It’s no secret that I revere the work of Preservation Austin, which has been saving the best of our city’s built environment and culture for 65 years. While historical preservationists sometimes employ overheated rhetoric that makes me wince or worse, no city should be stripped of its beautiful structures and public art without due consideration.
The annual Preservation Austin Merit Awards luncheon at the Driskill Hotel, built in 1886 in what could be called a Cattle Baron Baroque style, is doubly meaningful because one of the group’s biggest triumphs was saving the hotel against all odds from the wrecking ball.
As reported earlier in this space, all of this year’s winners were deserving in different ways and include an East Austin mural, a community dance staged in old swimming pools, smart redos of beloved buildings and fixes for at least three major 19th century structures.
Instead of an out-of-town speaker — they usually speak in generalities generalities anyway — this year enlightened Realtor Clayton Bullock gave a rousing history of the group, including a mention of his ancestor who built a hotel at Sixth Street and Congress Avenue at the city’s birth. The text of his speech should be distributed far and wide.
Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo regaled the guests with some of the best municipal news in years: The addition of two new historical districts, the expansion of the city’s overextended preservation staff and, most thrilling, the devotion for the first time of a portion of hotel taxes to parks and history. This is no small revenue stream: $11 million the first time out of the gate.