AUSTIN (KXAN) — For as long as you’ve been in Austin, The Driskill Hotel has been here too.
But just how much do you know about this enduring and thriving testament to Austin’s past?
The 137-year-old hotel wants to help you expand your knowledge by offering daily tours at 4 p.m.
The tours are free to guests, and $10 for the public.
Along the tour, led by Tour Guide Audrey Acosta, visitors will learn some pretty interesting facts about the hotel’s history.
Austin’s oldest hotel
The hotel first opened in 1886 after the land was purchased in 1884 for $7,500. The cost to build is estimated at $400,000 which today would run up a tab of $92 million.
“At the time, Austin was the westernmost city in Texas and ladies and gentlemen would, you know, get dressed up in their finest” Acosta said. “They’d take a horse and buggy down what was called the main street of Texas, to watch construction at the Texas State Capitol building. That is when Jesse Lincoln Driskill entered the scene. He had big plans, big dreams. And he noticed that Austin was kind of lacking a place to host all these politicians and foreign dignitaries, just very elite of society, people whose travels were suddenly taking them through Austin.”
Driskill sold the hotel shortly after opening it
Just two years after opening, Colonel Driskill was forced to sell the hotel after the family lost its fortune. Severe drought and a cold winter wiped out the herd of the cattle baron. Driskill’s brother-in-law “Doc” became the new owner and purchased a life-sized portrait of its founder that still hangs in the lobby today.
“On top of the hotel, there’s a bust of Colonel Driskill himself as well as a bust of his son Bud and his other son Toby, “Acosta said. “Toby’s bust has a mustache and was struck by lightning in 1903 and had to be rebuilt.”
$9 million worth of mirrors adorn one room
In 1930, the hotel created the Maximilian Room, named after Emperor Maximilian of Mexico and honoring his wife, Empress Carlotta.
Ferdinand Maximilian was a figurehead for the French government in Mexico and struggled to establish power in the country. While Carlotta was back in Europe, Maximilian was killed by a firing squad in Mexico.
This was devastating news that Carlotta learned while pleading with the French court to offer more support to her husband.
“She never returned to the Americas, but later in life, learned that there had been a belated wedding gift from Ferdinand to her that had been on its way to the palace when she left, and it was these eight mirrors, all obviously ornately detailed. They’re diamond dusted on the back, which was kind of an Old World way of setting mirrors,” Acosta said.
The mirrors ended up at auction in San Antonio where they were purchased by the hotel owner’s wife in 1930. She bought the mirrors for $2,500. Today, they’re worth more than $9 million.
The mirrors adorn the walls of the Maximilian room today.
The Driskill hosted LBJ and Lady Bird’s first date
In 1934, Lyndon B. Johnson met his future wife Lady Bird in The Driskill dining room for breakfast.
The hotel also hosted him as he awaited the results of his senate race in 1948, and again in 1964 on the night he won re-election as president.
When Johnson came back to visit Austin as president, the hotel served as the headquarters for the White House Press Corps. It also had a suite on the 5th floor permanently reserved for President Johnson.
“LBJ lived here kind of unofficially and stayed here during his presidential career anytime he was back in Austin,” Acosta said.
The hotel almost closed for good
In 1969 the Driskill closed for remodeling and the construction of a proposed 19-story tower. However, those plans didn’t work out, leaving the hotel shuttered. In response, concerned citizens and the Heritage Society of Austin rallied to the hotel’s side and worked to save it from destruction.
The hotel was declared a National Historic Landmark, and the building was saved.
The next year, a community effort raised more than $700,000 for a new Driskill Hotel Corporation.