A downtown Austin condo tower featuring some of the city’s most famous midcentury architecture is currently seeking historic zoning. Westgate Tower, built as a 26-story apartment building at 1122 Colorado Street in 1966 and converted for condo use in the 1980s, features a striking modernist design by New Formalist architect Edward Durell Stone that proved controversial due to its proximity to the Texas Capitol, eventually serving as one of the main inspirations for the creation of state and local Capitol View Corridor ordinances protecting views of the Capitol dome downtown.
On May 3rd 2022 Westgate Condominium Association applied to the City of Austin to become a City Historic Landmark. The Westgate has a rich history since its construction by renowned Architect Edward Durell Stone in 1965. Westgate is already listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NR, 2010) and is a Recorded Texas Landmark (RHTL, 2012). In years past many influential people have lived in and visited the building. Formerly the 24th floor was the location of the Headliners Club and was often visited by Lyndon B. Johnson. Former Lt. Governor David Dewhurst once called the Westgate home. Countless other politicians, celebrities and visitors have come to see Westgate over the years.
The current owners of Westgate continue to invest in the infrastructure that will keep the Westgate operating for another 60 years. Maintaining a historic structure is important to those that call the Westgate home but also to the community. In recent years many historic properties have been redeveloped in our storied neighborhood. It is important that we Austinites maintain a balance of the historic character and tradition that has helped to shape this wonderful city.
Maintaining a historic structure is expensive. For more than five decades the Westgate has taken meticulous care to not change the aesthetics of the building. To that end, Westgate is very selective with contractors and insurance companies that specialize in maintaining historic structures. This attention to detail and intentional focus has allowed the Westgate to remain the same mid-century modern building.
— Westgate Condominium Association
With an application submitted to the City of Austin for landmark status last month, the building’s historic rezoning is currently scheduled for a hearing later this summer — the structure already secured a designation on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010 and Recorded Texas Historic Landmark status in 2012, but its attempt to seek local landmark status met with resistance due to the fact that buildings with historic zoning receive significant property tax breaks. Since condos in the tower are individually owned, the tax abatements of landmark designation would apply to each private resident rather than the building at large, a situation the Austin American-Statesman editorial board found unacceptable back in 2012:
In response to this controversy the Westgate Condominium Association chose to withdraw its application for historic zoning, but 10 years later, it looks like the building’s ready to try again. It’s interesting to think about this argument a decade ago in the context of the present conversation about historic preservation in Austin, as more rapid downtown development has prompted the demolition of numerous older properties that don’t quite qualify for landmark status. We see both sides of the issue, particularly in regards to the tax abatement applied to numerous private residences, but to us the historic nature of Westgate’s architecture is no longer in question.
In 1962, internationally acclaimed architect Edward Durell Stone (1902-1978) and local firm Fehr and Granger designed Austin’s first residential high-rise. The 26 story Westgate Tower, named for the site’s proximity to the west gate of the Texas State Capitol, opened in 1965 with apartments, parking, restaurant and social club. The new formalism-style skyscraper is built of poured-in-place monolithic reinforced concrete clad in custom brown Butler Brick with brick faced columns, full-length windows, balconettes, and decorative masonry solar screens. Its construction influenced development near The Capitol building.
— Texas Historical Commission, 2012
As modernist structures age into the eligibility range for seeking various landmark designations, it’s become clear that certain advocates simply don’t see the value of preserving these examples of more recent architectural history compared with, say, Victorian mansions in Hyde Park — but if we’re willing to provide tax relief to historic single-family homes under the auspices of the city’s landmark program, there’s no reason we shouldn’t apply the same standard to a condo tower, even if its design is less popular to some. Perhaps the conversation these days could focus instead on whether the city’s entire historic preservation program is equitable, a question raised during the debate over Westgate 10 years ago we believe is even more relevant today.