Despite the current breakneck pace of development in Austin, the city’s original tower boom took place in the 1980s, with at least 12 different buildings over 15 stories tall completed in downtown over the course of the decade.
In fact, other than the Capitol and a few trailblazing outliers like the Austin National Bank tower, what many locals of a certain age consider the “original” Austin skyline is defined by iconic ’80s towers like One American Center (1984), One Congress Plaza (1987), 100 Congress Avenue (1987), and San Jacinto Center (1987).
Original Rendering of One Congress Plaza – 1980s from r/Austin
Keeping that in mind, after seeing the above post last week on Austin’s Reddit page with an original illustration of plans for One Congress Plaza, I spent some time digging through ’80s-era back issues of magazines like Texas Monthly and The Alcalde, looking for more artifacts of our city’s first real skyscraper boom. Here’s a couple of fun selections, in the form of various advertisements from developers:
Hey there, good-lookin’! It’s hard for me to imagine Austin without the One American Center tower smack in the middle of the skyline, and this 1983 ad, which appears to be a photograph of a model of the building, sells it pretty well. Pity the hotel component never took shape, although I think the building’s doing just fine for itself more than 30 years later.
Here’s an overview of Trammell Crow Company’s local portfolio circa 1985, with the 301 Congress Avenue office tower front and center. Trammell Crow still does some stuff around town.
This ad showcasing Lincoln Property Company’s best and brightest around town includes an illustration of 100 Congress Avenue, the design of which looks slightly different than the building we ended up with — but only slightly. Also, shoutout to Lincoln Village, which we’re calling “The Linc” now for some reason. You do you, Linc.
This building look familiar? Well, it probably shouldn’t, since it never happened. This optimistic 1985 ad for what was to be the Lamar Financial Plaza describes a 27-story mixed-use project spanning the northwestern and northeastern corners of Sixth and Guadalupe Streets, which would serve as the new headquarters of defunct local finance firm Lamar Savings along with a hotel and retail. The plan is visible on the graphic seen below published in the Austin American-Statesman back in 1984:
1984 Statesman infographic detailing the skyscraper boom of the 80s from r/Austin
The development met with delay after delay before ultimately vanishing — probably a result of the 1987 stock market crash and later early 1990s downturn, not to mention the malfeasance of its founder Stanley Adams, who was indicted in 1990 on fraud and conspiracy charges. Of course, there’s also the matter of the curse placed on the western side of the intersection after the demolition of the Alamo Hotel previously located there to make way for part of the unbuilt complex — let’s hope the 600 Guadalupe tower planned at the same site doesn’t fall victim.
This 1986 ad for the upcoming San Jacinto Center development has a detail that might surprise you — there’s a second office tower shown on the eastern side of the site. The aforementioned recession of the early 1990s put the brakes on that plan, but I’m kind of glad it did, since two identical towers might look kind of bland.
Speaking of which, here’s a 1986 ad for the Four Seasons Hotel section of the complex. In terms of “they just don’t make them like they used to”-style complaints, when’s the last time you saw an oil painting of an upcoming building?
Okay, this one’s not really relevant beyond the current transformation taking place over at the Highland Mall site. But get a load of that outfit!
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