Earlier this year, we learned that the Waller Creek Conservancy would move its offices from elsewhere in downtown Austin to Symphony Square, a complex of four historic buildings relocated to the site from elsewhere in town as part of federally-funded urban renewal initiatives in the 1970s. The centerpiece of the complex is its striking outdoor amphitheater, built directly on Waller Creek during the same time period.
Serving as a headquarters for the Austin Symphony since the ’70s, much of the complex is now owned by the conservancy, including the 1850s-era William P. Hardeman House — which, along with a later addition, was home to a Serrano’s restaurant until 2015. Thanks to local design work from the architects at Page and landscape firm dwg., with Formed, Inc. and Strata Landscape as contractors, the former restaurant and its surrounding buildings now serve as eye-catching office and event space for the conservancy.
There’s additional event space in the former New Orleans Club building, originally built further up the street in the 1870s and relocated to the square after serving as a music venue for many years. The conservancy has kept a light touch on restoring these structures, maintaining their irregular limestone construction, old hardwood floors, and original fixtures whenever possible — and the result is a bright, spare collection of spaces connected by a large wooden deck behind the amphitheater seats, which replaces an older stone patio.
Symphony Square’s eye-catching, creek-straddling amphitheater looks as good as ever, so no reason to mess with that too much. The site already hosted the conservancy’s Creek Show event a few weeks ago, and many more events are anticipated at this location, which is a welcome change from the sporadic programming hosted here in years past. The conservancy’s mission of transforming Waller Creek has proven to be a slow process, but the restoration of this underused space feels like a step in the right direction — so let’s take a look at the rest of the photos.
(Click any of these images for a larger view. All photos by James Rambin.)
Another view of the amphitheater, looking towards Red River Street. The building behind the stage is the 1870s-era Jeremiah Hamilton House, which the Austin Symphony has retained for its use.
The wooden deck on the right side of the above image is all-new, replacing a stone patio that apparently wasn’t very healthy for the trees growing through it. This new deck is elevated, giving them room to grow and for us to mingle.
The entrance of the Hardeman House / former Serrano’s, now home to the conservancy’s offices.
Part of the office interior, with lots of natural light and charming fixtures. And those floors!
In the basement of the building, which the conservancy calls the “speakeasy,” we find our old friend the Waterloo Park model. It’s still pretty neat.
Here’s the newer pavilion attached to the Hardeman House, which has swapped what used to be many doors for larger glass panels, giving the space a ton of natural light.
The interior of the pavilion, including its 1970s bar, remains intact — and with a fresh coat of paint, it’s as charming as ever.
A closer look at the bar inside the event pavilion.
Here’s a fun fact — the fellow you see here is Dr. David Thomas Iglehart, in a 1903 bust by Austin sculptor Elisabet Ney. (It was allegedly her least favorite work.)
Here’s the front of the New Orleans Club building, with Dr. Inglehart’s bust in the background.
The interior of the New Orleans Club serves as additional event space for the conservancy.
This stove was built in the early 1900s by the Smith System Heating Company, a Minneapolis pot-bellied stove manufacturer. The foundry still operates to this day.
This railing around the edge of the amphitheater seating is the original metalwork installed in the 1970s.
The stone footbridge across Waller Creek from the amphitheater seating to the stage might be the most fascinating design element Symphony Square has to offer. It’s certainly one of the most striking views — and a great example of how Austin’s built environment can enhance the beauty of this under-appreciated downtown waterway.
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