As we’ve mentioned before, the name of the 30-story apartment and office project currently under construction in the Rainey Street District known as the Quincy has nothing to do with Quincy Jones, John Quincy Adams, or Quincy, Massachusetts — or any local Quincys, for that matter. Instead, its developers at Endeavor Real Estate Group just liked the name, and that’s fine by us. You spend a couple hundred million big ones throwing up a skyscraper and we think you can call it whatever you want.
Speaking of big ones, you might have noticed this week if you’re masking around in the Rainey Street District that the Quincy has reached a very important milestone of its construction by Texas firm Rogers-O’Brien, despite not being completely finished on its exterior shell — it’s officially “topped out,” meaning its highest occupied level has been completed and the building, despite its somewhat unfinished outsides, is pretty much as tall as it’s gonna get.
We appreciate this milestone almost as much as the actual grand opening, since it means we’ve finally got an accurate impression of the tower’s impact on our skyline from all angles — plus, if the developer knows what they’re doing, they’ll make sure and slap a tree up there at the tower’s highest point.
Yes, a tree — if you’re a person reading this site there’s a higher chance you’ll be familiar with this aspect of the “topping out” tradition than the rest of the world, but we still think it’s worth explaining since this project’s location means the tree at the top of the Quincy is extremely visible when you’re passing on I-35.
Like many interesting American traditions — including a number of the specific ways we celebrate Halloween, Christmas, and Easter — the topping out observance of a construction project finds its roots in ancient pagan traditions, in this case supposedly tracing all the way back to a pre-Christian Scandinavian religious practice.
Originally, the act of placing a tree on top of a new building when it reaches its highest point was intended as an offering to placate the potentially irritated spirits residing within the many trees displaced by the gathering of timber for the construction project — and even though we’re not using nearly as much wood these days, the tradition persists despite a flagging popular belief in the existence of angry spirits. For instance, here’s a tree going in at the top of the Independent back in 2018:
Scandinavian mythology suggests that humans originated from trees and our souls returned to the trees after death, giving each tree a spirit of its own.
Humans began constructing their shelter with wood. Before cutting a tree, they would formally address the forest, reminding it of the consideration they had always shown toward the trees and asking the forest to grant use of a tree for construction of their home. When the house was complete, the topmost leafy branch of the tree used would be set atop the roof so that the tree spirit would not be rendered homeless. The gesture was supposed to convince the tree spirit of the sincere appreciation of those building the home.
As time passed, the early conception of tree worship gradually changed. The individual tree spirits merged into a single forest god who could pass freely from tree to tree. Trees were no longer placed atop the home to appease spirits, but rather to enlist the blessings of the forest god. The tree branches on top of the home ensured fertility of the land and the home.
The custom of placing a tree on a completed structure came with immigrants to the United States and became an integral part of American culture in barnraisings and housewarmings.
At this point, the observance of the topping out tradition is really just a recognition of the effort put in by the men and women working on these project sites over the sometimes years-long construction cycles of tall towers like the Quincy — and it’s especially nice to see such a prominent symbol of this accomplishment atop the building in a time when the construction profession faces even more risk than usual while raising the future of Austin to its place in the skyline. Maybe the next time you’re stopping by the neighborhood, you could give them and their tree a little wave.