Monday, April 1, 2013

Driskill Hotel

The Driskill Hotel was built by cattle baron Jesse Driskill in 1886.  Ever since, the Driskill has set exemplified Texas-style elegance in Austin.  Many governors of Texas have held their inaugural balls here.

The history of the hotel is interesting.  It was forced to close just 5 months after opening when half of the staff was hired by a Galveston hotel.  It re-opened again in the fall of that same year, but Jesse Driskill was about to encounter financial devastation when an exceptionally cold winter killed over 3,000 head of his cattle.  He was forced to sell the hotel in May of 1888.  He died of a stroke two years later in 1890.  Although he did not live to enjoy the Driskill Hotel to its fullest, he is still revered as the creator of this gloriously elegant lifestyle.

In 1895 the hotel was acquired by another cattle baron - Major George W. Littlefield.  The Driskill, already remarkable for modern amenities when it was constructed in 1886, was now renovated to include steam heating, electric fans, electric lighting and many more private baths.  Littlefield sold the hotel at a loss in 1903.

The hotel had an artesian well which became popular in 1909 as a healing spa for women, complete with traveling psychic healers and medicine men who set up shop in the hotel.

The Maximilian Room contains eight famous Austrian gold leaf-framed mirrors that once belonged to Emperor Maximilian of Mexico.  These was luckily found in a San Antonio antique shop and purchased for the Driskill in 1930.

Two restaurants are part of the hotel:  The famous Driskill Grill and 1886 Cafe & Bakery.  It was in the dining room of the 1886 Cafe that Lyndon Baines Johnson met his future wife Lady Bird for their first date in 1934.  Both in 1960 and 1964, LBJ waited here to watch the returns of the presidential elections.  During his presidential years, LBJ continued to have a reserved suite on the 5th floor of the Driskill.

When remodeling efforts stalled in 1969, the hotel was temporarily closed but was considered for demolition.  Citizens were able to have it named a historic landmark to save it from destruction.  Through their fundraising efforts, these citizens became the interim owners of the hotel until it was sold again in 1973. Once again the hotel was remodeled and restored to its 'glory days.'  Subsequent major renovations came in 1980, 1983, 1990, 1996, and in 2008.

Driskill Hotel
(512) 474-5911
604 Brazos St.,  Austin, Texas  78701