Few Austinites can remember when the 10-acre Commodore Perry Estate, which opened June 29 as a resort hotel, served as a gracious hilltop residence overlooking Waller Creek and what was then the Austin Country Club.
There, Edgar Howard Perry, a cotton trader, hotel owner and developer, lived in a 10,800-square-foot Italianate home, built in 1928, with his wife, Nannie Lewette "Lutie" Perry, and their adult son, Edgar Howard Perry Jr., along with their servants.
During its first year, the solidly built mansion, inspired by the family’s European travels, hosted a swirl of social gatherings surrounding the wedding of Perry Jr. to Julia Morrison Matthews, as well as large charity events, such as a ball benefiting the still-operating Settlement Home.
When Perry Sr. sold the property in 1944, however, he declared the estate "a great place to throw a party, but too big to live in."
Many more Austinites can recall in detail when, between 1948 and the 2010s, the wooded estate, which included some added structures, took on students attending a series of schools there, including St. Mary’s Academy and the Griffin School at East 41st and Red River streets.
One of those former students, developer Clark Lyda, was fascinated by the grand old mansion designed by Austin-born, Dallas-based architect Henry Bowers Thompson.
So, in 2012, along with architect John Volz, he restored the deteriorating structure to a close semblance of its former glory. Lyda then opened it for several years as a special events venue.
Ever more Austinites explored the property during this period, as slow plans for a hotel and private club — to be joined in the future by planned residences and organic gardens — evolved.
Yet even those witnesses will be rubbing their eyes in disbelief when they see the Commodore Perry Estate, Auberge Resorts Collection, a business owned by Houston-based Dan Friedkin.
There’s nothing quite like it in Austin.
Or in Texas.
It’s as if a 54-room Napa Valley resort was dropped into an urban setting with a high-design oval swimming pool, formal gardens, shady loggias, clinking bars and enough elbow room for overnight guests, club members and wedding guests.
When its new eatery, Lutie’s Garden Restaurant, opens fully later this year under chefs Bradley Nicholson and Susana Querejazu, even more Austinites can take in these landscaped views, where all kinds of regular public leisure activities are planned.
"The Commodore Perry Estate is a love letter to the city, local Austin community and the unique culture that thrives here," said Craig Reid, president and CEO of Auberge Resorts Collection. "We are overjoyed to welcome guests to a modern-day interpretation of the Perry family’s iconic country home, where they will enjoy an intimate social scene, sprawling grounds and cultural experiences that are intended to be as unforgettable as the estate itself."
The local complex is Auberge’s first property in Texas and the first located in an urban setting.
The Austin connections keep growing: Reid put down roots in Austin when he lived here from 1994 to 1998 as the general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel Austin. He then moved in 1998 to Dallas. He remains a big Longhorns fan as his daughters attended the University of Texas, and one of them remains in Austin with her husband and two children.
A whole army of preservationists, craftspeople, urban planners, landscape designers and interior designers worked on this project’s evolution, along with investors who have teamed with Lyda on other developments.
Lyda, who comes from an old Central Texas ranching and investment family, is the owner of Georgetown’s Monument Café and El Monumento restaurants. He is also a developer of the new Music Lane complex on South Congress Avenue and Salado’s lovingly renovated Stagecoach Inn.
While the old Perry family suites in the mansion upstairs have been turned into baroque fantasies, the public rooms downstairs now radiate a warm, relaxed sense of comfort. At the same time, more than 40 rooms in the new, stylistically compatible inn structure nearby are little concertos of unforced pampering with touches of Italian and Spanish styles in the furniture and decor.
Opening a new resort hotel in Austin at a time when the hospitality business is on its heels — because of the coronavirus crisis along with widespread economic and social disruption — might seem counterintuitive.
Yet general manager Marco Bustamante reports that reservations have held steady and weddings are planned for October and November. Standard room rates start at $525. Through at least the rest of the summer, the hotel is offering a 20% discount on rooms, plus a $200 resort credit.
Hotel management continues to update health and service practices based on CDC guidelines, which include enhanced cleaning, social distancing, health checks of the staff, masks and gloves for employees, wellness stations, complimentary masks for guests upon request, sanitizing wipes in each guest room and limited occupancy in dining and drinking areas as well as in the fitness center and spa. Also, social activities will be set up to allow for distancing.
In 2017, Emily Little, principal at Clayton & Little Architects, called the Commodore Perry Estate "one of Austin’s hidden treasures in plain sight."
That treasure certainly made news almost weekly during its first year of Jazz Age socializing in 1928. It will likely be a topic for conversation for a long time to come.