Let me begin by saying that rehabilitating 405 W. 18th Street will not turn hay into gold, much less save the city in one fail swoop. However, I have grown some fondness—in part due to the seemingly unnecessary neglect—for the building located at the address and feel like I should make some defense of it.
It is not the most stunning building in the Austin. Three stories tall, little decoration, and a mildly peculiar addition on the 18th Street side. But the building is solid and stoic; giving a glimpse of the past and some heft as to what it once held. After years of going past it and never seeing a sign for its sale or redevelopment I decided to try and find out more.
Originally built as the Guadalupe Hotel in the mid 1940s, it was the first hotel in the city to have air conditioning. In 1955, cotton entrepreneur and local benefactor E.H. Perry bought the building for the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) so they could expand their facilities and programs. An extension was built to the back (west) of the building by the prominent architecture firm of Kuehne (H.F.), Brooks (R. Max), and Barr (Howard) that included an indoor swimming pool in the newly constructed basement. The facility was officially named the Lutie (in honor of E.H.’s wife) Perry Residence of the YWCA.
Over 100 “young business girls” were able to live cheaply at the residence and, along with people from the community, take continuing education and cultural classes. Over the years, members participated in desegregation sit-ins, learned about everything from typing to yoga, and congregated in a secular sense.
More than three decades later, the YWCA moved and the building briefly became a halfway house in 2000. Travis Hotel Group, an ancillary business of Dallas based Headington Oil, purchased the building in 2003. Since then, it has fallen into disrepair (though its front landscaping seems remarkably self sufficient), serving to mainly house squatters.
Headington president Timothy Headington renovated the SPG Building in Dallas to become the lauded and striking The Joule hotel. Excited that as sweeping of a renovation might come to us in Austin, I called Headington offices three times about the building in the Fall of 2008 but never received any word back.
Now—laying at the whims of the wind on the ground by the building—is a single notice that the owners of the building would like to demolish it. The hearing to decide its fate is in front of the Historic Landmark Commission on Monday, April 27th at 7pm, 301 W. 2nd.
I have no idea what might be built in its place. If the recent spat of teardowns is any indication, though, it’ll more than likely involve condos and won’t be terribly interesting. And in that case, I am personally in favor of keeping, renovating, and finding a positive use for this building.
At Next American City’s URBANEXUS salon in February, arts leaders kept reiterating how beneficial it would be to have a center where creators could gather and hone their skills, similar to The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Because of its prior use for similar intentions, this building would be perfect.
Or it could be converted to condos/apartments.
Or it could be made in to some mixed-use development.
I just don’t see much use in trashing it wholesale.
It’s been said that Americans are losing confidence in the future because they are losing sight of the past. To disregard the entirety of this building and all the things, men, and women that built it to be more than just a building would be to do such a thing. If we continue to hoe the ground—in addition to this discordance of history—we will allow few roots to grow for ourselves. Not all the time, but sometimes, the best way to start new is to start with what you have.
If you feel one way or another about the building, it’d be awesome if you came out to this hearing. I suspect your voice has a high probability of being heard.
April 27, 2009
301 W. 2nd