The concept that buildings tell stories is nothing new. There are several books written on the idea (we have some in our brokerage office), and this is a founding principle on which many historical and preservation societies and the like are based (it’s certainly one of the more satisfying aspects of being involved in the real estate and development business). And, in this way, the building at 119 E Sixth street is the same as other towers in downtown Austin – but that’s paradoxically also what makes it different than every other tower in downtown Austin. While every tower in downtown Austin has a story, this particular site and structure’s story is uniquely its own.
What initially piqued my interest about 119 E Sixth is its recent conversion from a lower-end, off-the-grid apartment community with a slightly scary convenient store at the ground floor to a higher-end short term rental complex atop a shiny new 30,000 square foot Gold’s Gym. The lot is owned by Stream Realty, who, in partnership with vacation rental company, Top Trip Rentals, has done a nice exterior remodel of the building, working with local companies like Sixthriver Architects. The interiors are also being updated, and some units are currently available for short term rental through Top Trip – many at lower prices than nearby hotels (they’ve provided us with many of the photos below).
Funnily enough, Top Trip Rentals also manages an STR right out of the historically rich (and outright awesome) – Graeber house, which is only a couple blocks away from 119 E Sixth. Our firm listed this remarkable home a couple years back for the Graeber family. There’s a pool in this house, y’all – and it’s RIGHT on E Sixth and you wouldn’t even KNOW IT! Don’t believe me? Take a look at our photos from a couple years back (the home is also listed on the Top Trip site – it’s furnished differently now).
My original intent in researching the site was to provide a vanilla, informational piece on the building’s current use as an alternate option to a hotel, and to contextualize the building’s use within an industry vertical that’s climbing towards a fever pitch in downtown Austin. I also thought there may be something interesting to be learned about the short-term rental market in Austin in a general sense with some tie back into many condo HOAs’ refusal to entertain such use within their buildings, and how other buildings have embraced STR use to their advantage.
But, last week, after visiting the building and speaking with the knowledgeable vacation rental proprietor of the 24 rehabbed units at 119 E Sixth, Chereen Fisher, I couldn’t help but become fascinated by the site’s history, partially outlined on the plaque outside of the building.
119 E 6th is the site where commerce started in Austin. This location has seen a plethora of timely uses, starting as a dry goods store, then transforming into a grocery store, a fire department, a bank, a trailblazing commercial coffee roasting facility, and a wholesale operation. Chereen also told me that, in 1979, the original structure was demolished and an apartment complex with a parking garage was built as part of a large-scale effort to save the neighboring Driskill hotel (apparently, more parking was needed for the hotel to profitably continue operation). And there it sat until the tides of commerce shifted yet again as a new variation of the hospitality industry was born in Austin.
In short, this site – a site that many of us probably nonchalantly walk by on our way to some Congress or W Sixth destination – and its uses were / are at the very epicenter of Austin’s constantly developing commercial district. 119 E Sixth provides a tidy historical illustration of the evolution of commerce in Austin, and tells a story of Austin’s ever changing business dynamics from day one of Austin’s commercial existence.
Mind = blown.
A note: I’m OBVIOUSLY just chipping tiny bits from tip of the iceberg of the history of this building and this site. And I know that the story I’m “reading” from this building is just one of many stories that this building tells. I’d love to hear from readers about anything they know about this site and any interesting, historic stories you may know and want to share.