Austin, have we collectively forgotten the fact that there’s a house sitting on top of the Driskill Hotel? No kidding, it’s really up there. See for yourself:
Specifically, it’s perched atop the Driskill’s 12-story annex tower, which is connected to the original 1886 hotel building and contains many of its rooms. The annex itself is historic, dating back to 1929 — and what was known as the “bungalow,” a private penthouse residence, has occupied the tower’s roof since the beginning.
“This is indeed atop of Austin’s world, and one’s vista is limited in every direction only by the horizon,” explained the Austin American newspaper in a 1930 article announcing the 180-room annex’s grand opening. The bungalow contained two bedrooms with private baths, a living room, and a full kitchen equipped “with a General Electric refrigerator and all other equipment that would gladden the heart of the most ambitious housewife.”
The bungalow’s first residents were J. H. “Daddy” Walsh and H. F. Kelly, both superintendents at the Southern Pacific Railroad — which had some serious clout around town in those days. But over the years, the penthouse structure served as the hotel’s most private and exclusive space, at times occupied by visiting politicians and celebrities including Lyndon Johnson, Bob Hope, and Jack Dempsey.
In 1979, Driskill manager John Bogardus had the bungalow restored, planning to use it as his private residence. It’s unclear exactly how long he lived there, but later that same year, a photo was taken of the bungalow, seemingly after the completion of its restoration — and it’s the best view we have of this historic structure:
The level of ornamentation and detail on display in the building, which is arguably a bit Art Deco in its design, is pretty stunning — especially considering that no one seems to remember it’s still up there. (Check Google Maps if you don’t believe me!)
This structure could really be one of downtown Austin’s most interesting architectural gems, if the hotel wanted it to — unfortunately, although I can’t confirm it, I’ve heard rumors that the bungalow is currently being used as a laundry storage room. Laundry!
Riled up by this injustice, I attempted to get an answer from the Driskill staff regarding the status of the building. Here’s what they told me, via their PR outfit Laura Davidson Public Relations:
“This annex is currently not up to code, so while the hotel would love to use it for more (whether that be historic tours, events, etc.) they are not able to at this time.”
— Kelly Hatfield, Laura Davidson Public Relations
There you have it. Lord knows how many modern building codes a 1929 structure built in such a strange location might be violating. It looks like the Driskill’s bungalow will have to remain an obscure item of Austin’s historical ephemera for now — still, if I were them, I’d think about bringing the building up to code and restoring it to its former glory. Can you imagine how much you could charge for a night in this thing?