The historic Zilker Clubhouse, originally built for the City of Austin as a lodge for the Boy Scouts of America in 1934 by New Deal-era jobs programs including the Civil Works Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps, now boasts one of the city’s most impressive public skyline views west of Mopac.
But despite this handsome little building’s popularity as a low-cost wedding and event venue, it’s beginning to show its age here and there — that’s a polite way of saying the structure lacks air conditioning, among other creature comforts.
Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department began feeling out possibilities for the structure’s renovation earlier this summer, collecting responses on a survey from Austinites who had reserved the space for an event in the past, along with vendors who had previously worked in the venue. The survey results indicate two major priorities on the public side — one, don’t do anything to harm the building’s historic character, even if it means not installing air conditioning; and two, don’t do anything to change the Clubhouse’s relative affordability as a city-owned venue.
To ensure the building maintains its Depression-era charm, the city’s bringing in Austin architecture firm Limbacher & Godfrey to design the renovation — the firm has extensive local preservation experience, including the nearby renovation of Zilker’s own Barton Springs Bathhouse. We got our first look at what’s in store for the Clubhouse last night, at a “virtual open house” event hosted by representatives of the Parks Department and architect Laurie Limbacher — and though the video of the open house will likely go up on the project page any day now, we thought you folks might appreciate a summary. (You can click each image seen below for a larger view.)
First up, above you can see a floor plan of the existing Clubhouse facility, shaded to show the various years additions were added. That space at the top, currently not connected with the main event area, is used for Parks Department staff offices– but the renovation will reclaim this space for event use.
Above is the floor plan of a renovated Zilker Clubhouse, which converts the unconnected office space of the building into what they’re calling a “green room,” a back of house type space suitable for, say, a bridal party. The restroom spaces are expanded into a single all-gender facility, and the kitchen is remodeled.
Above is one of the biggest improvements planned for the space — an HVAC system for climate control in the building, retrofitted without detracting from the structure’s historic character by using what’s called Variable Refrigerant Flow, or VRF.
This technology is extremely compact, circulating fluid refrigerant through much smaller pipes than the ducts you’d need for a traditional system, and in the case of the Clubhouse building these elements of the system will be tucked up into the rafters of the space, keeping them as unobtrusive as possible.
The site plan for the Clubhouse and its surroundings seen above gives you a better idea of what the renovation will do for its exterior. The existing terrace with that excellent downtown view doesn’t need too much help, but will receive more permanent string-style overhead lighting since most weddings hosted here do that anyway. You can see what we’re talking about in the drawing on the right below:
A more drastic improvement to the grounds will be a new event lawn on the currently undeveloped north side of the Clubhouse — the architects found that there’s a pretty good view of the city from here as well, so why not take advantage of it? Since the lawn area is slightly below the level of the building, a sloped path will connect this space to the front terrace, along with a set of stairs connecting it with the rear of the event space. You can see the scale of the new lawn in the drawings below:
The renovation will take a pretty light touch with the Clubhouse’s unpaved parking area — we’re not expecting significant additional paving, just maybe some barriers to delineate individual spaces and “formalize” things a bit. The architects say they’re hoping to find a solution for hiding the dumpsters, which as shown in the photo on the left side of the slide below are one of the first things you see upon arrival:
The landscaping plan for the site, courtesy of our friends at local firm Asakura Robinson, gives you a slightly better idea of the improved surroundings — and lists the huge assortment of native plants we’re going to see:
Finally, a big part of the renovation doesn’t even concern the Clubhouse, but rather the little-known scenic overlook called Lookout Point, located south of this site and currently in pretty bad shape — though the graffiti seen below has apparently been removed. Also built by the CCC in 1934, Lookout Point has lost its pergola-style sun shade at the top of the pillars, and the walls themselves aren’t looking great either.
The renovation plan will restore Lookout Point, along with the trails leading to it from the Clubhouse — and according to the architects, that wooden pergola on top is being rebuilt to the exact standards of how it looked 86 years ago, using other such structures built by the CCC as a reference. That’s our kind of attention to detail.
The before-and-after site plans for Lookout Point seen below show several new trail connections, including one allowing access directly from the Clubhouse that doesn’t require walking on the driveway, which is currently the only way to get there:
Finally, here’s an overall site plan of the renovated Clubhouse and Lookout Point together — you can click this for a larger view:
One last thing, as if you needed more on top of everything seen here — the architects have designed a new gate for the facility:
Phew, that’s a lot to take in. Still, despite these extensive renovations, the overall impact on the historic building itself is slight — that’s what preservation architects do, and this design is hopefully going to satisfy all those survey respondents worried about the integrity of the structure. Bringing air conditioning, improved event space, and better back-of-house areas to this facility represents a pretty significant upgrade, one we hope keeps the Clubhouse going for another 80 years or so. All that’s left is keeping the rental rates at a reasonable level — that’s going to be on the city.
According to the Parks Department, the design development stage of this project will continue until early 2021, with the creation of construction documents and the bidding process for a contractor taking place until early 2022. Construction should be finished by October 2022. Can you imagine what the view’s gonna look like by then?