There’s a lot to love about the eclectic jumble of buildings at 605 Barton Springs Road — the round windows, whimsically painted stucco walls currently rocking shades of turquoise and violet, and the long greenhouse running down the west end of the complex, its panes increasingly smashed out, allowing peeks at the few remaining plants left to run wild inside. This is the former McPhail’s Florist shop, first opened here in 1928, and though it’s not yet officially recognized as such by the city, it represents a folk landmark for Austinites of a certain age.
On a section of Barton Springs Road that’s seen increasing office and apartment development in recent years, the building sits next door to yet another anachronism — the Sandy’s Hamburgers stand dating back to the 1940s at 603 Barton Springs Road. The Sandy’s folks own both tracts, which might explain why they’ve stuck around so long despite McPhail’s closing at this location a couple of years back.
The shop originally opened as McPhail’s Wayside Gardens, a 24-hour florist in an era where that sort of thing was profitable. An enterprise of husband-and-wife partners Virgil and Rosa McPhail, the shop and greenhouse was a prime example of an agricultural character that’s now disappeared in this area — in the mid-20th century, flower farms and “truck farms” were found all along Barton Springs Road, likely taking advantage of the rich soil deposited by the frequent floods of the Colorado River before the construction of Longhorn Dam in 1960 to create the lake we know today.
The McPhails actually lived above their shop in the two-story apartment visible at the back of the complex, and operated several businesses around Austin before their divorce in 1938, which left Rosa as the sole proprietor of the Barton Springs shop for many years in an era not yet known for women’s career ambitions. After her death in 1978, the shop was run (and its apartment occupied) by new owner Rex Minyard for decades until its recent closure.
The City of Austin first turned its eye to the future of the vacant property in 2018, when a 1930s garage apartment building sitting behind the existing complex in very poor condition was demolished — city staff recommended the demolition while noting that the floral shop and greenhouse complex itself represented more significant historic merit. This week, Austin’s Historic Landmark Commission considered the possible demolition of the main building in a proposal filed by local consultant Phil Moncada, likely on behalf of an unknown entity hoping to develop the site with a new structure.
The building is a two-story combination commercial florist space with an apartment above, an example of the living arrangements of many “mom and pop” businesses in Austin in the early 20th century where the family lived above or adjacent to their store. The setting for the flower shop is picturesque in its garden environment, but has fallen into serious disrepair over the years since it was vacated. The building may qualify for landmark designation under the criterion for architecture as an example of an early live-work arrangement.
— City of Austin Historic Landmark Commission Report
The Commission voted unanimously to delay the demolition item and conduct further research into the structure and its architecture, possibly to determine its merit for the initiation of historic zoning, in the hopes that a developer might find a new use for the building short of tearing it down outright. Even with the site’s future still unclear, we thought it was a good time to take a few photos for posterity — just in case.