Preservation Austin’s 2020 Homes Tour event had us excited due to this year’s “Downtown Doorsteps” theme, which proved that historic preservation can be about much more than single-family homes in upscale neighborhoods — in fact, the homes on display might be one of the group’s most diverse selections ever, including forms like fourplexes, high-rise loft conversions, and midcentury condo towers.
But the ongoing pandemic has a way of changing everyone’s plans, so despite the tour event (originally planned for April 25) no longer being a safe option in person, the nonprofit is determined to make the best of it. According to Preservation Austin, the tour’s going fully online this year, and will be conducted via video for ticket holders on Thursday, August 13. The spaces formerly anticipated for real-world touring will instead be explored in a 45-minute video, followed by a live Q&A session presumably so folks can ask what the buildings are worth and whatnot.
Tickets are $20 and the event is the group’s most importantly yearly fundraiser — and considering the economic challenges of our newly viral world, we figure organizations like Preservation Austin could use your support at the moment. Let’s see the homes:
Sayers House – 709 Rio Grande Street
A City of Austin Historic Landmark, this American Foursquare-style home built for former Texas governor Joseph D. Sayers in 1905 is the product of celebrated local architects Charles Henry Page and his brother Louis Charles Page — names you’ll see pretty often on this site if you’re paying attention.
The home retains much of its original interior woodworking, and the current owner, who has lived here since 1994, has apparently filled the place with what Preservation Austin calls an “extensive” art collection — meaning the video tour is likely going to be very interesting.
Burke-Besserer Building – 1310 San Antonio Street
Originally built as a single-family home in 1890 for tax collector and Union Army Major Joseph W. Burke, the residence at 1310 San Antonio street was later converted in 1925 to a four-unit apartment building.
Former Austin City Council Member Chris Riley purchased the home, at the time in poor condition and partially converted into office space, in 2002. After an extensive renovation, detailed in the Austin American-Statesman clipping below from 2003, the building is now serving once again as a four-unit apartment building with its old charm intact.
Metz-Fielding Building – 706 Congress Avenue
Residences aren’t common on the downtown stretch of Congress Avenue, but the landmark 1872 structure at 706 Congress Avenue has also housed offices, saloons, the headquarters of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, a salsa dance club, and endless other uses over its nearly 150-year lifespan.
Its original facade received a makeover in the form of extra exterior cladding in the 1950s, which considerably diminished the original stonework, but in 2003 the building’s current owner used historical reference photos to restore the building to its former glory with an extensive renovation.
The building now contains ground-floor commercial space, a vacation rental property on the second floor, and a third-story penthouse added during its 2003 renovation. The deck overlooking Congress Avenue is, according to some folks I know who rented it once, a very good place to smoke cigars.
Brown Building – 710 Colorado Street
One of the most authentic historic lofts Austin has to offer, the 1938 Brown Building first came on the scene as an office tower by C. H. Page and Son — that’s the same Page brothers from the 709 Rio Grande Street house earlier in this article.
A 2004 condo conversion brought the forever-trendy exposed-concrete loft look to the property in a big way, with subtle Art Moderne / Art Deco details all over the place — a style that’s hard to find in most multifamily buildings around here. It’s been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1997.
Cambridge Tower – 1801 Lavaca Street
We’ll take any and all opportunities to sing the praises of Cambridge Tower, a 1965 ode to the subset of midcentury modernist architecture known as New Formalism. Austin’s tallest apartment building at 15 floors at the time of its grand opening, the tower later converted for condo use, allowing longtime residents to appreciate its breezeblock balconies and porte-cochère entrance for as long as possible.