Fifth Street, and although Klein’s telephoto distorts the perspective a bit, he’s standing at roughly the intersection of West Fifth and Bowie Street. The bridge in the foreground of the clearest photo above is where West Fifth Street passes over Shoal Creek, so here’s approximately the same view now:
There’s plenty to gawk at between the old and new views, but the wildest thing to us about these perspectives is the fact that 30-odd years ago, this stretch of West Fifth Street was dominated by car dealerships, a “motor mile” that’s now built up with so many new towers that the original skyline seen in Klein’s ’80s photos is nearly invisible. While it’s understandable to have a degree of nostalgia for old-school Austin, you gotta admit our downtown land use has come a long way.