Preservation Austin Spring Tour Changes Things Up For 2022
Not only will Preservation Austin’s popular spring tour take place in person on April 30, it will deviate from the custom of directing guests into home environments.
Of course, everyone wants to see how their neighbors live — or have lived — while getting home design and decorating tips along the way.
This year, however, Austin’s venerable nonprofit, which strives to preserve the best of the city’s built environment, presents “Out of the House,” a tour of non-domestic settings.
Some, like the John and Drucie Chase Building in East Austin, designed by the first black architect at the University of Texas, have only recently been renovated. Others, like the art deco Old Federal Courthouse, are not open to the public without cases inside for security reasons.
You may have been to a magical resort that once housed Big Red Sun, a landscaping company, but like me, you probably didn’t know it was the childhood home of Richard Moya, the first Mexican American elected county commissioner. This wonderland now serves as a residence, office and intimate event space.
Many older Austinites attended Baker School in Hyde Park, but most have not returned since it was refurbished by its current owner, Tim and Karrie League of Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas. It includes offices and public spaces, including the Rosette, a recently opened art venue.
If you’re very lucky, you’ve been inside the castellated 1870 Texas Military Institute main building on Castle Hill. Still, you might have missed Castle Court’s refurbished offices, which once served as the school’s kitchen and canteen.
Much of the history resides within the hallowed walls of the beautifully designed Wesley United Methodist Church in East Austin. Many of the city’s most prominent African-American families have been counted among its members.
The murals around the disused Holly Street Power Station – which should never have been built in a residential area in the first place – are familiar to neighbors and those following the Butler Hike and Bike Trail around Lady Bird Lake, which makes a detour around its walls.
Take the time to savor the recently enlivened creations made for the neighborhood’s Mexican-American community.
For tickets to the tour ($30-$40), go to preservationaustin.org/homes-tour. Proof of vaccination is required for the event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on April 30 and begins at Baker School’s “home base” in Hyde Park.
The following images and descriptions of the eight stops were provided by Preservation Austin. They have been slightly modified.
Travis County Probate Courthouse (1936)
The Old Federal Courthouse in downtown Austin is one of the city’s finest examples of the WPA Modern style. Recently rehabilitated as the Travis County Estates Courthouse, the building features a rich palette of marble, bronze, and woodwork that shine in its interior spaces. A grand spiral staircase leads visitors to the crown jewel of the courthouse, the historic Main Courtroom, which boasts breathtaking ceilings and meticulously restored Art Deco finishes worthy of this beacon of civic pride.
John & Drucie Chase Building (1952)
This mid-century modern building has served as a mainstay of East Austin’s black community since its design in 1952 by architect John S. Chase. Formerly the headquarters of the National Association of African American Teachers and then the House of Elegance beauty salon, the building was restored by the University of Texas in 2021 as the new headquarters of the Center for Community Engagement.
The breakthrough career of John Chase started at UT; it was renamed in honor of Chase and his wife. Tour participants will be among the first to experience the newly reopened space, with interactive exhibits about the building’s history and oral histories from longtime residents of the Robertson Hill neighborhood.
Baker School (1911)
This 1911 school building, located in the heart of historic Hyde Park, was purchased in 2017 by Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas and repurposed as the headquarters of this iconic Austin brand. Upon entering the building, visitors are transported by the primary school features of the space, complete with lockers, blackboards, and a cafetorium. The former classrooms now house the offices of creative businesses, showcasing the incredible adaptability of historic spaces to contemporary use.
Maison Moya (circa 1930s)
Located on East Cesar Chavez, this 1930s Craftsman-style bungalow was the longtime home of avant-garde Chicano activist Richard Moya. Moya was the first Mexican American to be elected to public office in Austin and Travis County in 1970. From the 1970s through the 1990s, he turned his home into a center for political action and organization. The residence later housed landscaping company Big Red Sun and today serves as an event space with lush grounds and gardens.
Wesley United Methodist Church (1929)
One of Austin’s oldest congregations, Wesley United Methodist Church was founded in 1865 for a growing community of freedmen in Austin. Today’s 1929 Gothic Revival church is a masterpiece of craftsmanship, with high ceilings articulated by exposed beams and intricate buttresses, with soft light coming from stained glass windows throughout.
Offices in the courtyard of the castle (1873)
Formerly part of the Texas Military Institute campus, this circa-1873 limestone rubble building was built as the site’s kitchen and mess hall. Following a meticulous restoration by its current owner, the building now serves as a private office space, with lavishly designed interiors and original wooden floors, windows and doors. Nestled in historic Castle Hill, this rare gem of Austin’s history offers unmissable views of the downtown skyline.
Holly Street Murals
This public art collection has deep ties to Austin’s Mexican American community. On the sound barrier around the disused Holly Street power station, local artists painted the murals to reclaim the site’s identity for neighbors, who fought for decades to shut down the harmful power station.
Artist Felipe Garza brought together several artists from the community, including Robert Herrera, Oscar Cortez and Fidencio Duran, to create murals on the walls to celebrate local heritage and make the industrial site more bearable.
Today, many original murals remain and efforts are underway to preserve them. The ongoing restoration of these culturally significant murals represents the resilience of the community and the preservation of el barrio.
Michael Barnes writes about the people, places, culture, and history of Austin and Texas. He can be contacted at [email protected]