We’ve given extensive attention to the development headed for 300 Colorado Street in downtown Austin, not the least of which was focused on the prospective building’s minor identity crisis — first a residential tower, then an office tower, with an entirely new design to boot.
But before the 31-story office tower planned at the site by Cousins Properties, Ironwood Real Estate, and Riverside Resources can rise, they’ve got to demolish the existing building, presently best known as the former home of chain (but a fancy chain!) steakhouse Sullivan’s, which closed earlier this year. We’ve known this was in the cards for quite a while, but until now, we didn’t know when — according to an approved permit with the City of Austin issued earlier today, the 300 Colorado Street demolition kicks off on August 12, 2018.
The existing building on the site, which functioned as a warehouse before its modification into classy restaurant space, dates back to 1924, but just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s necessarily historic. Austin’s Historic Landmark Commission, which has a pretty fantastic track record of figuring out all the potential angles that might grant an older structure historic status, has determined the 300 Colorado Street building isn’t up to snuff for any preservation. I’m happy to accept their conclusions if it gets us a new downtown tower, the design of which is growing on me every day — but first, let’s at least check out the building’s past life before it gets knocked down.
Per the commission’s research, along with some of my own, the building’s previous usages are fairly typical for the Warehouse District, at least in the past — remember, before we converted warehouses into dance clubs or whatever, we actually had to build them as warehouses, something that feels kind of quaint to do in a major downtown area but was perfectly logical back in an era of saner property values. Remember how the western side of downtown used to be dominated by car dealerships?
In the early years of the 20th century, the 300 Colorado Street block was home to bars, brothels, and various other “houses of ill repute” — before the Warehouse District, it was known as “Guy Town,” after all. A 1915 article in the Austin Daily Statesman mentions a raid on a “disorderly house” — apparently a polite term for a brothel — located on the block at 306 Colorado Street.
By the 1920s, the area had shifted to commercial and industrial uses, taking advantage of the rail lines that ran down Fourth Street at the time. The warehouse currently on the block went up in 1924, with its first tenants including two auto parts companies, a sheet metal factory, and possibly my favorite: The Electrified Water and Bottling Company.
So what the hell is electrified water? From what I understand, it was sort of like the radium water or blockchain of its era — a product riding the wave of new, unfamiliar technology that, to the consumer, was perceived to have nearly limitless potential.
That potential apparently wasn’t enough to keep the company selling just water that for long, since by the late 1920s the space was occupied by what was then known as the Milwaukee Bottling Company, which distributed beer and soda. Maybe they aren’t the same companies, but they have the same (four-digit) phone number!
Most of the building’s various tenants in the years after were not super interesting — more bottlers, bakers, truck storage, air conditioners, and so on. Once the trains stopped running down Fourth Street, the structure began to reflect the car-centric usages of West Austin businesses between roughly 1960 and 1990, with auto repair shops and parts storage facilities using the space.
But in the 1940s and ’50s, at least some of the space in the warehouse served as the local distributor for Grand Prize, a brand of beer brewed by Houston’s Gulf Brewing Company between 1933 and 1963. For a time, Grand Prize was the best-selling beer in Texas, and the brewer regularly published really weird advertisements for it in the Austin American-Statesman. In lieu of writing anything else about the tire warehouses and transmission shops that operated out of the space in its later years before Sullivan’s came on the scene, I’ve decided to showcase these fantastic ads at length below:
All images from the Austin History Center.
Judging by the ads, I’d probably enjoy drinking six or more of these beers. Anyway, stay tuned for the demolition later this month, and pour one out for the building — it’s not historic, but it’s done some cool stuff anyway. Onward and upward, as they say!