Q: What’s the deal with that concrete mini-tower near the softball fields on Pleasant Valley Road, just outside the right outfield fence?
A: Hey, here’s a question I can answer without even making a phone call! The Krieg athletic complex, located on the expanse of city parkland east of Pleasant Valley Road and south of the Colorado River after it passes the Longhorn Dam, also includes an office building for some of the city and county’s various public safety departments, including the Austin Public Safety Wellness Center. But back in the 1970s, the building housed a training facility for the Austin Fire Department.
Located at this complex is the Pleasant Valley Drill Tower, a six-story concrete structure used to train firefighters in techniques necessary to fight fires in tall buildings. As you can see from the photos, the tower simulates the design of a typical multi-story urban building with features like stairwells, windows, and balconies.
The structure has stood since 1974, when it was built by the fire department at their training center to replace the drill tower now located practically in the heart of downtown Austin, at the intersection of Cesar Chavez and Colorado Streets — we know it now as Buford Tower, and many Austinites probably just think it’s a funny-looking bell tower at this point.
Every year on September 11, Austin firefighters climb the tower in silence, wearing full gear, and ascend and descend until they’ve covered the approximate height of the World Trade Center — which takes roughly an hour — as a memorial to the more than 300 firefighters who died in the 9/11 attacks.
The Austin Fire Department now operates a 9-story drill tower at its training facility near the airport, which makes the Pleasant Valley structure a little less important than it probably was in the 1970s. Still, even with all the development going on around it in southwest Austin, I hope the smaller tower sticks around for a while — I’ve thought it was neat ever since I was a kid.